Building up to an ultra marathon - Women's Running

Building up to an ultra marathon

Author: Women's Running Magazine

Read Time:   |  December 5, 2014

Helen James 9bar ultra runner

 You completed your first marathon in spring – it was the ultimate test of your abilities, took months of hard work and couldn’t have been more thrilling. So what’s next? Where do you go from there?

If you completed a marathon this year and are looking for your next big challenge for 2015, why not consider an ultra-marathon? Many shun the thought of an ultra, reserving it only for the ‘fitness fanatics’, but if you’ve made it round a 26.2 mile course, who’s to say you can’t run between 30 or even 50 miles?

Though hard to believe, ultra-marathons are a golden distance for women – as the distance gets longer – women start to pick up an advantage against the men. Though widely disputed as to the reasons why – be it our ability to maintain power over a longer distance, smaller physic or stronger psychological endurance, we seem to nail it! So much so, ultra-marathons see women competing on the same course as the men. Take ultra-runner Pam Reed for example, she won the gruelling 146-mile Badwater Ultramarathon flat out against the men in 2002 and 2003.

If you think an ultra might be for you but are unsure where to start with your training for 2015, England 100km, Ultra Runner, Helen James on team 9bar has 9 fantastic tips to building up to your first ultra marathon.

  1. Back to back long runs – the longer the run the higher the risk of injury so doing two long runs at the weekend instead of one very long run is common. E.g. for a 50 mile race you might build up to 30 Saturday 20 Sunday. The run on Sunday will be on tired legs so getting you used to that feeling. Alternatively doing a hard shorter run the day before your long run will mean the long run is on tired legs.


  1. Make use of races – doing long runs on your own can be hard work so enter some marathons to use as training runs. Don’t race them all as that will take time to recover but use as a catered long run. If possible you could do a few miles before/after to make this into a longer run. Lapped races are good for this as you can do extra laps once you have finished with others who are still running


go to race days



3. Core, strength and stretching is even more important than for marathon training as you will be doing more miles so need to look after your body and make yourself as injury proof as possible.


  1. Speed/hills – these will make you stronger. Try to do at least one session a week. If you are injury prone then hills on the treadmill mean you don’t need to run downhill (which is the part which usually leads to injury).


  1. Multi-tasking – sometimes getting in the miles can be hard due to time. Run to the post office or bank instead of driving, get a good rucksack so you can do some shopping whilst out, run to work or nip out at lunchtime for a few miles instead of wasting your lunch break. If dropping the kids off for activities instead of driving home and having a cup of tea then picking them up park up the car and go for a run.





  1. Shoes – a lot of ultras are off road so you may need trail shoes, but if it is dry road shoes might be suitable so make sure you have tried both on long runs. You might also want to get half a size bigger as your feet will expand the longer you run for.


  1. Clothing/kit – you could be running for a long time so it is worth investing in a good breathable waterproof and a backpack which is comfortable (unless your ultra is laps so you don’t need to carry much). Make sure you sort this out in advance so have plenty of time to test as rucksacks vary a lot and we are all different sizes so what suits one won’t necessarily suit another.

running jacket


  1. Food/hydration – find out what your race will be providing so you can try these things in advance; if they don’t agree with you there are alternatives you can find. It is better if you can use the provided food as it will be less to carry but always have extra in case they run out. 9bars are a great option for this. Check how far the biggest gap is between aid stations and work out how long that will take you so you know now much fluid you will need to carry – this could affect your choice of rucksack/waist pack. For a 50 mile race, aid stations are every 5 miles on easy terrain with no navigation so a waist pack is sufficient. But if you need to navigate (so might do extra miles!), the terrain is difficult and aid stations are sometimes 10 miles apart then a rucksack might be needed to allow you to carry more fluids.


  1. Walking – you are likely to be walking in your first ultra. Some people run until they can’t run any more then walk a lot with only a little running. Others have a run/walk plan from the start; this will delay the fatigue and the time until you get to that point where you can’t run any more. A popular strategy is run 25 minutes then walk 5. You won’t feel like walking that early but it will help you later and mean at the end you are passing those who have little running left in them. It therefore makes sense to do some walking training so you can get faster at walking.


Women's Running Magazine

NMA’s 2020 Lifestyle Magazine of the Year, Women’s Running provides expert advice on gear and training, motivation from your favourite runners and the latest running news.

Meet the team

We use cookies to give you a better experience on By continuing to use our site, you are agreeing to the use of cookies as set in our Cookie Policy.

OK, got it