How to Run an Ultra Marathon in 12 Weeks or Less

In 2010 while searching online I came across an epic race called ” The Canadian Death Race ” Its located in Alberta, Canada in a really small town called Grande Cache. This was the first time I had ever heard of an ” Ultra Marathon ” and this one was 125kms ( 77.7 Miles ) with three mountain summits in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, one major river crossing and 17,000 feet of elevation change.

An Ultra Marathon is anything over 42.195 kms ( 26.219 mi ) and they vary from just over regular marathon distance all the way in to the 100’s and beyond in 24 hours. These numbers continue to increase with multi day events that can go on for weeks or months. The guys and girls who do these races are pushing their bodies to the limit and racing other people across these insane distances.

This is going to vary depending on who you ask, but a lot of people want the ultimate challenge and to do something they can look back on years later in amazement. Before attempting an Ultra Marathon you need to figure out what your “Why ” is for taking this on. Your going to likely have a lot of doubt in your mind and your reason for doing this is what will drive you through all the training and to push yourself on the big day.

If you find a reason that won’t allow you to quit your already half way there. Dig deep. Co worker tell you that you were stupid for doing it? Do the damn thing and throw it in there face.

I’m sure you have heard stories of your friends, co-workers and family getting involved in 12 week running clubs to tackle a 5, 10 or half marathon in that time and there is no reason you can’t take it a few steps further with those 12 weeks. The fact is that the average person is capable of a lot more then they give themselves credit for and when you throw a challenge in front of yourself you will show up to fight.

Most people are comfortable being part of the heard and when you tackle something that puts you in “rare air ” your going to get a lot of people telling you that it’s not possible and a waste of your time. You want to use this as motivation for your training and it will only help you add fuel to the fire.

Start looking online for Ultra marathons taking place in your surrounding area. There is usually options regardless of where you live and what time of year it is and quite often there right in your own backyard. Keep in mind the more hills or mountains involved the harder it will be to make it beyond the 26.2 miles and accomplish your goal, So choose wisely.;Here is a few directories to get you started:;;

Hire a running coach that has experience in longer distances. It’s quite inexpensive to get a coach online who will guide you through the process of preparing for your first race. A good coach will create your training plan and give you ongoing support as you approach the race and with the clock against us a good coach can help turn the odds in your favor.

Introducing Howard Nippertmy online running coach. The picture above is of Howard in 2005 racing in the 100km championship in Seoul where he placed 5th in the world. I only had 80 days left to prepare for the race when I found Howard online and contacted him.

Once you have decided on your race and have started training your going to want to seek out a place to chat with like minded people preparing for races. Even if you don’t have any friends who run you can often find forums online with people discussing the very same race your entering. Make friends and pick the brains of more experienced runners who have tackled the race before.

Those people preparing for the run will be very active in these groups and forums because there preparation is daily, So the subject is always on there mind and they love to talk about it. I participated regularly in one of the Facebook groups and met a lot of people and one of them who had completed the race the year prior took me on a tour and showed me the ins and outs of the race the day before it was held.

Don’t overlook this step. It’s important to have support and contact with other people like yourself because those around you often wont understand and won’t support what your doing in one way or another.;;

In shorter distance races you can get away with Gatorade, gel and electrolytes, but in the longer tougher races that were preparing for your going to need a variety of different foods and fluids to sustain yourself throughout the race and avoid putting your body in a calorie deficit. The only way to figure out what is going to work for you is to experiment while training.

Your going to want to find what works and stick to it. This could be sandwiches, hamburgers, chips etc. One of the bigger names in Ultra’s is Dean Karnazes also known as “the Ultra Marathon Man ” has been known to call a pizza shop on his cellphone while running and order a pizza to be delivered to him on his run. You might be wondering how the hell he eats a pizza while running? This video below shows the technique.

You should try and aim for around 250 – 300 calories an hour while drinking fluids with sodium such as Gatorade and taking one or two electrolyte caps. My coach has suggested I set an alarm on my watch for every half an hour to remember to eat and drink if I hadn’t done so and from my experience this is a great idea because you can get so involved in your run you forget to eat and crash which can end your race really quick.

Start experimenting with some foods now while your training and find out what is going to work for you and what is not. There is a lot of things that can go wrong in an ultra it’s best to get your nutrition sorted out, one less thing. Just remember staying properly hydrated and getting the food you need is all business and at times you may not want to eat, but you don’t have a choice.

Make sure you have the appropriate gear for your race. Will this take place at night? Is there many aid stations? How are the inclines/declines. Most races should provide you with a list of suggested items and also a list of mandatory ones that must be on you at all times or face disqualification. Your going to want to get a copy of this list printed off, So you can tick off the items as you acquire them, nothing like spending 12 weeks training for a run and being disqualified because your missing an item.;The main pieces of equipment your going to want are:

Shoes:I’m not an expert on what makes for a good running shoe, but I found some people who were and they got me in to a pair of Asics meant for trail running that had great traction and were well padded to help avoid bruising from rocks. These shoes lasted me for hundreds of miles and held up on race day and well beyond, but more experienced racers tend to have multiple pairs of shoes and sometimes a different pair for each leg of there race.

Camelbak: If your race has a lot of aid stations and you will be able to refill your fluids regularly you may be able to get away with a couple water bottles, but if there isn’t your going to need some form of hydration backpack. Don’t underestimate how much drinking you will do because it will be a lot. I picked up a Solomon hydration pack that had lots of pocket space to store foods and gear and it had pockets on the chest of it for storing electrolyte tabs and easy to access snacks.

Head Lamp: A head lamp is only for races that start in the wee hours of the morning or that run right in to the night and often in longer distances this can be the case. They make a lot of great led head lamps, I picked mine up from Canadian tire it’s kind of like a hardware/retail chain store and it worked great had I needed to use it.

Seek out a running shop in your area such as “The Running Room ” and speak with the staff about your needs. The guys and girls who work at these places have a passion for the sport and are usually very experienced and more then willing to help you with any questions that are outside of what they sell at the store. Tell them what your planning on doing and they will help you get fitted with the appropriate gear.

Unlike shorter distance races, Ultra-marathoners usually have a crew to assistant them throughout the race with there gear, food and motivation among other things. Find a friend or family member or two who can be your pit crew, ideally you want those who are very positive and motivating which family can provide, but in some cases they will be less likely to push you if your in pain.

Ultra Marathons have check points or “legs” of the race where your team can meet you and help you change your shoes and get the food and water you need without all the added weight. It’s best to have a game plan and have everything laid out that you need and even write down the clothing’s changes and planned food, So your crew can tend to your needs without you having to move.

During my race I didn’t have any crew and wasn’t nearly as organized as I should have been. It’s these little things that can have a dramatic impact on the results you get.;In the days leading up to your run you’re going to want to get to bed early and sleep the best that you can. You will most likely be so nervous about the race the night before you won’t sleep very well and this is normal, but if you slept well days prior you will be fine and this applies to all sports and the majority of athletes. Also make sure you have been drinking lots of water and getting proper nutrition, your training volume will be much lower to get ready for race day in the last week.

I would highly suggest if your traveling out of town that you get booked in to a hotel months in advance because in a small town things can book up fast and you can end up like me sleeping in an old tent during a thunderstorm freezing because you didn’t think the weather would be bad.

On the morning of the race eat some breakfast, use the bathroom and  go through your list and check that everything is there and accounted for and make any last minute adjustments to your gear before heading down to the start line to check in. The more prepared you are the more you put the odds on your side to accomplish your goal and complete your race, be sure you give it everything you got and remember that your mind will hit many mental blocks before your body will give out.

A lot of you are probably ready the distance and terrain at the start of this blog post and wondered if I actually completed the race, but the truth is I didn’t finish the race. Due to some bad planning with a friend of mine who ran the race with me and the extreme hills I came short of my goal, but still ran 43 miles in the Rocky Mountain foothills that put me well in to ultra marathon distance.

This blog post explains exactly how I went from my couch to tackling one of the hardest foot races in the country in under 12 weeks. I don’t think any running coach out there would advise you to take the same path, but it is doable and if you pick a flatter race I could see you being a lot more successful then myself.

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