Written by Andy Mouncey - http://www.bigandscaryrunning.com/

Some thoughts on ‘going the distance’ in training for the ultra-marathon


‘Throwing around this question with a friend and coach of mine we compared notes on our own experience and the people we have worked with and came up with the following:


Key Reasons Why People DNF At Ultras

  1. Feet fall apart

  1. Loss of motivation

  1. Failure of fuelling strategy

  1. Timed out at checkpoints


There are others – and we kept coming back to these four.


Which begs this question:


Which of these factors is a function of ‘not doing the distance’ in training?


Maybe some of (1) bits of (3) and perhaps (4) – if failure to make a cut off is not due to a navigation error.


Which begs another question:


If it’s rarely the big distance on it’s own which stops people finishing – why do big distances in training?


Here’s what we came up with:


Spending Time On Feet (TOF) for extended periods - whether walking or running - is important for:

  • Developing the body’s ability to take in and use oxygen efficiently

  • Developing the body’s ability to become fuel-efficient

  • Testing shoe and sock combinations

  • Toughening the feet

  • Testing the other body part contact areas (underarm, groin, and contact points with a bumbag or rucksack) prone to friction and chafing

  • Testing fuelling strategies

  • Learning how to Manage Mood

  • Learning how to be self-sufficient 


It’s just the Big Distance which makes bigger those factors which would be insignificant and / or we would just put up with or get away with over shorter distances.


Big Distance = Bigger Cumulative Effect (and bigger consequences if we get it wrong). 


A Bottom Line

We get really good at what we do most of. 

This is The Training Effect.

So perhaps it follows that to get really good at ultrarunning we should just run. Lots.


Exactly How Much seems to us to be governed by:

  • What we want to do (the race, the goals)

  • Where we are starting from (our background)

  • What we can realistically commit to (how big a stretch it is)

  • What we can practically do (the real life bit)

  • What state – physically, mentally, emotionally - we are prepared to finish in (and how long we are prepared to spend recovering)


Studies of top endurance athletes compiled by Noakes in The Lore Of Running (2001) lead him to conclude that one of the key factors for success in running is indeed to do just that: Run. Lots. Consistently.


For us mere mortals I think that translates into as often and as consistently as possible given the factors above.


So Exactly How Long Should You Go when training for your first ultra?


I don’t know.


What I do know is that there are huge benefits to going long in training – and there are also other ways in which we can prepare that will also get us across that finish line.


The right combination for you?

Is the right combination for you.


Who Is Andy Mouncey?

Andy signed off on a 17 year triathlon career in 2003 by completing the Enduroman Arch To Arc Challenge: A 300 mile solo triathlon linking London and Paris via an English Channel swim. Andy still holds the record for the fastest stage times.

From 2004 he has concentrated on ultra-marathon running, competing in this country and abroad in single and multi-day races.

He still competes and lives with his family just outside Lancaster where he runs his own training and coaching practice www.bigandscaryrunning.com

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