Your Ultramarathon Training Plan: What to Expect

Your Ultramarathon Training Plan: What to Expect

With distances exceeding traditional marathons, ultramarathons demand heavy prep work. Here’s your guide to time commitments, weekly structure, workouts, and more.

Running your first ultramarathon should be a challenge within reach — something that stretches you mentally and physically. To be prepared for such an endeavor, it’s vital you have a structured training plan that builds your fitness to peak condition just in time for your event. You have many different buckets to fill on your way to an ultramarathon finish line that depend on experience, current fitness, your desired outcome, and the demands of your event. Let’s jump into what you can expect from your ultramarathon training plan, including time commitment, weekly structure, workouts to expect, and other considerations.

Time Commitments When Preparing for an Ultra

The time you spend training is directly correlated to the distance you plan on racing, and most of this time will be spent on long runs. Training time is also linked to your overall fitness and progress: the fitter you get, the more you’ll train each week. Beware, however, that the only hours that truly matter are the ones you can recover from. 

When training for ultras, you can expect to run at least 40 miles per week and up to 65-75 miles per week for most age-group level amateurs. Take a look at the chart below to see how mileage equates to hours spent training. When you start moving beyond the amateur ranks, training starts to take on new shapes with more hours, more vertical movement, multiple daily runs, longer single outings on weekends, or even multi-day efforts.

Example of Ultramarathon Training Time in Relation to Weekly Mileage

Miles (per week)Hours of Training (per week)
40 6-7.5
50 7.5-8.5
609-10
7010.5-11

The hours per week estimated above can vary depending on your average pace and the amount of vertical (i.e., climbing and descending) you need to get in for your race-specific training. Also, don’t forget about the time you’ll spend on non-running training, which can include cross-training, weight training, stretching, bodywork, and massage. There’s a lot that goes into preparing your body for an ultra, and the aforementioned can add up to another 2-4 hours per week of training time depending on your training plan. 

Ultramarathon Training Plan Weekly Structure

Most ultra training programs are going to lean heavily on back-to-back long runs on Saturdays and Sundays, which is what sets them apart from marathon training plans. The purpose of these back-to-back long run days is to build and manage cumulative fatigue so that when race day comes, you can manage the accumulative mileage load when you’re deep into your course. 

Another demand that sets ultra plans apart is the frequency at which you’ll run — the more hours you train each week, the more often you’ll run at least once per day. At the low end, you may train four days a week, whereas athletes running 60, 70, or 80+ miles per week will often train two times a day and up to seven days per week. A good training program will spread out this mileage into manageable chunks, allowing you to fit training into your schedule in a practical manner. 

Sample of an Ultramarathon Training Week Based on Mileage

MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturdaySundayTotal Miles
Recovery (5 miles)Workout(6 miles)OFF Recovery(6 miles)Workout(5 miles)Long Run (10 miles)Long Run (8 miles)40
Recovery (6 miles)Workout(8 miles)Recovery(6 miles)Recovery(4 miles)Workout(5 miles)Long Run (12 miles)Long Run (10 miles)51
Recovery (8 miles)Workout(8 miles)Recovery(8 miles)Recovery(6 miles)Workout(7 miles)Long Run (13 miles)Long Run (10 miles)60
Recovery (6 + 4 miles)Workout(8 miles)Recovery(6 + 4 miles)Recovery(6 + 4 miles)Workout(9 miles)Long Run (15 miles)Long Run (12 miles)74

Workouts to Expect During Your Ultramarathon Training Progress

When it comes to your ultramarathon training progress, there are a few questions you first need to answer: 

  1. What is your current fitness level? 
  2. What specific fitness do you need to build? 
  3. What time constraints do you have? 

These three questions will ultimately define where you need to start, where you’re going, and how long it will take to get there. Each coach will take a different approach to your training: some coaches will build a plan that builds a large base of mileage before you touch any moderate to high heart rate work. Other coaches will take a progressive approach and build your mileage up throughout the entire cycle while they get specific with your training. All things considered, the overarching process has a few key components to consider.

Early-Stage Fitness

Expect to start with a few key components that build your overall fitness like easy aerobic runs, which should consist of 80-85% of your training sessions in the first quarter of your build. These aerobic runs are about your capacity and stress your body to build the ability to handle more time on feet. This basically means that the more time you can spend moving without tiring, the better off you will be (no matter how slow). This means that activities like hiking and run/walking are important parts of building your fitness.

Mid-Stage Fitness

By this point, you have the capacity to start building more specific fitness to meet the demands of your race. This is why I recommend that you choose a plan that is designed for your specific race, or at least focuses on the type of race you’re training for. A general 100-mile plan, for example, will certainly fall on its face for a high-altitude, 100-mile race set in mountainous terrain. 

During this stage of training, expect your workouts to build on one another, and to last between 60-90 minutes or more depending on your fitness and experience.

End-Stage Fitness (Peaking)

In the final four to six weeks leading up to your event, you’ll be completing your most specific sessions — like hills, threshold work, tempo, or speed work — as well as your longest back-to-back long runs. This phase of training will demand more of your time than previous phases, with workouts and runs that could be 50% longer than workouts in the early stages. If this is your first time completing an ultra, this is where you will see the most contrast from where you started before race day. You are capable of so much right now!

You can also expect that as you near your race, you’ll be pretty tired and fatigued. This requires you to often self-assess to determine your capacity and ability to manage more fatigue. This is often the stage where people get injured, trying to go “big” when it comes to building fitness. Resist this temptation — rest and recovery is crucial now.

Tapering

For many athletes, it’s hard to trust your training in the final two to three weeks before a race because you’re going to reduce your training load pretty dramatically during your taper. This is when you will start to question if you have done enough — which you have! Rest assured that tapering will allow you to recover from the demands of your training, both mentally and physically, so that you’re able to show up to your race refreshed and in peak form.

You will likely see an initial reduction of 25% in the first week of your taper in total time/mileage, with the following two weeks being a 50% reduction in total load from your peak. For example, if you peaked at 60 miles in a week while training, you can expect to run 30 miles in weeks two and three prior to race day and as few as 15 total miles the week leading into your race. 

Your taper is a great time to review your workouts in TrainingPeaks to see how far you’ve come. This can help you battle the “taper tantrums”, during which you may be irritable and sore in weird places as your body recovers and prepares for the race ahead!

Find a Plan That’s Tailored to Your Specific Event

While the above should give you a general feel for what you’ll be asked to do during ultra preparation, the exact workouts you perform should be dictated by the race itself. Coaches who design training plans want to build you into a confident, capable athlete with specific fitness that prepares you for the demands of your goal race. Specific is key here. Does your upcoming event include mountains, rolling terrain, or long, flat stretches? These conditions will dictate the types of workouts your training plan should include, so it’s vital to find a plan that’s specific to the race you’re running. 

Remember that Mileage Isn’t Everything

Training plans are great foundations for training, but dialing in your nutrition plan, hydration plan, and strength training all play key roles in your success. If you desire extra guidance in these areas, you might want to consider hiring a coach to help you get as prepared as possible. The distinct difference between a training plan and a coach is that most coaches specialize in specific areas of training and can bring this knowledge to your check-in phone calls and e-mails. 

As a coach that’s written well over 75 plans for events over the years, I want athletes to know that we try to create programs that are specific, goal-oriented, and give you room to explore your fitness. As you dive into your first ultra or your next big adventure, be willing to explore the edges of your comfort zone and fitness. Every time I get a notification I sold a plan, I get excited for you and what lies ahead in the next 16-20 weeks as you grow! I’ll speak for every coach with a plan in the TrainingPeaks plan store — thanks for trusting us with your training. 

Ultra Running Programs from Lifelong Endurance

100 Mile Ultra | 50 Miles/Week | Intermediate to Advanced| 14 Week Peak Plan

100KM – 100 Mile Mountain Ultra Plan | 50-60 Miles a Week | Advanced

100 Mile Ultra Plan | 60-70 Miles a Week | Advanced

The Complete Ultramarathon Training Guide
Training Guide

The Complete Ultramarathon Training Guide

In this guide you'll find tips from top trail running coaches on the training, logistics, and mental tricks you'll need to complete a successful ultramarathon.

Related Articles