Top Five Tips for Training for Your First (or 100th) Ultra-Endurance Race

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Yes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. But take that step in the wrong direction and you’re already backtracking and behind. When you set a big goal – like participating in an ultra-endurance event – it’s not a bad idea to have a plan on how you’re going to achieve it.

RJ Thompson, founder of Native Endurance, is a mega-endurance athlete who has put more miles on the trail in the past few years than most of us may tally in a lifetime. He’s also a coach, a guide, and the man behind the 24 Hours of Bolton (postponed to 2017, due to lack of snow), the first ever 24-hour backcountry race in New England.

Selecting your event: Be honest with yourself about your current level of fitness, your experience in the type of event, and the amount of time you have to train for your chosen event. If the race is coming up fast, consider your options. Many of these types of events allow relay teams or have shortened courses. It’s not worth pushing your training and risking injury for the longer event.

Selecting a training schedule: There’s no doubt you need to put in some serious miles when training for a timed event or an overland event, like the Leadville 100. Thompson recommends searching the web for training plans that will help guide you through building up your miles. He suggests plans by Hal Higdon and Runner’s World. Bike and ski mo specific plans are available in the wild west of the world wide web, too. Though it’s fairly easy to adapt the concepts of those running regimes to your sport of choice.

Regardless of which training plan you decide to follow or devise on your own, Thompson is firm in his first bit of advice: Use your training plan as a guideline, not a bible. Training for ultra-endurance is a different beast than training for a 5K. Not that you shouldn’t be kind to yourself with the latter, but variability is inevitable in the extended program of ultra-endurance and getting Zen with it from the start is key.

Thompson’s Top Five Tips for Your Ultra-Endurance Training:

1. Be flexible with your training schedule. Don’t be afraid to change it. Take days off when you need to, and adapt. Know that you’re not going to ruin your chances of winning or doing well by taking one day off.

2. Incorporate cross training. If you’re training for ski-mo, don’t just ski uphill. You’ll be putting a lot of impact and stress on your muscles, so do yoga twice a week. Stay loose and stretch.

3. Eat right, but don’t obsess. Aim for a healthy diet overall and become familiar with your fuel while training in terms of type and quantity of foods. Don’t wait to experiment on race day. Thompson recommends very simple, limited ingredients with higher fat, higher protein, and lower simple sugars. Experiment with amount (1.5-2 ounces every hour). Start small. If you’re not accustomed to eating on long training days, think of it like stoking a fire: you don’t pile on huge logs right away.

4. Let the bad days go. There’s no way around it: you will have off days in training. Congratulate yourself for finishing that day and shrug away the frustration.

5. Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s a cliché, Thompson concedes, but worthwhile to remember.

And, we blush: Thompson also gave a shout out to training in wool. Nothing is as versatile for long hours on the trail in all types of weather.

Good luck out there!