When it comes to the world of long-distance running, the marathon has long been the gold standard. But for those seeking an even greater challenge, ultramarathons beckon with their daunting distances and varied terrains. Aspiring runners often wonder: Is training for a marathon the same as preparing for an ultramarathon? In this post, we’ll explore the similarities and key differences between marathon vs ultramarathon training to help you determine the right path for your running journey.
Marathon vs Ultramarathon Training
At first glance, marathon and ultramarathon training may seem quite similar, especially if you’re tackling a flat 50k on the road. Here, the principles of endurance and stamina are paramount, and your training regimen will bear some resemblance to marathon preparation. But when the trail gets rough and steep, that’s where the distinctions become clearer.
- Terrain Matters: Ultramarathons frequently take place on technical mountain trails with significant elevation changes. This necessitates practicing “fast hiking” at race intensity, a motor pattern distinct from running. Building strength endurance for these demanding terrains is essential.
- Downhill Mastery: Attacking downhills in an ultramarathon requires a unique combination of specific fitness (particularly quad durability) and technical skill. Training for this aspect is vital for success on challenging descents.
- Race Execution: Ultramarathons place a heavier emphasis on non-fitness aspects of race execution. Managing hydration, electrolytes, food intake, temperature control, and other factors becomes critical during long races.
- Aerobic Development: While many ultra runners focus on trail-specific skills, the importance of aerobic development should not be underestimated. Long marathon-paced runs (MP runs) and threshold workouts can contribute significantly to your ultra performance, particularly in races up to 50k.
Key Takeaways on Training for a Marathon vs Ultramarathon
Here are the key takeaways for marathon vs. ultramarathon training:
- Tailor your training to match the specific demands of your chosen race terrain.
- Practice “fast hiking” for steep ascents and develop downhill running skills.
- Master race execution by fine-tuning your nutrition, hydration, and temperature control strategies.
- Don’t neglect aerobic development; it can boost your performance in ultras up to 50k.
The Ultramarathon Edge
For those venturing into the realm of longer ultras (100K and beyond), a couple of lessons stand out as game-changers:
- Hiking Efficiency: Learning how to hike fast can significantly improve your finishing times in longer ultras. Efficient hiking on steep terrain is a must-have skill.
- Footwear Matters: Consider switching to more cushioned shoes if you’re transitioning from road running to ultramarathons. Proper shoe support can prevent injuries and discomfort during extended efforts.
- Nutrition is Key: Consume more calories during long runs – around 100 calories every 30 minutes – to sustain energy levels and have a successful race day.
Marathon vs 100-Mile Trail Race: An Elite Comparison
To put the challenges into perspective, here’s a quick comparison between an elite marathon and a 100-mile trail race:
- Marathon: ~80% VO2 max, 2 hours vs. 100-Mile Trail Race: ~65% VO2 max, 20 hours
- Marathon: ~20-30,000 steps vs. 100-Mile Trail Race: ~200-300,000 steps
- Marathon: Same maximally efficient running form vs. 100-Mile Trail Race: Frequently varying form with extensive small muscle control for technical trails
- Marathon: Mostly glycogen-fueled with some carb intake and fat burning vs. 100-Mile Trail Race: Much higher levels of both carb intake and fat burning
Closing Summary: Marathon vs Ultramarathon Training
In the marathon vs. ultramarathon training debate, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Your training journey should align with your goals and the specific challenges of your chosen race. Whether you opt for the marathon’s swift roads or the ultramarathon’s rugged trails, the key is to tailor your training, master essential skills, and find your stride on the path to personal achievement. Remember, both marathon and ultramarathon training offer unique rewards and challenges, so choose the one that best aligns with your running aspirations and embark on an unforgettable journey of endurance and self-discovery.