A few weeks ago, I ran my first ever ultra – the Peak Trails 30. I crossed the line in the top 10 per cent of the whole field, having easily run the best race I have ever run and probably ever will. Then, I found out that I’d missed a checkpoint right near the start – a mistake that landed me with a 30-minute point penalty. Honestly, I cried. It still hurts now.
I wanted to share my experience because if you’d told me when I was holding a newborn that I could run an ultra by the time she was one, I’d have slapped you. And I want other mum runners to know that actually, with luck and support, it’s completely possible. Of course it is. After all, everyone is busy. Do you know anyone whose life doesn’t get in the way of running? Me neither.
So here are a few tips I’ve gathered from far more expert people on how to train for an ultra, when you have a life outside of running:
#1 Don’t just do long runs
If you’re like me, the second you sign up for an ultra, you’ll swap that pavement-pounding weekly speed session for a nice long run with your dog. But even though ultras are about running slow, efficiency and form matter more than ever. In fact, if you focus on good technique, coach Shane Benzies reckons it’s possible to train for an ultra in just three hours a week.
#2 Back-to-back runs and cross-training
This suggestion is from Trail and Mountain Running, by queens of the fells Wendy Dodds and Sarah Rowell. They suggest days when you double up – maybe you can get out for 30 minutes in your lunch break, then an hour before dinner? Or you might be able to stomach an hour running outside on a freezing winter night, then jump on a turbo (or exercise bike) in front of the telly when you get home?
Another option is to do two hard days back-to-back, such as two long runs in a row, or a speed session followed by a long run. It’s a method recommended by legendary ultra runner Scott Jurek… in moderation, fortunately.
#3 Get a running stroller
This tip is probably only for parents, or you might look a little odd.
Last Christmas, my husband bought me a training plan from fell running coach Dave Taylor. It’s possibly* the most thoughtful present he’s ever given me. And one of the things Dave Taylor suggested was a weekly pushchair run, as a way of increasing ‘time on my feet’ without needing childcare.
Six months later I was working up towards running a three-hour fell race, then an ultra, and my running stroller became a real lifesaver. Here’s some more detailed advice from Runner’s World coach Jenny Hadfield.
*My husband thinks the most thoughtful present he’s given me is a heart rate monitor, but we strongly disagree… opinions please?
#4 Choose a race after a holiday
OK, this tip is completely non-expert and my own. We were really lucky to have a two week holiday in August, which meant I could slot in two looooong training runs a fortnight before my race without feeling massively guilty. If your holiday’s an all-inclusive week on a tropical beach with delicious free food and cocktails, though, I’d probably just order another mojito.
#5 Do a sneaky reccy
Who on earth has time to reccy an ultra? Well here’s another tip I picked up out of Wendy and Sarah’s Trail and Mountain Running, and it’s pure genius. Instead of running the full route, just check out the tricky sections such as through towns, in and out of feed stations, etc. Many trail ultras aren’t fully marked so, unless your a super-hot navigator, it could save you minutes (and, who knows, maybe help you avoid the heartache of a points penalty).
If you’ve got any other ideas I’d love to hear them, and if you’ve run an ultra with a busy life and/or family, tell the world how it went…