Lucy WheelerComment

How to Train for An Ultra Marathon

Lucy WheelerComment
How to Train for An Ultra Marathon

With just under two weeks to go until I run the Wadi Rum Ultra I thought I would pull together the things that I have learnt so far and share what I’ve learnt about training for an ultra marathon.

As you may or may not know from this post I am running the Wadi Rum Ultra Marathon - a 6 day multi stage run across the desert in Jordan.

Firstly, the Wadi Rum Ultra is known for being one of the toughest foot races on earth. You may have heard of the Marathon des Sables, the Wadi Rum Ultra is like that, but different. Instead of running 250km in 6 days (MDS) Wadi is 260km in 5 days. Both races require you to be self-sufficient - aside from fresh water – for the whole period. However, the big difference lies in the kit carrying. In MDS you carry everything you need for the week each day, so food and sleeping bag, etc. In Wadi you carry only the food and equipment you need for that day.

 

Training

One thing that everyone who I have spoken to about the race has said (after saying it’s a crazy challenge) is that they wouldn’t have had time to train. Bear with me whilst I explain but I think that people are way too dismissive of opportunities or challenges before they have considered them and use factors such as time and money as excuses. I appreciate that you may think this is a little harsh but I am a strong believer in never saying that I do not have enough time. The reality is – and as annoying as this may sound - we all have the same amount of time, it’s how we chose to spend and prioritise it that matters.

If it helps to assess whether you have time to train, I have a full-time job as a lawyer. The hours are long and over the past few months the stress levels have been the highest I have ever experienced (not great timing). I have an hour commute each way each day when I am in the office but I do have the opportunity to work at home a couple of days a week. I have a boyfriend who loves adventure but not fitness so I cannot try and class training as quality time together as he doesn’t come running. I have a dog who I walk for an hour each morning (except Wednesdays) but no children. The big difference with an event like this compared to anything I’ve done before is that it is multi-day and gets progressively harder. Whilst marathon training can take up a lot of time, most long runs are sub-3hrs and they are just one day in the week. For this event I have had to train back to back weekend days for 4+ hours at a time.

 

Honest opinion: okay I will admit it, I did underestimate the amount of time I would have to spend training on a weekend. The 5-6 hours Saturday and then Sunday were hard going. Aside from my running sidekick, border-collie Gatsby, and one run with my friend Rachel I have done almost every single step on my own. That is fine and I think totally normal as none of my friends, family or boyfriend like running. I have listened to a lot of great music, podcasts and had plenty of time to think.

What I have really found hard is the sheer exhaustion. I usually work on evenings when I get home from the office and at least one morning on a weekend. I have been running almost every weekend day and so haven’t worked which made me really anxious at the start. So, whilst the training itself isn’t that had to fit in, I had not appreciated how tired I would feel on each day after the run session. This could be avoided by training for the event over a longer period so that your body has more time to adapt. It can also be improved by getting your nutrition right before and during the run. More on that below.

 

Nutrition

This has been the biggest learning curve for me. I have learnt that you cannot just wing it. Whereas I am a relatively experienced runner and confident camping and on expeditions, I am terrible with nutrition and will happily run a half marathon with no breakfast and with no water stops. This kind of approach simply will not work in the desert and I learnt my lesson the hard way on one 20M Saturday morning long run.

 

Kit

If you’re a runner you will have almost all of the kit anyway. If you’re a runner and you regularly go on adventurers then you will have very little to buy. This means that the race is relatively accessible – obviously there are flights and the race entry fee to factor in too – but I consider this to be a week of annual leave, an adventure holiday! You can spend a similar amount of money on an all inclusive 7/10 night away to a beach resort. I am not saying that either holiday option is better than the other, again it is all about choices and having a positive mindset. It’s not about thinking you won’t be able to afford it but prioritising how you want to spend your money.

I have listed out the kit below into kit which I have and kit which I have had to get new for the trip and also into running and expedition:

 

Insert kit table

 

Mindset

The other huge aspect of the event has been training my mind to believe that I can. In all honesty I don’t know whether I can do this. I have never tried to do anything like this, in the heat, but I know that believing that I can’t do it won’t get me very far. With just under two weeks to go until I run the Wadi Rum Ultra I thought I would pull together the things that I have learnt so far.

Firstly, the Wadi Rum Ultra is known for being one of the toughest foot races on earth. You may have heard of the Marathon des Sables, the Wadi Rum Ultra is like that, but different. Instead of running 250km in 6 days (MDS) Wadi is 260km in 5 days. Both races require you to be self-sufficient - aside from fresh water – for the whole period. However, the big difference lies in the kit carrying. In MDS you carry everything you need for the week each day, so food and sleeping bag, etc. In Wadi you carry only the food and equipment you need for that day.

 

Training

One thing that everyone who I have spoken to about the race has said (after saying it’s a crazy challenge) is that they wouldn’t have had time to train. I personally think that people are way too dismissive of things and use factors such as time and money is excuses. I appreciate you may think this is a little harsh but I am a strong believer in never saying that I do not have enough time. The reality is – and as annoying as this may sound - we all have the same amount of time, it’s how we chose to prioritise it that matters.

If it helps to assess whether you have time, I have a full-time job as a lawyer. The hours are long and over the past few months the stress levels have been the highest I have ever experienced (not great timing). I have an hour commute each way each day when I am in the office but I do have the opportunity to work at home a couple of days a week. I have a boyfriend who loves adventure but not fitness so I cannot try and class training as quality time together. I have a dog who I walk for an hour each morning (except Wednesdays) but no children.

This is an extract from my training plan. Note that I was starting from a relatively good base level of fitness.

Insert training table

 

The big difference with an event like this compared to anything I’ve done before is that it is multi-day and gets progressively harder. Whilst marathon training can take up a lot of time, most long runs are sub-3hrs and they are just one day in the week. For this event I have had to train back to back weekend days for 4+ hours at a time.

 

Honest opinion: okay I will admit it, I did underestimate the amount of time I would have to spend training on a weekend. The 5-6 hours Saturday and then Sunday were hard going. Aside from my running sidekick, border-collie Gatsby, and one run with my friend Rachel I have done almost every single step on my own. That is fine and I think totally normal as none of my friends, family or boyfriend like running. I have listened to a lot of great music, podcasts and had plenty of time to think.

What I have really found hard is the sheer exhaustion. I usually work on evenings when I get home from the office and at least one morning on a weekend. I have been running almost every weekend day and so haven’t worked which made me really anxious at the start. So, whilst the training itself isn’t that had to fit in, I had not appreciated how tired I would feel on each day after the run session. This could be avoided by training for the event over a longer period so that your body has more time to adapt. It can also be improved by getting your nutrition right before and during the run. More on that below.

 

Nutrition

This has been the biggest learning curve for me. I have learnt that you cannot just wing it. Whereas I am a relatively experienced runner and confident camping and on expeditions, I am terrible with nutrition and will happily run a half marathon with no breakfast and with no water stops. This kind of approach simply will not work in the desert and I learnt my lesson the hard way on one 20M Saturday morning long run.

 

Kit

If you’re a runner you will have almost all of the kit anyway. If you’re a runner and you regularly go on adventurers then you will have very little to buy. This means that the race is relatively accessible – obviously there are flights and the race entry fee to factor in too – but I consider this to be a week of annual leave, an adventure holiday! You can spend a similar amount of money on an all inclusive 7/10 night away to a beach resort. I am not saying that either holiday option is better than the other, again it is all about choices and having a positive mindset. It’s not about thinking you won’t be able to afford it but prioritising how you want to spend your money.

I have listed out the kit below into kit which I have and kit which I have had to get new for the trip and also into running and expedition:

 

Insert kit table

 

Mindset

The other huge aspect of the event has been training my mind to believe that I can. In all honesty I don’t know whether I can do this. I have never tried to do anything like this, in the heat, but I know that believing that I can’t do it won’t get me very far.