Ask Scott: What’s The Best Way To Train For An Ultra?

Photo: Kurt Hoy


Hi Scott,

I’m training for an ultra. Is mileage more important than time? What is the best way to train?

Shelby K.



For trail ultramarathons, I feel time is more important than mileage. With the factors of terrain and trail surface weighing heavily on trail running speed and thus distance, mileage may not be the best judge of gauging training progress. I find time and elevation change over the distance travelled to be the most effective for trail training. It is important to factor in the trail surface as technical trails can have a significant impact on running speed. While running, or I should say trying to run the West Coast Trail it took me 20 minutes to cover a half mile! Sometimes it is best to leave the stopwatch at home when on rough trails. Once you become familiar with the trails you regularly train you may be able to use mileage to track training effect.

To measure effort while training on trails I find it is best to use heart rate and elevation change per minute. Heart rate monitors are sometimes the only way to measure effort on trails besides perceived exertion (running by feel). Altimeters allow real time monitoring of the rate of elevation gain or loss. By using this gauge and heart rate you can gauge your effort and forward progress in a very effective way while running uphills or downhills.

For road ultramarathons, mileage can be used but I always like to incorporate time, pace and occasionally heart rate. While mileage is the most common way runners like to total their training logs at the end of the week it may not tell the whole story. Use the information that works best for you and don’t forget to sometimes leave the heart rate monitor at home. Keep the training fun!


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