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Training Tips for an Ultra-Marathon


Ahead of Ultra Trail Australia next week, we caught up with superstar Squadrun running coach, Ali Pottinger.

Ali has been running training camps ahead of UTA and had some insights to share on getting ready for any major race, from lacing up your shoes for your first training run to the finish line. Whether you’re running UTA or thinking about training for something new, Ali’s got some great tips on mental and physical preparation.

Ali, when is the best time to start training for an Ultra marathon?

I always say the best time to start training for an ultra is NOW.

The longer you have to condition your body (to running long distances) and your mind (to knowing you can) the better.

A good block of time to train gives you an opportunity to learn about what works or doesn’t work for you in regards to fuelling and hydration, or gear. It also gives you a chance to learn from your experiences (in training) which will set you up for a more successful ultra.

Is it true that you believe that just having fun is what it is all about?

I wouldn’t say what it is ALL about but it is a priority, we get into this sport because we enjoy what running offers us. I love the feeling of running, the places it takes me, the friends it has helped me make, and what it has done for my body and mind.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always all fun but there’s definitely an element of fun in the challenging ‘stuff’ too, overcoming adversity can be fun.

Where do people even start if they are interested in doing a marathon?

Running is like anything else that you learn. Start small and keep ‘levelling up’ from there. If I was going to learn a language I’d learn the basics and gradually add complexity. The same applies to running.

Tick off a parkrun, work towards a 10km, then a half marathon and keep building from there.

What are the top tips you would give to a runner who is in their final stages of training for UTA?

It’s all mental now. Make sure you are rested, eating well, staying hydrated, have organised all of the little bits you need to organise, whether it is gear, drop bags, crew etc.

Keep up your exercise routine but remember to reduce volume and increase rest.

Hit that start line feeling like you have a fresh pair of legs and you are ready to run.

What are the top three things you would take into a race, besides mandatory requirements?

1. A positive attitude, the right mindset can make a huge difference to an ultra. Be grateful that you get to take part, and that your body is allowing you to do something EPIC, say thank you and smile at volunteers and crew members- it makes you feel better being kind. And appreciate the Gundungurra country that you are running through, we are so lucky to run across such a magical place.

2. Realistic goals, have your A goal, ideally a process based one- it could be something like ‘to run strong’, ‘to run efficiently’, ‘concentrate’ or ‘stay positive and focused’. Have something that you can keep referring back to throughout your race and one that will get the best out of yourself.

3. Treats! There’s nothing quite like having something to look forward to at certain parts of your race, whether it is a vegemite sandwich, lollies, a gingerbeer or a post race treat have those planned and ready.

How would you recommend competitors prepare themselves mentally?

Mentally, know that you have done the best that you could do. Focus on the fact that you have done all that you can do and from here on out to control the things you can.

I like to think of training as being like baking a cake, all of those runs that you have done, all the gym work, the physio visits, the rest days etc are the ingredients that go into baking your race cake and race day is just the icing, the sweet stuff that sits on top of all of your hard work.

What are the biggest mistakes you see with the runners?

It’s usually either forgetting to pace themselves appropriately and trying to win the race in the first 5kms, or it’s forgetting to problem solve.

Pace wise, there’s a great saying ‘In the first half of the race don’t be a hero, and in the second half of the race don’t be a wuss’. If it were me I’d be wanting to make the most of being able to run down kedumba well and not have spent all of my cookies climbing stairs.

Problem solving wise: if you have blisters, deal with them. If you have Gastrointestinal issues dial back the pace a little and try and work on whether you need to put food or water in or whether you have overdone it. If you are feeling the chafe monster starting to lurk whack some lube on. If you are starting to feel a little bit cold whack a thermal top on.

Little things can become big things in ultra’s.

What should competitors do to prepare themselves the night before?

Go to the expo and briefing, have an early dinner, stay hydrated, make sure that their gear is all set out and ready to go so that in the morning, it’s just up, get dressed, eat and go. Alarm set and get into bed early.

Imagine it’s race day! Any last words of advice for the competitor?

Enjoy it! Remember why you signed up for this and get out there and give it your best. We will look forward to seeing you at the finish line 🙂

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