So You Want to Run an Ultramarathon?

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Blog written by: Liza Howard

So you’re thinking about running 50 miles?   An ultra sounds like it might be fun?  An adventure?  A worthwhile challenge?  Or maybe you just succumbed to Eagle peer pressure?  Training for and running an ultra can be a fun adventure and a worthwhile challenge.  It can even give peer pressure a good name.  And whatever brought you to this point of embarkation, the 27-week training plan will help guide you to the finish line.

Long-time ultrarunner, coach, and race director, Joe Prusaitis, designed the plan to accommodate different fitness levels and time constraints.

Trail Running Joe

Joe began running roads well after military duty & college.  It was a short trip from road to trail. 20+ Marathons were the foundation used to catapult directly into 50mi & 100mi races. He then rolled through Hardrock, Western States, Wasatch, Vermont, Heartland, Rocky, Grand Teton, Arkansas, Bighorn, Barkley, and Badwater. Joe prefers 100 milers most and mountain terrain best, but also loves the variety, so just about anything and everything was worth exploring. From 1997 to 2008, Joe finished 35+ 100milers and a plethora of other odd ultras in the mountains, plains, and deserts. All of this over the past 25 years must be upwards towards 300 races, but he quit counting a few years ago. He was putting training plans together for friends from the beginning, but he started pursuing coaching professionally in 2009. Since then, Joe has coached 200+ friends. He still runs, but most of his time is now spent either coaching or reading. Odds are good that if you have a trail running goal in mind, whether it’s pretty pedestrian or sounds perfectly crazy, Joe can help you.

Here are some thoughts on getting started with it.

• Consult with your physician before you begin Joe’s program. The conversation will probably go something like this:

  • You: I’m planning to run a 50-mile race.
  • Doctor: That’s crazy! Why would you want to do that???
  • You: It seemed like a good challenge… Ultras are pretty popular these days.”
  • Doctor: You’ll ruin your knees.


• Joe’s plan starts with a 12-week base phase. If you can’t run 15 miles all at once yet, use the template to slowly build to that distance before starting this phase.  Just add one to two miles to your long run each week until you reach 15.

• Runs are scheduled for Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays during the base phase. See the training plan for details.  Running is optional the rest of the week. Your fitness, the date of your race, and your work and family responsibilities will determine whether you choose to run these days.

• This 12-week base phase is a good time to work on speed.

• A 12-week endurance phase begins next. The goal of this phase is to increase the distance of your weekly long runs. You’ll build to a 35 to 45 mile run.  Key workouts remain on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

• A 3-week taper follows, bringing you to race day.

• Running with a friend or a group will make your long runs much more enjoyable. If you can’t keep up with a group for their entire long run, run with them for part of your run.  You can also enlist friends to run with you for shorts sections of your long runs.

• Take in 180-200 calories every hour when your runs last more than 90 minutes. You can use any combination of gels, chews, food, and drink mixes to accomplish this.  Figure out what combination sits best in your stomach.  Knowing how to fuel yourself is key to finishing an ultra.

• Drink to thirst. Make sure you bring enough water or sports drink on your runs to avoid becoming thirsty.  If you’re going to wear a hydration vest during your race, practice with it during your long runs.

• Pay attention to any aches and pains as they arise. Rating them on a scale of 1-10 in your training log will help you recognize when they’re worsening. Don’t run if pain is worsening from day to day.  And seek professional advice for any aches and pains lasting more than 10 days.

• Enjoy the crazy journey! And come to Team RWB’s National Trail Camp this October if you can for guidance from Joe, me and the best ultrarunners in the United States.


More on the author:

Liza Howard is an accomplished mountain, ultra, and trail runner living in San Antonio, Texas.  She divides her time between her husband and two young children, teaching for the Wilderness Medicine Institute, coaching, directing Team RWB’s national trail camp, and running 100-mile and multi-day stage races.  She has won the Leadville 100 twice and holds one of the fastest 100-mile trail times run in the United States.   She started as a road marathoner and continues to find success there.  She coaches for Sharman Ultra Endurance Coaching.