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The ultimate guide on how to run a mountain ultra


Last updated: 22-Aug-18

By Alice Morrison

A really tough mountain race is often top of the list of desired achievements for the ultra runner. Not content with running very long distances, the lure of thousands of metres of ascent calls strongly to the trail running community. Here we bring together a complete guide to what you need to successfully run a great mountain race: training programme, nutrition, climbing tips, race planning and much more. All you have to do now, is act on it!

Training for a mountain ultra

Ultra coach, Andy Mouncey, one of RunUltra’s regular training contributors, says, “Mountain ultras - are a full body undertaking which means if all you do is run you’re in for a shock. Torso strength – knee to shoulder – is key to being able to maintain a balanced and upright posture while moving smoothly over uneven ground – oh yes, and not forgetting the capacity to think clearly under competitive pressure for hours and hours.”

He has put together a full mountain ultra running training programme to hone your skills and build your strength.

Building core strength and cross training, as Andy says, are hugely important. Here is a guide to great cross training for mountain running

You will have to keep supple. Stretching is one of those things that many people hate spending time on but most agree is vital. We have three easy-to-follow yoga videos for you which focus on all the spots that runners need.

  1. Hips and hamstrings
  2. Hip openers and stretchers
  3. Restoration and relaxation

Nutrition for mountain ultra training

Training is one part of the equation and nutrition is very much another. We have three nutrition guides for you here. The first is on how to get the very best out of your nutrition whilst training by Sports Nutritionist, Diana Green

The second looks at how to strip fat and build muscle. Ultra runners always have to balance strength and weight but this becomes even more crucial in mountain races. As Diana says, “A leaner body composition can result in more efficient and economical movement. Leanness has a significant enough effect on performance that every ultra runner should be monitoring their body fat percentage as closely as they monitor their training“ 

James Eacott from the RunUltra team is a highly-experienced and competitive racer. “I’m not a nutritionist!” he says but he does have a lot of very useful tried and tested advice to share.  

Nutrition for a mountain ultra race

What you eat while you prepare for a race and what you eat during it are obviously very different things, Nutritionist Rin Cobb says, “By their very nature mountains tend to be somewhat off the beaten track so you’ll likely need to consider being self-sufficient for the duration. The environment you find yourself in, particularly if running abroad, can also be somewhat different to your usual run from home. As you would with your kit, you should plan your sustenance accordingly.” Here, she has put together advice for what you need to take in while you are in the thick of it.  

Six top tips for climbing

Irrespective of whether you are competing or completing, here are six tips to help you on your vertical journey. Apply these to your training and race day will be just a little more pleasurable and a touch less painful,” maintains Ian Corless

Race planning and management

It is not just about preparing your body for the race. Getting your head in the right space is hugely important. Justin Bateman takes us through how to plan for success (and avoid failure).

Ultra long distances and mountain races need careful psychological management as Andy Mouncey explains. 

Something we always need and never more so than when you are 1000 metres up in a race but still have 5000 to go. We talked to some top runners and asked them what inspires them to keep running. “A positive attitude will take you pretty far in long-distance running. It's a sport that we do by choice, for all kinds of reasons. To feel healthy, to spend time with friends, to work on goals, and more. In the throes of a difficult moment, we are apt to forget what got us here in the first place, ourselves. Stay positive and remember your big-picture motivations,” says Meghan Hicks. See more here

Which race?

And finally, you are all geared up and ready to sign up. Here are a couple of ideas for races you may want to try. There are some great mountain races in here

Of course, if you have the points, it is the big daddy of them all… UTMB

And if you fancy a multi-day challenge in the shadow of the world’s highest mountain, there is always the Everest Trail Race

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