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My First Ultra: How to train for ultras in the city


By Andy Mouncey

A Training Plan Framework for…

Newbie Baby

Age 27, time-poor, city-bound working 50-55 hours/week plus 45 minute commute each end, single or in a relationship, history of regular physical activity but running limited to 5-10km events and strength work limited to class-based workouts.

The target race is the workplace charity challenge and Newbie will be part of a team of 6. Has access to a gym and showers at work but getting out to hilly terrain is a challenge.

Target Race: Hilly Trail 50km

Newbie Needs:

  • Time On Feet
  • Footcare
  • Hiking efficiency on flat and climbs
  • Descent-proofing
  • Postural (i.e. upright) strength

These are the Big Five of Newbie’s PHYSICAL needs for the challenge ahead – mental and emotional needs are not covered here though I would typically start with those for a client such as this.

Newbie CAN run – and as this race will have them running way less than they might think, their training program focuses on the stuff they can’t do/aren’t doing that will make the most difference.

Need: Time On Feet & Hiking Efficiency (Flat)

Key Session: Cute Commute

This is where Newbie will park the car or leave the train and hike-run the rest of the way into work carrying a loaded pack. It is a very time-effective way of accumulating Time On Feet AND developing postural strength carrying a rucksack.

Work clothes and food supplies are stashed at work in advance and Newbie would do this once-twice a week to start with.

  • Session 1: 30mins with a light pack as Hike 7mins / Run steady 3mins continuously


  • Session 2: 30mins …as Hike 10mins / Run steady 5min repeat
  • Session 3: 30mins with heavier pack as Session 1

Need: Footcare

Shredded Contact Points can be a race-ender and FEET are the key CP. Newbie needs to start taking an active interest in the health, wellbeing and function of their feet.

This starts with a visit to a chiropodist for a benchmark assessment and a crash course in callous and nail care. The goal is to evolve a three-dimensional plan as follows:

  • Proactive: Regular habits that keep the feet in good order
  • Reactive: Learn how to treat blisters and chafing
  • Footwear: Selecting and testing shoe-sock-lacing combinations

Need: Hiking Efficiency (Climb)

Key Session: Steps & Stairs

Getting out to hills at the weekend is a bonus so that means making best use of high-rise office stairs, flights of steps or ramps in multistory car parks and any other steps-stairs options available.

This session is one of continuous up-down repeats for a target time focusing on the climbing and using descent time as recovery.

  • Session 1: 2 x 6mins maximum sustainable effort alternating one rep using every step with one rep using every second step / walk easy 2-3mins between sets


  • Session 2: 3 x 6mins as above
  • Session 3: 3 x 6mins using every second step

Need: Descent-proofing

Key Session: Steps & Stairs

This time Newbie is focused on the coming DOWN bit and the climb back up is one of controlled recovery.

  • Session 1: 3 x 4min building to a controlled run down using every step and handrail as guide straight into a controlled hike back up / walk easy 1-2mins between sets


  • Session 2: 3 x 4mins with every other down using every second step as a controlled walk down
  • Session 3: 3 x 4mins at a faster pace than Session 1

Bottom Line

The key progression is to build what volume we can around the key Needs in the time available, and for Newbie this will mean ‘a little and often’ making use of previously dead times like commute and lunchtimes.

This means that weekends are a bonus and will remain so for this client as their primary purpose is recovery and recharge from a full-on week. As time goes on and they get fitter a hike-run combination could be added.

Who Is Andy Mouncey?
Andy does the training stuff for us. He is author of three books including ‘So You Want To Run An Ultra’. He runs long for the challenge and fun of it and has been a professional coach since 2000 working across business-education-sport-lifestyle. He lives with his family in North Yorkshire (UK). www.bigandscaryrunning.com

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