Aug 17 2016

Training and Nutrition Mistakes to Avoid Prior to Multiday Ultramarathon Competition.

 Training for a multiday ultramarathonTraining Mistakes to Avoid prior to Multiday Ultras competition takes a mix of trial and error, art and science to be able to make it through a grueling competition, however most competitors do not take a methodical approach to either training or nutrition prior to competition. For the purposes of this article, a multi-day ultramarathon competition will include two type of ultramarathon running events: timed races spanning longer than 48 hours in duration up to 6 Day – 144 hour races, or stage races of 5 days or further where the event is not continuous but has a set distance each day. The two main types of multiday stage ultramarathons include a timed event where the clock winds down and the competitor must accumulate the most distance to win the race.  In timed races, athletes minimize their rest time and try to constantly keep moving forward running or walking around a looped course. The other type of multi-day race includes stage races where all competitors complete a set distance each day, but usually are in ultramarathon (over 26.2 miles) distance, commonly five days in a row (Lipman, et al. 2014). Both of these types of continual exertion days in a row without the chance to fully rest or recover completely require unique approaches in training and nutrition prior to competition. 

Training for multi-day ultramarathon distances events does not include typical workouts with (tempo, speed, interval type) regimented training as when preparing for a comparatively shorter marathon race. Training for multi-days must include specific adaptations like preparing the body to continue exercising while fatigued, practicing walking fast, practicing running while carrying weight, and training for the environment the race will be held in.

Whether running a timed race or stage race over several days, in both events the athlete must be prepared to continue competing while muscles feel fatigued. Many athletes mistakenly take a typical marathon or ultramarathon training program and extend long slow runs in an attempt to prepare for a multi-day race. However, some of the best ways to run on fatigued legs as in during a multi-day, is to either train twice per day with a heavy/easy workout running session in a day, or conduct 2-3 consecutive days of slow aerobic paced runs over 6 hours. The athlete training may not need to always run during a training session, but needs to be on their feet over 6 hours a day for a 2 to 3-day training period.  Walking can be used during this time.

In addition to practicing the concept of “time on feet” a long run that includes walking can also train the walking muscles that most athletes will use during a multi-day race. The most highly competitive athletes will still walk a significant amount in a multi-day race, but most competitors in training prior to the race do not incorporate walking in their training. This mistake becomes paramount during an event if they have not adequately trained for this, as the biomechanics of walking are obviously different that running.  The athlete who incorporates specific training sessions that includes long hours of fast walking will be better prepared than athletes who do not train to walk.  In the same way, athletes who train for longer periods of “time on feet” will be better prepared for a multi-day than those who do fast miles or distance based training runs. This is particular needful of timed races of 48 to 144 hours where competitors minimize sleep and spend the majority of their awake time on their feet moving forward.  The act of being upright for upwards of 20-22 hours a day during competition needs months and sometimes years of training to handle being on their feet for the duration of the competition. In marathons or shorter races, the athlete may only be standing for 2 -3 hours during competition. The strain on the muscles and bodily exhaustion to stay standing or moving for 20 or more hours a day requires practice standing for long hours prior to the competition starts.

Many multi-day stage races require competitors to carry their gear with them for the duration of the run.  Mistakes made prior to these types of events is to not devote training session with a backpack or weighted vest.  Extra load on the skeletal muscle and increasing weight load over time will strengthen the muscles needed to continue to carry weight during competition. Without prior training, back muscles will fatigue quickly under a weighted load during completion, but if strengthened before hand the race will we perceived easier for those prepared.

Some multi-day ultramarathon events can occur in extreme environments with average ambient temperatures above 30 degrees C (Costa, Crockford, Moore, et al. 2014).  Prior to competition, athletes should prepare for hot environments by acclimatizing to them by training in hot environment. According to Costa, Crockford, Moore, et al. (2014), prior to competition, athlete training should include two-hour running exercise sessions in temperatures above 35C for approximately one to two weeks to become acclimatized.  If athletes to not acclimatize, they can develop exercise heat stress or heat related illness during the competition (Gill, et al. 2015).  Not preparing for a extremely hot environment – made harder by carrying a heavy pack during competition – is a mistake many athletes make prior to competition of a multi-day stage race.

Nutrition concepts prior to multi-day competition should be preparations to ingest high amounts of calories, and to metabolize fuel continually for the duration of the event. Most athletes have been taught to eat a high carbohydrate diet when running long distances, especially when training and preparing for distances up to a marathon. But in an ultramarathon event lasting several days of continual exercise, glycogen stores are depleted rapidly, so the athlete needs to find a viable alternative to carbohydrate fueling when burning upwards of 10,000 calories per day in multi-day racing (Ranchordas, 2012). During a multi-day race, intensity during exercise is lower than a traditional 10 km or marathon pace run.  The athlete must run much slower to be able to go further than 50 or 100 miles in a day.  During this lower intensity exercise, the body is able to metabolize Free Fatty Acids (FFA) or burn fat for fuel. If an athlete can train ahead of time to maximize FFA utilization as the primary source of fuel, then most of the duration of a multi-day ultramarathon race will be in a state of fat burning and can perform well (Volek, et al. 2015).

Prior to a race though, the competitor must both become fat adapted, and able to digest large amounts foods while exercising during competition.  Mistakes in nutrition prior to competing in a multi-day race, include not getting the body fat adapted to burn fuel early on the onset of exercise.  The more one practices eating a clean high fat low carbohydrate diet, the more the body begins to utilize FFA as a method of fuel during exercise.  Each individual takes a unique time to become fat adapted, but usually after 2 to 6 weeks eating a high fat low carbohydrate diet they can be fully fat adapted.  Once the athlete is fat adapted, they can immediately use fat as fuel upon the immediate onset of exercise (Volek, et al. 2015). Traditionally, most athletes do not consume a high fat or low carb diet nor are metabolically efficient during exercise to use FFA as fuel for energy. But over the duration of a multi-day stage ultramarathon race, athletes will because of lower intensity begin to metabolize fat for aerobic performance (Schütz, et al. 2013). If on a traditional diet, athletes will burn through all their glycogen stores first.  This will hamper their performance as it will take time for them to adapt if it's during the actual competition – if it is a very long even spanning thousands of kilometers or weeks of competition.   A properly trained athlete for multi-day ultramarathon races should have spent several weeks prior to the race becoming fat adapted and ready to perform.

Mistakes made for most runners prior to multi-day ultramarathon competitions can be avoided if properly trained and by taking time to adapt to fat metabolism. Eating foods like coconut oil, avocadoes, bacon, eggs with a high amount of vegetables is a way to get tot body in a state of fat metabolism. Eating these foods during exercise can also train the stomach to digest these fuels while exercising so the body can rapidly provide feel to the muscles. Practicing eating possibly while on a long 6 hour or longer training session either walking or running will mimic race day conditions and will do well to prepare the athlete to compete in a multi-day race.


Costa, R. S., Crockford, M. J., Moore, J. P., & Walsh, N. P. (2014). Heat acclimation responses of an ultra-endurance running group preparing for hot desert-based competition. European Journal Of Sport Science14S131-S141. doi:10.1080/17461391.2012.660506

Gill, S. K., Teixeira, A., Rama, L., Rosado, F., Hankey, J., Scheer, V., & … Costa, R. S. (2015). Circulatory endotoxin concentration and cytokine profile in response to exertional-heat stress during a multi-stage ultra-marathon competition. Exercise Immunology Review, 21114-128.

Kliszczewicz, B., Quindry, C. J., Blessing, L. D., Oliver, D. G., Esco, R. M., & Taylor, J. K. (2015). Acute Exercise and Oxidative Stress: CrossFit(™) vs. Treadmill Bout. Journal Of Human Kinetics, 4781-90. doi:10.1515/hukin-2015-0064

Lipman, G. S., Krabak, B. J., Waite, B. L., Logan, S. B., Menon, A., & Chan, G. K. (2014). A Prospective Cohort Study of Acute Kidney Injury in Multi-stage Ultramarathon Runners: The Biochemistry in Endurance Runner Study (BIERS). Research In Sports Medicine, 22(2), 185-192. doi:10.1080/15438627.2014.881824

Ranchordas, M. K. (2012). Nutrition for Adventure Racing. Sports Medicine, 42(11), 915-927.

Schütz, U. W., Billich, C., König, K., Würslin, C., Wiedelbach, H., Brambs, H., & Machann, J. (2013). Characteristics, changes and influence of body composition during a 4486 km transcontinental ultramarathon: results from the Transeurope Footrace mobile whole body MRI-project. BMC Medicine11(1), 1-27. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-122

Volek, J. S., Freidenreich, D. J., Saenz, C., Kunces, L. J., Creighton, B. C., Bartley, J. M., & … Phinney, S. D. (2016). Metabolic characteristics of keto-adapted ultra-endurance runners. Metabolism: Clinical And Experimental65(3), 100-110. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2015.10.028


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