How do I find my ultra plan?

Finding your ultra plan can seem daunting at first, but with some guidance, you can discover the right ultra distance and training plan for your goals and abilities. Ultramarathons, any race longer than the standard 26.2 mile marathon, are growing rapidly in popularity as an engaging test of endurance. But successfully training for and finishing an ultra requires dedication, planning, and an understanding of your body’s limits. This comprehensive guide will walk you through how to find and select the best ultra plan to help you achieve your ultra goals.

What are the most popular ultra distances?

If you’re new to ultrarunning, a good place to start is understanding the most common race distances. While ultras can range anywhere from 31 to 100+ miles, some of the most popular include:

  • 50K (31 miles)
  • 50 miles
  • 100K (62 miles)
  • 100 miles

50K ultras are a popular introductory distance, achievable for fit marathoners with some adjustments to training. Stepping up to 50 miles provides a significant challenge without the logistics of very long distances. Meanwhile, 100K and 100 mile races are the ultimate tests reserved for the most experienced ultrarunners.

Assess your abilities and background

When selecting your goal ultra distance, it’s important to realistically assess your abilities and background. Key factors to consider include:

  • Your current fitness level and recent race times – Have you run any marathons or shorter ultras? What were your finishing times, and how did the distances feel?
  • Overall health and injury history – Make sure you’re healthy enough for the training demands of an ultra.
  • Time commitments – Ultras require seriously high training mileage. Estimate how much time you can devote to training.
  • Fueling experience – Practice fueling and hydrating while running to prepare your stomach for ultra distances.
  • Mental toughness – Running long distances requires mental grit and focus. How do you handle discomfort and adversity?

Use your past experience and honest self-assessment of your abilities to select a realistic race distance to target in your first ultra.

Determine your time goals

Once you’ve selected a race distance, consider your time goals. While just finishing an ultra can be a monumental accomplishment, having a target finishing time in mind can help structure your training. Here are some tips for setting an ambitious but reasonable goal time:

  • Research typical finishing times for your target race distance
  • Consider how your current fitness and race times translate to ultra distances
  • Add 20-30% to your current marathon or shorter ultra times as a starting goal
  • Talk to others who have completed your target race or distance for insight
  • Build in buffer room for factors like challenging terrain, aid station stops, etc.

Setting a finish time goal will help you plan training paces and workout benchmarks to hit in preparation. But remain flexible, as your initial ultra experience will be highly informative for setting goals in the future.

Select an appropriate first ultra race

Choosing the right race for your ultra debut can set you up for success. Here are key factors to look for as you pick your goal event:

  • Distance – Match the race distance to your chosen ultra distance goal.
  • Location and terrain – Consider travel logistics. Also, opt for relatively runnable terrain if possible.
  • Time of year – Pick a race date that allows adequate training time, and weather you can handle.
  • Aid stations – Frequent aid stations (every 5-10km) make fueling and hydrating easier.
  • Time limit – Choose an event with a generous cutoff time for your projected finish.
  • Cost and amenities – Determine if race entry fee and provided amenities/support fit your budget.

Ideally, your first ultra should be a very achievable experience that sets you up for racing longer distances in the future. Use race reviews and runner feedback to guide your race selection.

Select a training plan

The key to ultra success is following a strong training plan tailored to your chosen distance and goals. Look for a plan that includes:

  • 40-70+ miles per week at peak training
  • A gradual long run progression up to 4+ hours
  • Weekly speedwork or strength sessions
  • Back to back long run weekends
  • Down weeks for recovery every 3-4 weeks

Quality commercial plans from coaches and ultrarunning resources are the best option for first-timers. Avoid overimprovising or making up your own plan. Consider hiring a coach experienced in ultras for custom guidance.

Training specificity

The best ultra training plans appropriately match workouts and progression to your goal race’s distance and terrain specifics. Targeted specificity helps maximize your preparation while reducing injury risk.

Nutrition practice

Long run nutrition practice is an essential component of a proper ultra plan. Workouts should force you to practice fueling and hydrating just like on race day.

Mental toughness development

Beyond physical fitness, ultra training should prepare your mind and perseverance. Look for workouts like back to backs that simulate the ultra grind.

Recovery focus

Recovery days and weeks are critical when training at high volume for an ultra. Make sure your plan properly balances hard training and rest.

Execute your training consistently

Once you’ve mapped out your ultra plan, it’s time to put in the hard work. Here are tips for getting quality consistent training:

  • Follow the plan each week – Avoid skipping workouts or winging distances.
  • Listen to your body – Adjust training as needed for injury prevention.
  • Run higher mileage weeks at conservative paces to stay fresh.
  • hydrate and fuel properly, especially for long workouts.
  • Cross-train for recovery and injury resistance.
  • Get proper rest and sleep between runs.

Training discipline and resilience, while preventing overtraining, will ensure you show up on race day in the best possible shape to achieve your ultra goals.


Preparing for an ultra requires careful goal setting, plan selection, and dedicated training execution. But the fulfilment of crossing your first ultra finish line is life-changing. By following the tips above, you can discover your ideal ultra distance and create a journey that will test and transform you in the best possible ways. The ultra community provides amazing support along the way. Good luck as you take the first steps towards your ultra dream!

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