I feel like the ultra community doesn’t do a very good job of communicating what it takes to run ultras. I see people ask if they’re good to go for the race they’ve signed up for and the typical response is either “yes”, “maybe”, or “stop reading Goggins”. The general theme is if in doubt, run more miles. But how many miles is enough?
I’m proposing a simple metric of lifetime miles as a multiple of your target race with the definition of lifetime being since you started consistently running. I’m not going to place any qualifications on where you run those miles (roads, trails) or the workouts you want to include (tempo, hill repeats) or the frequency that you run these miles (daily, weekly). My only caveat is that you need to steadily increase your long run towards your target distance. So if you’re aiming for a 50K, you can’t max out your longest run at 5 miles. You’ll need to get up over 20 at some point.
Now how big of a multiple do you need? When I was thinking about this on a run, I started at the extremes. Ten seemed far too little and a hundred seemed a little excessive. Splitting the difference at fifty seemed about right. This would mean about 2.5 years of forty mile weeks before attempting a hundred.
Here’s my progression for comparison:
Turns out I was well above this when I started running ultras and then down to about this when I got to the hundred mile distance. Since I didn’t start running until I turned 40, I wanted a bit of a base at the marathon distance before moving up. I don’t know as that year was completely necessary, but I haven’t been injured yet in my running career so who’s to say different.
The fifty times distance multiple won’t be for everyone. I could see someone who is very young and/or “athletic” being able to get by with fewer miles though 20 times is probably as low as you want to go. Also the lower multiple you go with, the higher your risk of DNF or injury. The flip side would those who are older or more out of shape.
The other factor to consider is how quickly you can cram these in before your race. Again, the younger you are and the better you recover from the miles, the faster you can get to your lifetime miles. There’s no reason to rush things though unless this is only a bucket list goal. If you’d like to turn ultras into a long term hobby or lifestyle, then I’d definitely recommend taking your time like I did. There’s no rush. These races aren’t going anywhere.
Good luck on your ultra journey!