How to train for a 100 mile trail running event

There are a lot of things to consider when thinking about how to train for a 100 mile race or maybe even a 200 miler.

  • How hard should you train?
  • How long should your longest run be?
  • How many weeks should you train specifically for it?
  • Should you do any speedwork? Or hill reps? Or cross training?

There is a lot to think about, and I imagine if you are thinking about entering a miler, or you have already entered one, then you will already have given it a lot of thought.

I ran a miler recently. It was fun for 120km, then not so much fun for the last 50km.

In fact, for most of those last 50km I told myself  “I will never do this again”.  Within a couple of days though, I was trying to work out what I did wrong and what I could do to fix it next time!

There is definitely a specific appeal to doing a long run. I guess it is the challenge of finding out what your limits are.

My mistakes were mainly nutrition related. Some rookie errors, and also some things that were not within my control.

A 100 mile event is mostly an eating competition with some running thrown in. A 200 mile event (which I haven’t done) seems like a sleep deprivation contest with some running and eating thrown in.

In the process of training for, and completing, a 100-mile event, I gained some valuable insight into how to prepare for one.

I have written a detailed  100-mile training plan that includes daily distances, strength workouts and nutrition that will definetly help you turn up prepared to your event.

Here are 8 things you definetly need to consider when training for a 100 mile race

I hope this gives you some insight that helps you prepare for your 100 mile trail event.

1. Consistency

The single biggest factor that will help you to reach your 100-mile goal is consistent training.

You would be much better stringing together a series of 70km weeks for example, than doing a 100km week and following it up with a 20-30km week because you are too tired or too sore to train.

Our beginner program is based on 4 runs/week. The intermediate and advanced programs both have 5 runs/week.

You need to choose a level that you feel will be sustainable for the entire 16-week program. Your body needs to be able to comfortably cope with the volume without causing you illness or injuries, and your training schedule needs to be able to fit around all of the other aspects of your day-to-day life, such as work and family commitments.

You are much better to do slightly less training than you feel like you can cope with, rather than slightly too much and it becoming unsustainable.

In the training plan I have included three different levels - beginner, intermediate and advanced.  They are more of a reflection on how much time you have available to train, rather than a reflection on your goal time for the event, or a reflection of your running experience.

Some runners will be able to complete 100 miles in <24 hours following the intermediate level plan, and other runners might take >35 hours following the advanced level plan.

2. Cross Training

Cross Training is an excellent way to build more strength and endurance with less risk of injury due to the lower impact activity.

If at any stage during your training you feel like you are struggling with the running volume, then you could substitute a run with a cross training session.

Read THIS ARTICLE to find out what types of cross training work best for runners.

If you are finding the training load relatively easy, then you could also fit in an additional cross training session on a rest day or on one of the lower volume week days. You might vary these additional cross training sessions from week to week depending on your health, fatigue levels, and your family/work diary.

3. Hiking

Almost every runner in every 100-mile event will be walking/hiking for large sections of the course.

Mainly up hills and up stairs, but also possibly on steep downhill sections of a course. For this reason it VITAL that some of your training is walking/hiking. Your calf muscles especially work in a different way when you are hiking, so you need to prepare them for race day.

Start practising hiking on all of your long runs, and even some of your mid-week runs from early in your training.

4. Elevation

You need to add elevation in your training that is similar to the event you have entered.

As an example, my 100 mile training plan has been based on a course with an elevation of approximately 4000m for the 100 miles. The elevation targets in the plan are set at approximately 250m of vert per 10km of running. You can adjust this pro-rata depending on the elevation of your chosen event.  If your 100-mile event has 8000m vert, then you should be aiming for close to 500m vert per 10km of running.

5. Longest Run

There is a trade off between the fitness, strength and endurance you get from your long training runs, and the fatigue, niggles and extended recovery time that these long runs cause.

I think that the maximum training cut-off is around 5hrs-6hrs of running.

If you spend more than 5-6 hours running, then the balance of fitness versus recovery swings too much towards recovery, and you lose out in terms of overall fitness as a result of having to spend too much time recovering.

The longest runs in my 100 mile plan are capped at 6 hours.

This will understandably make some runners nervous. How can you run for 30+ hours if your longest run is only 6 hours? Please read THIS ARTICLE to find out why this is important.  The article relates to a 100km event, but it is equally relevant for a 100-mile event.

It all comes back to the original principle of consistency being the most important factor in your training.

6. Night Running

Most people will be running through at least one night in their 100 mile event.

You need to learn to become comfortable running on singletrack at night with a headtorch and also learn how long your torch batteries last.

Ideally, do at least one night run on a Friday evening after a long work week to try and replicate some of the race experience. Running in the dark while mentally fatigued is totally different from waking up early and running in the dark while you are fresh after a good night's sleep.

7. Poles

If you are intending to use poles in the event, then practice using them right from the start of your training.

Use them on a variety of terrain, use them at night, and experiment with the most comfortable way of stowing them when they are not in use. Check out this video by trail guru Scotty Hawker on the benefits of using poles.

8. Nutrition

Long races really are an eating competition with some running thrown in. If you can't get enough food into you during the event it will have catastrophic effects on your result.

Most ultra events will have a wide variety of food at Aid Stations. I recommend you don't rely solely on this.

Be prepared by having a variety of your own snacks/food by using the drop bag service or your support crew. You will get sick of eating the same things, especially sweet things, after 24-36 hours -  so plan your nutrition carefully and practice with it during your training.

Training for and completing a 100 mile race is an incredible challenge that takes a lot of dedication and patience. It is worth investing in a good training plan to make the most of your training miles and feel mentally prepared come race day.

Learn more about the 100 mile plan now.