Last Updated on November 7, 2019 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
One hundred miles. It’s a long way to drive. It’s a ridiculous distance to ride on a bike. And it’s an almost unfathomable distance to cover on foot. Yet ultra runners do it all of the time. Chances are you are reading this post because the idea of running 100 miles is on your radar. For me, running the 100 mile distance has been, and continues to be, a life changing experience. I’m happy to provide this free 100 mile ultramarathon training plan & guide, to help you get to the finish line of your first 100.
Am I ready to train for a 100 miler?
Disclaimer: if you are looking for a blog post advocating couch – to – 100 miler, this is not it. As I said in my 50 mile training plan post: I’m a rose-colored-glasses wearing, dream encouraging, enthusiastic cheerleader for most things in life. BUT, I don’t like seeing people getting hurt. 100 miles is a really, really long way to cover on foot, and should not be taken lightly. I personally recommend aspiring 100 mile ultrarunners have at least few years of shorter distance endurance running/ regular training experience. Further, they should have at least one or more completed 50 mile ultras (or longer) on their resume.
Having that physical experience and a solid running base will give you the best chances for success in both completing your race and making it through your training cycle injury free. And having the emotional experience of what it feels like to be on your feet for well over 50 miles (i.e. “embracing the suck”) can help with the mental fortitude it takes to make it to a 100 mile finish line. Because again: 100 milers aren’t easy.
Training for a 100 miler is definitely a massive time commitment. I always recommend that runners really take an honest look at their day to day life, and make sure that this volume of training will fit without causing unnecessary stress. Further: make sure your support system (spouse, kids, family, etc.) is on board. Training for a race of the magnitude of 100 miler can be a sacrifice for more than just the runner.
Where should my weekly mileage be to start this plan?
Aspiring 100 mile runners should begin their training with a solid running base, feeling comfortable running long runs over 20 miles, and should be regularly running 35-40 mile weeks while remaining injury free. You should also be prepared to run upwards of 60-80 miles per week across five days of workouts, as well as incorporating injury prevention strength training sessions.
It is my belief that newer ultra runners are more successful, and more likely to remain injury free, by keeping their weekly mileage on the lower end of the spectrum for ultra training. However, the deal breaker is that in lieu of higher mileage, runners regularly incorporate strength and cross training to keep their bodies strong. Therefore, my beginner 100 mile ultramarathon training plan maxes out at approximately 75 miles per week. Not all ultra runners or coaches will agree with this method (and may believe/ prescribe higher mileage), but this is what I’ve seen work well for the majority of my clients. Your results may vary.
Here’s what you need to know about this 100 mile training plan:
Though I am a full time running coach, I wanted to provide a basic, first time 100 mile ultramarathon training plan for those who prefer to be self guided, do not need a detailed plan, or who simply aren’t ready for the commitment of working with a coach. While the benefits of working with a coach are invaluable, believe me, I understand it’s not for everyone, or may simply not be financially feasible.
This 100 mile training plan is pretty basic, and designed as a “just to finish” plan for a first timer. I prescribe distances, and will give you a general outline of what you should do during those distances. The exact workout? That’s up to you. This plan also does not address course specifics: is your race flat and beginner friendly? Or is it super technical with a ton of vertical change? These are key aspects that you need to take into account when it comes to your training. The majority of your mileage should be on terrain that is similar to what you will face on race day.
If you need – or want – more specific help, we can do that too. Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching would be more than happy to discuss the possibility of one-on-one coaching to give you a more detailed outline and support to reach your specific ultramarathon goals.
The mileage in this plan slowly and safely builds over 28 weeks. There is the option to start at 24 weeks if you are already comfortably at a 35+ mpw base mileage. The buffer is recommended for runners who potentially needed some downtime before starting another training cycle.
The plan features a cutback weeks every 3-4 weeks, to allow your body – and mind – to recover and rebuild. Towards the end of the training cycle, the cutback weeks occur more frequently. Lastly, the plan finishes off with a 3 week taper, ensuring you are rested, recovered, and ready for race day.
A brief run down of what to expect…
Base building runs:
The majority of your runs should be done at an easy, aerobic pace. I tell my clients that they should run these at a “conversational pace”. In other words, a pace where you could easily carry on a conversation with a running partner, without feeling as though you are gasping for breath or struggling to speak. If you’ve done any sort of lactate threshold test or zone testing, these base building runs should be done in Z1 & Z2.
Keeping the majority of your runs at this lower intensity will help prevent injury and burnout as you begin to push the larger weekly mileage volumes, and the longer distance long runs, both required of ultramarathon training. The aerobic zone also encourages fat oxidization (using stored fat for fuel), capillary building, and building a solid endurance base. This is essentially where you become better at running slow miles for a long time.
Hill and speedwork
Wednesdays are designed to be a strength building run – either a speed or hill workout. Unless you live in pancake flat coastal South Carolina (like me), chances are you will cover a significant amount of elevation over the course of 100 miles. It’s imperative that you train your legs not just for distance, but for climbing as well.
Your base runs and long runs should include hills on your run route. However, the Wednesday workout should specifically focus on hill climbing AND descending. The mileage prescribed includes warm up and cool down. Again, what you do for that speed or hill workout is up to you. Be creative!
Long runs are truly where your body adapts to running for long periods of time, physically and mentally. These are the cornerstone of ultramarathon training. Further, long runs are the perfect “dress rehearsal” for your race. Long runs give you an opportunity to experiment with – and perfect – nutrition and hydration plans, anti chafing products, new shoes or shorts…you get the idea. Long runs should be done at an easy effort pace.
You’ll notice that the long runs during the base building portion of the plan give a suggested range of mileage. This gives you options, depending upon how you are feeling that day. Struggling to get through, or short on time? Go with the lower end. Feeling amazing, and don’t want to stop running? Hit the higher end of the mileage.
Back to back long runs
Back to back long runs are done to simulate and adapt to running on fatigued legs, which is something you will definitely experience in the later stages of your ultramarathon. It’s also a safer and more efficient way to increase total volume of miles for the week, without putting in extreme long distance runs.
In this training plan, the second long run is prescribed in time, rather than mileage. I find this allows each athlete to truly listen to their body and complete the long run accordingly, rather than pushing to meet an arbitrary number of miles. If you are feeling strong, your body may allow you to push a little further. Feeling beat up from a long week of training? Take it easy, and use the time as a true recovery run.
Important note: weekly mileage totals in the plan are based upon a 10:00/mile pace for the second long run. DO NOT WORRY if your pace is faster or slower, and it changes the overall weekly mileage. Stick with the prescribed time.
A common misconception among many runners is that more running = faster runner, and therefore, many runners loathe rest days for fear that time off will make them lose progress. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Rest days are an integral part of the training process. During rest days, your body recovers from the physical stress of workouts, rebuilds damaged tissue, and becomes stronger.
This program includes two rest days. For more experienced athletes, one of those rest days can be used as a low impact cross training day (think: cycling, swimming, hiking, etc.). One day should be 100% rest. In short: for the love of all things, do not skip your rest days.
During cutback weeks, you will notice active recovery days. These workouts are designed to help promote blood flow, encourage healing, stimulate cardiovascular endurance, but remain low impact. Workouts like: swimming, biking, hiking, yoga, elliptical, etc. are all great options. Keep the effort on the lighter end. If your body is exhausted and you are in need of a rest day, you can substitute the active recovery days with rest instead.
Training for – and running – a 100 mile ultramarathon is going to put some serious stress on your muscles, joints, ligaments, and bones. You can make ALL of them stronger by incorporating a regular strength training routine. Again, what type and when you incorporate strength training is up to you. For starters, check out these workouts:
The following 100 mile ultramarathon training plan is designed for educational purposes, and is not a prescribed training plan for any particular individual. While I am a certified exercise physiologist and RRCA running coach, and have designed this training plan with safety in mind for the healthy, adult ultrarunner, you should understand that when participating in a 100 mile training program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this training plan you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, and assume all risk of injury to yourself. You should consult your physician or other health care professional before starting this or any other fitness program to determine if it is right for your needs.
Without further ado: the 100 Mile Ultramarathon Training Plan
Other Helpful Resources:
Check out my Ultramarathon Training & Racing tips page for countless other articles to help you on your 100 mile training journey. There you’ll find articles about things like ultramarathon training and racing nutrition, to how to pack a drop bag, or what to do during your 100 mile taper, and more.
Have any questions about this training plan, or training for a 100 mile ultramarathon in general? Comment below!
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.