Developing Your Ultramarathon Training as You Get Older

Last updated: 15-Feb-21

by Andy Stewart

I am 53 years of age and have competed in many of the XNRG multi-day ultras, Centurion’s TP100 and SDW100 and also the Marathon Des Sables (MdS) and Ring of Fire (RoF). For the last three years I have written posts on my blog mostly about ultra-running and trying to be Superfit@50.

I first started running regularly in my early thirties as my work hard, play hard, mentality started to have an effect on my body and I realised that I had to do something about it. At the time, I was living in France. Wonderful people, wonderful food and drink and a great country which (at least back then) dedicated an hour’s primetime evening TV slot to the day’s MdS action each year. I was hooked and fascinated!

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The ability to scenario plan has constantly improved with practice over the years and for me, is a key area of overlap between ultra-running and my personal and work lives. Fix on your goal, understand your purpose and plan for what may go wrong so that you do not waste valuable energy and momentum during a moment of stress. It takes a special commitment and investment to run ultras, and I have found that my self-confidence has developed over the years in all areas of my life thanks to running ultras.

Like many of you, I have also had my failures and my DNFs; I have blown up during 100 milers; timed out of the CCC two thirds into the event and as I’ve got older, I have learned from my failures and developed my training. Talking to coaches and fellow competitors has provided both inspiration and priceless nuggets of information, the latter is something which I think sets ultra-running apart from many other sports with the opportunity to participate with elite athletes who are open to share great tips and to radiate their motivation and energy to the rest of us.

So, when I join the development dots of my ultra-running journey as I aged from my thirties to my fifties, here are some additional key learning points which stand out.

Core Strength

Back in my thirties, I took my core strength for granted. Once I hit my forties and signed-up for the MdS, I set about training for ultras. Rory Coleman gave me some superb training nuggets which I probably didn’t recognise at the time as being so vitally important. One was developing core strength, during my forties, as I found that my back and posture would suffer when I tired during an ultra. I already had a WaterRower so I started to improve the quality of my rowing sessions as an intrinsic part of my run training, rather than just as another exercise.

As I approached my fifties, Neil Thubron invited me to be a coach for XNRG and Head Coach Andy Mouncey suggested I add running with a weight vest whilst up in the woods and weighted step-ups to my training regime, both of which are terrific all-round exercises to build and maintain strength and power in quads and glutes. Adding such weight to one of my back-to-backs did wonders for my strength and resilience in the latter stages of a race.

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More fun and enjoyment from training and racing

The older I’ve got the more I enjoy my running, probably for two reasons. First of all, I love being out in the fresh air and running really is the foundation of my daily activity and has done wonders for my physical and mental well-being. It acts as my stress buster and as a reset button and I do some of my most creative thinking whilst running. As for physical well-being, the older you get you realise that you simply cannot take life for granted and daily exercise is such a powerful exercise and benefit to our physical well-being.

Enjoy the moment

Life’s up and downs as we all get older have helped me to really appreciate and better value the precious nature of life and to get the very best out of everything I do, and using this thought as an anchor immediately brings a smile to my face when I’m tired and not feeling the love during a run.

Sense of perspective

Running ultras has endowed me with a much better and wider sense of perspective and perhaps getting older is part of this journey. By that, I mean ultra-running has helped me develop and appreciate the ability to stand back from myself during an event and whilst continuing to run, to system check how I feel. To identify where I am in my race and to identify what’s going well and what I need to do to ensure I finish in as best shape as possible.

And this has been another powerful crossover in to my work and personal life. It’s all too easy for us to focus on what’s immediately in front of us. Especially, 70+ miles into an event, possibly feeling cold whilst soaking wet and wondering how on earth you’re going to finish. Standing back, remembering my solid training and preparation for the race, reminding myself that it is totally normal to feel rubbish and that particular stage of the event and recognising that by maintaining forward momentum, every step takes me closer to achieving the goal. And that makes me smile and to embrace the moment!

More respect for recovery

Getting older has made me better appreciate the need to allow more time for recover so I respect an injury more and appreciate the body’s work and the time required to get over and to properly recover. I still run every day, just take things that much easier.

Whatever age you are, take time to relish in what you have achieved so far in your ultra-running journey and I wish you well with your next steps. Stay safe!

Andy’s blog

Andy’s Instagram

All photos courtesy of Mark Gillett

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"ultra-running has helped me develop and appreciate the ability to stand back from myself during an event and whilst continuing to run, to system check how I feel"

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