Training For Your First Ultra

By Adam Ciuk

When most people hear about ultra training, they tend to laugh or believe that it's an impossible objective. Samantha Schonewille and Hailey Van Dyke are two runners based out of Squamish, BC that have spent this spring training for the Ultra season. Hailey has been racing for the last few years, and Samantha will be running her first Ultra distance this summer. There was a time when they both thought that this was a crazy distance, but now they're both on their way to the finish line.

There are a few key components that make Ultra training a bit easier:


In Squamish, we are lucky to have hundreds of trails that are connected from north to south. One app that can help you find your way is All Trails; this app has every mountain bike/running trail plus all the beta on each route. Planning your route is vital as you don't want to get lost, or sometimes a 5 km run can quickly turn into a 20 km run. The app will also give you your location so that you can plan your way back to your car step by step.


Getting out and running is important, but having some structure helps. This year Hailey has been training with a coach; her coach gives her a breakdown of the days she should be running, and times she should be resting. This can be extremely helpful if you are not motivated or if you just don't know where to start. Each day you would be working on technical training or distance and time on feet runs.

For Samantha, she sets her own schedule. Knowing when her race is set for, she will plan to run certain distances a few times a week to run within her ability. If you are following a structured training plan you will be able to push yourself to make sure you are staying on track and on your way to completing your goal race.


Looking for runners can be a hard objective at first, but the easiest way to meet local runners is by participating in local trail races. In Squamish, we have a ton of small beginner races that cover 5 km to 50 km distances. Depending on your experience or endurance, you can pick something within your comfort zone. As you run, you'll tend to find people that are running your pace, or maybe that have the same objective that you have. A simple "Hello" goes a long way when you're both out there giving it all you got.


The further you run, the more gear you'll have to bring. A 10 km run you may only need water and some gels, but the longer you're out there, the more food and hydration you're going to need. It's essential to have about 150-200 calories per hour along with also drinking water with every snack. Failing to eat can cause a bonk and that may end your day.

Also, must-haves for a long trail race would be: a first aid kit, cell phone, emergency blanket, whistle, and sunscreen. Anything can happen on a trail run, and so it's always better to be prepared. Before heading anywhere, set up an emergency buddy, choosing a time that you should be back and letting them know where you are going.

Once you feel comfortable, and you think you're ready for your first Ultra, the most important thing to do is run at your own pace. Being on the trail for 6+ hours you don't want to burn your self out within the first 5 kms.  Start slow and let your body figure out what pace will work for the day. 

Good luck - and you got this!