Learn when, where, and how to approach your UTA training!
To achieve your best possible race at UTA 2024, you need to get all these elements right:
- Where to train
- When to train
- How hard to train
- When to time your longest training runs
- What to eat and drink on race day
- What to wear on race day
If you get even one of these factors wrong, it is going to make race day an awful lot harder.
Each race distance needs a different training approach
More stairs than you will care to remember, and just when you think that there can’t be any more stairs . . . . the final kilometre is up the dreaded 951 Furber stairs!
You also need enough quad strength to negotiate the 8km steep firetrail descent down Kedumba which occurs 22km from the end of both the 50 and the 100 course.
The UTA22 is a different beast.
To enter this race you should ideally have been running consistently for at least 6 months, and be comfortable running 8km – 10km as your weekend long run.
The winners complete this race in just over 100 minutes, with the majority of runners taking between 3 and 5 hours.
The UTA22 course changed in 2021 and it now includes more stairs and less firetrail. It starts with a 4km relatively fast road and firetrail section before you hit the Golden Stairs. Then it is a combination of stairs and singletrack all the way through to the finish. Some specific stair and single track training sessions will be helpful for this event.
The UTA11 is different again.
This course starts with a steep undulating road and firetrail 4km run before descending the Golden stairs into the Jamieson Valley. It is then quite a slow and technical single track through to the bottom of the Furber Stairs, then 951 lung-busting steps back up to the start/finish at Scenic World. It has an elevation gain of around 400m. Some stair and technical single-track training sessions will help a lot if you are intending to “race” rather than “finish” this event.
Let’s tick off your UTA Training – When, Where, and How, to help you prepare.
1. WHERE TO TRAIN FOR THE ULTRA TRAIL AUSTRALIA
Ideally on trails, and even more ideally, on trails that include a lot of hills and stairs. A good metric to track on your long training runs is your overall vertical gain. The Ultra Trail Australia courses have a lot of “vert”
UTA100 = 4500m
UTA50 = 2500m
UTA22 = 910m
UTA11 = 477m
It would be good to try and get at least 1500m – 2000m of vert on your longest training days if you are running the 50 or the 100, around 750m – 800m if you are running the 22, and about 400m – 500m for the UTA11.
If you don’t live close to any hilly trails then you should try to find as many hilly road routes as you can.
If you don’t have access to any hills at all, then you might have to consider the dreaded treadmill for a few of your key sessions. Set it on an incline and start training your climbing muscles.
Stairwells in office buildings and football stadiums can be used if your local trails have no stairs. Think of those days as mental training as well as physical. I have heard of people running up 10 stairs at the local sports oval 100 times just to make their quota!
2. WHEN TO TRAIN
How often you can train each week will depend on your motivation, as well as your family and work commitments. The safest way to clock up the k’s is to adopt the “little and often” approach.
For example, it is much easier on your body to have 5 runs of 10km in a week than it is to run 50km on a Sunday. Long runs take a long time to recover from.
It is important to include long runs in your training schedule, but not at the expense of picking up injuries.
If you are worried that your body might not survive a 5hr run, then think about breaking the 5hrs up into a 2hr run on a Saturday afternoon and a 3hr run on Sunday morning.
It may not be as psychologically reassuring to do it this way, but you will gain almost the same total fitness benefits, with significantly less chance of picking up an injury.
If you are after a specific Training Plan for Ultra Trail Australia that incorporates strength, volume and trail technique, we have daily plans available, for all distances and types of runners
3. HOW HARD TO TRAIN
But that doesn’t mean you should train hard all the time. In fact, your hard sessions should only make up 20% of your total training volume.
Hard sessions like hill reps, stair reps and speedwork are much more likely to cause fatigue, illness and injury. What you might gain from these sessions in terms of short term strength and fitness, you will lose out overall by needing too much time to rest and recover.
The single biggest factor that will make your UTA successful is consistent training.
If 80% of your training is at an easy pace (the type of pace you could “run all day” or the pace where you can continue to talk to your running buddies in full sentences without feeling short of breath), then you will be able to clock up more k’s safely and get progressively fitter and stronger.
4. WHEN TO TIME YOUR LONGEST TRAINING RUNS
You should time your longest training runs so that they have the maximum benefit on race day.
If you do them too early you won’t maintain the leg strength for race day, and if you do them too late you will go into the UTA fatigued and not able to perform at your best.
I would recommend that you do your two longest runs 5 weeks out and 3 weeks out from race day. In an ideal world, you would do these in the Blue Mountains and on the UTA course, but not everyone will have that luxury.
Try to pick a hilly trail course for these sessions if possible. You might even need to run up and down the same hill a lot of times to reach your vert targets. (learn more about how long your longest training run should be)
On your long run 3 weeks out from race day, try to include a long downhill. Run it at a steady/hard pace. When we run down hills we use our quad muscles as brakes. Training on a long downhill will make your quads stronger which will help a huge amount when it comes to running down Kedumba on race day.
This is most important for the 50 and 100 distances.
For the UTA11 and UTA22, your final long run 3 weeks out, would be best to be on a trail with a mixture of stairs and single track. You don’t need to worry about running downhill fast, you need your legs to be strong enough to be able to negotiate (and hopefully enjoy) a big stair climb near the end of your race.
For more information on your up and downhill technique, check out this article including videos on how to improve your UTA hill technique.
NB: If you are concerned about niggly knees, or you have had any ITB issues, then you should not run this downhill session at a hard pace. That might tip your niggles over the edge. You should instead run it at your normal long run training pace.
5. WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK ON RACE DAY
Don’t underestimate the importance of your race day nutrition.
All the training in the world isn’t going to help if you are standing on the side of the trail with your hands on your knees, losing your lunch, while all your mates run past!
Nutrition takes practice.
Some of the most experienced trail runners in the world still have “gut” issues when they race. Even though it can take years to really nail a nutrition plan, enlisting some help and advice from trusted experts can make an enormous difference.
There are a huge variety of bars, gels, and other high energy foods and drinks available for athletes. You should start researching them now.
Start testing them on your long runs so that you can work out which flavours and textures you like the most.
An important nutrition consideration is whether you want to satisfy most of your energy requirements from either fluids or from solids.
The longer you run, and the higher your heart rate, the more your body will divert your blood away from your stomach and towards your muscles. Once this starts happening it becomes more and more difficult for your stomach to process solid foods.
This is what often causes the nausea that so many runners experience.
When you are planning your nutrition strategy, you should give careful and realistic consideration to how hard you think you will be “racing”.
I don’t mean how hard you will find the whole event, but more the intensity at which you will be competing.
If you are after a PB and know that you’ll be pushing hard all day, you should aim to get most of your nutrition from fluids. If your aim is to finish, and you think you will be walking a lot of the course then you should have more capacity to tolerate solids.
Practice, practice practice… particularly on your long training runs to find out what works best for you!
6. WHAT TO WEAR ON RACE DAY
Start looking at the compulsory gear list on the UTA website now.
Leave yourself plenty of time to acquire all of the gear you will need on race day, and ideally enough time to test it all out on your long training runs. The gear ranges from head torches, running vests, seam sealed jackets and thermal layers through to compasses, survival blankets and whistles.
Don’t leave it all to the last minute.
What shoes should you wear?
The biggest consideration is that you need your shoes to be comfortable. You’ll be out on the course for a LONG time, and sore feet will slow you down.
Trail shoes will perform better than road shoes on the UTA courses as they have significantly better grip on the slippery surfaces, and the uppers are more robust which helps when you are constantly twisting and turning on the trails.
Your running vest needs to be big enough to fit all of the compulsory gear (which differs for each race) and also fit your food and drink. You really need to get your vest at least 10 – 12 weeks out from race day to allow you enough time to get used to carrying all of the mandatory items. (for advice on packing your mandatory gear watch this video)
Not sure where to start with your training? Check out this article, “When should you start training for the UTA”
If you want to know exactly what training to do, when to do it, when to schedule recovery weeks and long runs, what to eat and drink, and basically how to nail the UTA, then you need one of our Ultra Training Australia training plans. They include everything you will need to have the race of your life.
So, it’s as easy as that.
You don’t need to panic.
You just need to start preparing. (check out the Ultra Trail Australia Training Plans)
The sooner you start, the more fun you will have, and the better you will perform on race day.
Mark Green, The Body Mechanic Physio, Founder and Elite Runner