Training to participate in an ultramarathon stage race is highly dependent on many things. These include your level of fitness, your goals, the time you have to commit to training, etc. Hopefully you have already participated in a marathon or ultra-distance race prior to undertaking your first stage race so you can comprehend the rigors. Think of it, you are basically running a series of five to six marathons/ultras back-to-back over a week. No post-race beer and burger, no warm shower, no soft bed! Not an endeavor to take lightly! While this sounds intimidating it is not impossible and with proper preparations many achieve the goal of finishing an ultramarathon stage race.
1. Mileage: Do not get hung up on a high mileage training regime. Yes, you need to do sufficient mileage to assure proper physical conditioning but too many miles and you risk the chance of injury and failing to even get to the start. If you are unsure of what you need to do seek out professional assistance or work with your local ultra-running community. They can help.
2. Quality over quantity: While it may be counter intuitive, a smaller number of quality miles trumps a larger number of less strenuous miles. Longer runs should be part of the training regime but not the ultimate focus.
3. Cross Training: Weight training, cross-fit, yoga, swimming and other cardiovascular and strength training is important for a balanced body. It is widely accepted that some form of cross training should be include in your preparations.
4. Climate Conditioning: Depending upon where you live, the time of year and the conditions under which you will be racing, it may be prudent to include some climate conditioning into your training. This may be especially true if you are not use to competing in HOT environments. Some people actually train in saunas! A simpler approach may be to wear extra clothing during your training runs. The benefits of and levels or climate training required will vary from person to person. Just another consideration for your preparations. Other conditioning considerations could include altitude, humidity, sand, or hills if that what your race has in store for you!
5. Pack Runs: Running with a pack is a unique experience for those that are new to stage racing. Practicing with your actual race pack (or similar model) is a must. It will affect your running style and speed. You also need to become accustom to how and where your pack rubs on you as well as how best to pack your gear. Start off with a light weight (5-10 lbs/2-4 kgs) and for short distances. Gradually increase the weight and distances over several weeks. Try not to go above your maximum anticipated pack weight since the heavy loads increase the chances of injuries. Intersperse these pack runs with other non-pack runs as a break and to allow for recovery.
6. Back-to-Back Runs: As stated previously you are running multiple days back-to-back. As such you should condition yourself for the rigors of this type of competition. Being able to recover quickly (less than 18 hours) is a trait that is very beneficial. Practicing this (especially with pack runs) is a smart strategy for your training.
7. Equipment Shakedown: Practice using all of your equipment. Know how it works and become accustomed to it. Trying things out for the first time during a race is not a good idea. Camping out a couple of nights with your kit is a great way of doing this especially if combined with some back-to-back runs. You will learn a lot.
8. Injuries: Be cautious about how hard you train. A debilitating injury could take you out of the game before it even starts. One important goal should be to arrive at the STARTING line healthy. You will invest a large amount of time and money into these races and it is better to be a little under trained than broken down.
9. Practice off-trail/rough trail running: Many races do have some sections of very rough trail or totally cross country running. Knowing how to pick your line, commit to that line and then adjust your stride/pace to run the line is very important. Those with not much practice in this area wind up slowing down significantly and loosing time.