Training For A Multiday Race: Setting the Goal

By the time you get to the point of wanting to run a multiday race there is usually something specific that has become the focus of your attention whether it be the Marathon Des Sables (MdS), Across The Years (ATY) or maybe the Self-Transcendence 6 Day race in New York for example. If this is not the case then the time is fast approaching when you have to look closely at exactly what it is you would like to achieve and set a goal.

  1. The goal is important because you will tailor your preparation toward that event
  2. That target will give you your window of preparation, not just physically but mentally and logistically
  3. That goal will give an idea of the level of fitness necessary to complete the race which you can compare to where you are currently.

For these reasons it is necessary to decide which race you will enter.

Marathon des Sables 2009 Nick House
Marathon des Sables 2009 Photo by Nick House

Choosing A Multiday Race

There are several kinds of multiday races to choose from: timed events, distanced events and staged events.

Stage Races

For example the MdS is a 6 day stage race with each stage varying in length from half a marathon 13 miles to a double marathon 52 miles covering a total of about 150 miles over the six days. The MdS is a particular challenge because not only do you have to be able to cover the daily stage but you have to recover and do it all over again the next day. The stages are different so there is always a freshness about each day’s challenge. And not only that. The MdS takes place under normally very hot dry conditions and one has to carry ones food and kit for the duration of the event. Last year, 2009, unusually there was a lot of rain just before the event started and so conditions were much more humid than they normally are.

So for the MdS one has to:

  • train to run between 13-52 miles a day for 6 days
  • train to run with kit and water
  • train to run under extreme weather conditions
  • train to run on challenging terrain

Timed Races

Across the Years is a 24/48/72 hour race on a flat kilometre loop on crushed gravel. This race also takes place under semi desert-like conditions. However the event takes place over the New Year when the temperatures during the day are mild though it does get cold at night. This race format allows the runner to set his own target and pace and to do whatever he or she wants, the go-as-you-please style.

Distance Races

The 2010 Athens Ultrafestival included a 1000 mile and provided a slightly different challenge to the timed events and stage races in as much as the goal is already set and the runner knows what has to be done before the race even begins. To reach 1000 miles in the 16 day time limit required an average of 100.584 km a day so the runner has to create a schedule or plan to help attain that goal both in terms of preparation and also race strategy.

Be Realistic

Setting the goal within reach is important. If the goal is too high then too many doubts or fears may creep in and undermine the project. If it’s too easy then at the end of the race one may feel that one could have done a lot more. Falling short is ok but one of the challenges of these events is to find out what we are capable of, finding our limits, so being as realistic as we can can give us a more accurate idea of where we are and what we are capable of.

Finding Baselines

self-transcendence 6-10 day race 2010
Photo by Alakananda

This is where running ultras can give us some guidelines for what we can expect during a multiday. A 24 hour race for example, will enable us to have the experience of running for many hours and through the night whilst tired. It will give us the opportunity to see what happens to our feet, legs and knees. Some people have posture weaknesses that only emerge after 12-18 hours of running. There may be certain foods we like or don’t like, favourite drinks, certain items of clothing that work or not, certain pace that works – these things we have to build in to our experience and as we discover what works and what doesn’t so we move gradually forward toward realising our goal, step by step.

Running a 24 hour race will provide us with an idea of the kind of pace we are comfortable with, bearing in mind that the first day of a multiday is not quite the same thing as a 24 hour.

Often we are capable of much more than we normally think we are. Preparing for a multiday race is an experiment in discovering and setting new reference points to take us into the beyond. The home of multiday running news and events.

1 Comment

  1. Hi
    I am training for a 6 day stage race in the desert. The distances are 3X42km 1x31km 1x84km and 1×8.5km respectively, about 250km all up in 6 days. I am wondering if I should train 6 days in a row or focus on 3 long runs then one longer run which will be on day 5 (84km)? I’m just not sure and I don’t want to over train if that’s possible. If you can help with some advice that would be great.

    Thanks very much


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