Training for multi-day events doesn’t differ a huge amount from typical run training for marathon/ultra-distance. The demands are the same overall and can be summarised below.
- Build endurance/aerobic capacity to reduce effort required at a given pace and recover quicker between days.
- Build up long run to use fat as fuel more efficiently and develop mental resiliency with time on feet.
- Incorporate back-to-back long run sessions to replicate fatigue, practice fuelling and recovery strategies and test out kit.
Let’s have a deeper look into each of the above and relate it to training for a multi-day event.
The easiest way to build endurance? Accumulate volume (weekly mileage) at predominantly easy/zone 2 pace. This means gradual increases in weekly mileage up to 50-60 miles weeks for your typical multi-day. This allows you to improve aerobic capacity and what’s known as work capacity. Increased work capacity means just that, improves ability to do work (training/racing). In this case, run for longer, but crucially, recover quicker between runs/days. This will go some way in minimising you feeling ‘beaten up’ the next day.
Just like with standard a standard training program, long runs serve as a way to become more efficient at using fat as fuel meaning less carbs needed during each run and helps offset glycogen depletion or the ‘bonk’. It improves our aerobic energy production which helps offset fatigue for longer. Most importantly, it helps build a resilient mindset by teaching us to keep going when fatigued.
Your longest long run will be down to your ability/the event you are taking part in, but here are some guides based on the mileage you will run each day in your event.
10k/day = 8-12 miles
Half-Marathon/day = 14-18 miles
Marathon/day = 18-22 miles
You want to have performed your longest long run at least twice in the final 4-6 weeks of your training and built up to it gradually over time. 1-2 mile jumps each week is a great place to start if new to these sorts of distances.
Back-to-Back Long Runs
Specificity dictates that to get better at something, we need to train/practice that thing. Now I’m not saying you need to replicate your multi-day event entirely but incorporating a few back-to-back long run weeks will definitely help prepare you physically and mentally! They will help with:
- Replicating fatigue felt between runs
- Allow you to practice fuelling strategies during and between runs
- Practice recovery protocols between runs such as compressions, foam rolling etc
- Allows you to test out kit such as sleeping system/cooking system whilst fatigued from running. I recommend sleeping and cooking in your back garden unless staying in B&Bs.
You only want to incorporate one of these types of sessions every 4 weeks during the last 3-6 months of training. You would do your longest of the two runs first, followed by a shorter long run the next day. In terms of distance of each run, replicate the demands of your event (obviously build up to it.
Example for Marathon/day: 18 miles day 1, 12-14 miles day 2
Hopefully you can see that training doesn’t have to change drastically to prepare you for multi-day events. Build a solid aerobic base alongside your long run and sprinkle in a few back-to-back days to practice event day strategies.
What does differ more dramatically and require some dedicated time to it are:
- Maximising recovery between days besides developing aerobic capacity
- What and how much food and fluids to consume in between runs
- Getting used to carrying the kit required and using it whilst tired (practice)
- Making sure you have the right kit for the weather and conditions you’ll be running in
All of the above will reduce overall mental stress as well as aiding in the physical recovery so are just as important as the training itself.
Maximising Recovery Between Days
I have my own little routine that I have used for all my multi-day events which include one in the Sahara Desert and one in the jungle of Costa Rica. Here it is.
Carry out a proper cool-down: Spend 3-5 mins focusing on walking with slow and controlled breathing to switch to the para-sympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Follow this up with some static stretching of the calves, quads, hamstrings and glutes to offset some restriction to range of motion. Stretching will not prevent soreness.
Compression: I then put on my skins compression leggings for the rest of the day before bed. Science isn’t that positive towards the effectiveness of compression, but I feel it works for me whether that be the placebo effect or otherwise. Compression is best used for recovery and therefore post run. I never wear it during.
Recovery Shake: I will then make up a SIS REGO shake. Get in some quick, easy to handle calories, carbs and protein to help start gaining back lost calories and glycogen. I struggle to eat solid foods immediately after big days, so this works perfectly for me. Solid food will absolutely do the job too.
Admin: Prep sleeping system and kit for next day so that it’s done, and I can relax. Keep feet elevated and get in a high calorie meal as soon as you can stomach it.
Rinse. Repeat. That’s my routine and it may work for you, it may not. Hence why you need to practice BEFORE your event and understand what works for you and do it whilst tired/fatigued so you can do it without much thought.
As a sidenote, I also feel strength training has really helped me recover quicker post run/between runs.
What and How Much Food/Fluids
Now this will be very individual and based on your event distance/days and what you can stomach post run. Here are a few tips to aim for:
- 40-60g of carbs per hour during your runs. This can be from liquids or solids.
- Aim for 500ml of water every hour during. Consider water carriage/replen.
Overall, you will more than likely need to eat around double the calories you normally do over the course of the day. That’s where high calorie meals for breakfast and post run become vital. If you are camping/bivvying, freeze dried meals such as Firepot or Expedition Foods can be up to 800 calories per meals and just require boiling water to be added. As they are freeze dried, they are also significantly lighter to carry than ‘wet’ meals. I’ve used both brands with success.
You’ll need to consider water carriage and replenishment too. If out for more than a couple of hours per day you should be carrying 2-3 litres on you from the start. As for replenishment, plan stops at shops or ‘checkpoints’ (if not an organised race) to meet support crew. You could also head out onto the route in the days leading up to your event to hide supply drops for you to pick up along the way. Water filtration systems such as the Alpkit Hippo are lightweight and give the opportunity to replenish water from streams and rivers safely if your route has them.
I’ve covered a few bits on kit already in the last couple of sections, but I just want to address a couple of other factors to consider and reiterate practice.
Backpack/Vest: Ensure your pack is up to the task and can fit everything you need. Consider easy access to food and water whilst running. I’ve used the OMM Classic 25l with great success for all my multi-day events where I have to carry all my own kit each day.
Weather: invest in kit for adverse weather if that’s something likely to feature in your event. Decent lightweight waterproof jacket/trousers will help keep you dry and ready for the next day. I’ve seen people DNF events because they bought cheap, crappy waterproofs and got too wet and cold to continue. I use the Alpkit Gravitas and Montane Minimus Trousers. Also consider waterproofing all the kit you will carry, especially your sleeping bag! Individual dry bags are great to separate everything and make it easy to grab what you need without getting everything else wet.
Practice, Practice, Practice!: Get used to packing your kit correctly so it sits on your back without rubbing or causing discomfort. Get used to carrying it in training. Get used to packing and unpacking whilst tired, in the dark with a head torch if that’s a possibility on your event. Leave nothing to chance as these little things can be compounded when tired and can wreak havoc mentally. You just want to be able to focus on running and fuelling each day, not constantly thinking about how uncomfortable your backpack is or I don’t know if I have enough water. You don’t want to be struggling to put up your tent in the dark because you’ve never done it before and taking away from more rest and recovery time.
Multi-day events are a great experience. Something that can push your physical and mental limits. However, if adequately trained and prepared, the potentially worst thing you’ll have to deal with is going for a poo outside!