Training for your first Ultra by Nicky Spinks

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Top tips from an ultra running legend

Nicky Spinks is an inov-8 ambassador and ultra running legend. In 2016 she famously became the fastest person to run a Double Bob Graham Round in the Lake District - that's 132 miles, over 84 peaks, in a time of 45hrs 30mins. Nicky has also done many, many ultra runs and races around the world, including Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. In 2018 Nicky ran the Lakeland Trails Ultra 55k and the 23k in 2019. Here is her advice for training for your first ultra.

An ultra distance run is usually thought of as being longer than a marathon. However, whatever race distance you've entered, if it's longer than you've ever run before, then it's an ultra to you… and thus you need to prepare for it.

The Lakeland Trails Ultra 55k is an ideal first ultra as it's the right distance. It is around 36 miles long and being off-road means that although it's more challenging than a road ultra, the views and the terrain will be more interesting and varied. This in turn will mean that time will pass easily!

It is a well-organised race and a well-marked route which is important as you don't want to be dealing with any added difficulties. For your first ultra you want to be able to concentrate on just running and eating.

So having pressed the button and entered the race you need to prepare properly to succeed. I would suggest the following timescale for the Lakeland Trails Ultra 55k.

FebruaryWork out your training schedule
MarchDo consistent training
AprilIncrease the distance of long runs
MayRace research
JuneLast long run or race - then taper

Enter the Race

Once you are committed, and it will give you the motivation to train.


Be consistent in your training. Look out for injuries as you increase your mileage and get them treated early by a Sports Massage Therapist. If you miss sessions / weeks due to illness or injury do not try and catch up. Just carry on with the training as scheduled, maybe decreasing the Long Run Distance for one week.

This is an important Base Training phase. Speed is not important, it's time on your feet that is important. You need to get your legs and mind used to running for 3 to 4 hours at a time. Start to practise your race pace - walking up the hills and gently running everything else. This is an endurance event not a 10k!


Race research. This can begin at any time, the earlier the better. You are looking for details such as:

  1. Terrain - so that you can choose and run in the right shoes, for you.
  2. Kit requirements - so you have purchased all the necessary kit and run in the rucksack that you will use on the day.
  3. Race profile - so you know how much ascent and descent there is and, very importantly, where on the route it is. Taking a race profile with mileages on it can be very helpful on the race day. Use a program such as Memory map or OS Maps to create a profile for yourself.
  4. Checkpoints - so you know how far apart they are and what they provide in terms of water, drinks and food.
  5. Course markings - so you know what you are looking for when running.
  6. Results - so you can have a rough idea of how long you will be running for. Look at the results for the past few years and compare with race reviews for that year. See what effect bad weather has on finishing times. Prepare accordingly with kit and food.


Most of your training and race preparation is done. By now you will have

  1. Run in training over 25 miles
  2. Bought and used the shoes and kit that you will run in. An all-round trail shoe will be perfect to tackle the varying conditions underfoot or else choose an ultra-specific one

  3. Practised what and when, to eat and drink on your long runs. Ideally every 30 minutes

Mid June - Very importantly

This is the time to taper. Whatever training you haven't done cannot be crammed into the last two weeks. You will do yourself more harm than good and start the race with tired legs and a stressed mind. Have the mental strength needed to stop training and start to prepare for race day in other, but just as important, ways. Sleep and eat well. Have a sports massage. Get your rucksack packed. Watch the weather forecasts and adjust your kit accordingly. Lightweight gear is all very well but you don't want to be shivering for 7 or so hours if the forecast is horrendous. The aim is to finish and to finish happy.


Now it's time to enjoy the race. I won't say good luck because I believe luck is in preparation and you have done all that so it will all be fine!

Nicky's Double Bob Graham Round

Watch the film (called Run Forever) of Nicky's Double Bob Graham Round

Nicky holds a variety of sessions and seminars throughout the year, helping runners achieve their ultra running goals. Learn more...