Ultramarathon Training: A Newbie's Plan to Conquer 40-Miles

When Oregon resident Aaron Heard was running down real estate deals, the last thing on his mind was ultramarathon training.
A couple years ago, it wasn’t even on his radar. His schedule looked a lot more like...wake up early to work. Stay up late to work. Work, work, work. Close more deals.
There wasn’t time for ultramarathon training...or anything else for that matter.
Ever wonder how to carve out time for ultramarathon training, even with a busy schedule?
Maybe you’ve thought about moving up from the marathon to an ultra. But you’re not sure how to go from training to run 26.2 miles to ultramarathon training for longer distances.
●     What if you were totally new to ultrarunning and a relative newbie to long-distance running? 
●     What would your ultramarathon training plan look like to go the distance and finish your first race?
Aaron was about to find out in an unexpected way.
In this post, you’re going to learn:
●     How to run an ultramarathon even if you’re new to distance running
●     How to avoid mistakes, especially if you’re trying to get into shape
●     5 ultramarathon training tips for newbies
●     Gear recommendations from a first-time ultrarunner
The accidental path to ultramarathon training
On paper, Aaron was the perfect real estate agent. Always talking to people, making connections, and selling more houses than most of the other agents on his team (now he runs his own agency).
But something wasn’t right. 
●     He didn’t feel good. 
●     He was tired and cranky. 
●     Stress and anxiety followed him around. 
●     And people in his circle, including his family and his boss, were worried about him.
“I was super driven at work,” says Aaron. “But one day my boss came to me and said, ‘You’ve been really successful, but you’re operating on a schedule that isn’t sustainable. You’re working really hard here, but when are you going to start working on you?’”
That was the tipping point for Aaron that changed everything, and put him on the accidental path to ultramarathon training.
But first a trip to see the doctor…
You’ve heard the advice...Before you start an exercise program consult your doctor.
So with a little encouragement, Aaron went to see his doctor and the news wasn’t great…
“I’m surprised you haven’t had a heart attack,” his doctor said. “Your cholesterol levels are really high. We need to put you on some major medications to get that under control.”
But Aaron had a different idea.
●     What if he changed his lifestyle habits, stressed less, improved his work-life balance, and started exercising?
That’s how this ultramarathon training thing got started
And it wasn’t pretty.
Without much training, he accepted a challenge from a friend to run 26.2 miles over a weekend for $1,000.
“At the time, the longest distance I had ever covered was a 5K,” says Aaron.
His plan...intermittently run 26.2 treadmill miles over the weekend. Amazingly, he did it. But it wasn’t easy.
“I wrecked my body,” says Aaron. “ It was like 26.2 miles on a death machine. I had the worst shin splints. My hips were jacked. Everything was jacked, even my neck hurt.”

Ever heard of the David Goggins Challenge? Runner Aaron Heard finshed the 4x4x48 challenge about a month before running his first ultra.
●     What would you do? Give up running or keep going?
Running a marathon is a gateway drug…

Even though he swore off running after the 26.2-mile treadmill weekend, he couldn’t stop thinking about it. 
●     He started followed a plan called the Road to a Marathon
●     He ran the 5K Shamrock Run in Portland, Ore., without any aches and pains
●     A friend challenged him to run the Birds of Prey Half Marathon in Oregon, and it was ugly.
●     He showed up to the starting line of the Portland Marathon ready to race. He cruised through the first half in two hours. But it took another three hours to cross the finish line, hobbling the rest of the way with a painfully tight quad and sick stomach.
Ever heard the phrase “relentless forward motion?” 
It’s a term made famous by ultrarunners like:
●     Dean Karnazes
●     Scott Jurek
●     Pam Reed
●     And many others…
Here’s how Dean Karnazes explains it:
“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.”
●     What if that’s how you thought about running?
At first, Aaron threw a pity party for failing to finish the marathon like he expected. But once that passed, he decided he wasn’t going to let it beat him.
Earlier this year, he did the David Goggins Challenge, running 4 miles every 4 hours, covering 48 miles in a weekend. And he decided to keep going.

5 ultramarathon training tips for newbies
Aaron started running to improve his health, but it didn’t take long to turn into more than that.
And with a 40th birthday on the calendar in two short years, he wants to do something big.
“I told my wife I want to be in better shape at 40 than I have ever been in my life,” says Aaron. “So I signed up for the Peterson Ridge Rumble. It’s a 40-mile trail run in Central Oregon. I decided to do it, because I want to see if I’ve got what it takes to run a 100-mile race.”
Even without a solid marathon finish, Aaron decided to take a different approach to running 40 miles. Want to know how he did it?
Here’s his top ultramarathon training tips for newbies:
1. Follow a plan...consistently

Wing it and just try to run a ton of training miles? That’s kind of what got Heard into trouble in the first place. To make it easier to stay consistent, he bought a Peloton about a year ago and decided to ride every day. At first it was hard, but training got easier over time.
2. Create accountability
Even the best runners and athletes experience days when training might seem like a chore, think about giving up, or just don’t want to do the work.
But if you create some accountability for yourself, it’s easier to stay on track knowing someone is counting.
Heard and a friend challenged each other to ride the Peloton for 30 days in April 2020. And he made it happen, sometimes fitting in a workout at 11 p.m.
3. Include cross training
It’s no secret that running takes a toll on the body. It’s kind of a beat down on your bones, joints, and muscles. Running more miles provides the conditioning you need to go the distance, but it’s not enough for ultramarathon training.
“The Peloton app came with a strength and conditioning program,” says Heard. “I followed it to a T, with the goal of being in the best shape possible to run 40 miles.”
In addition to cardio conditioning, the program also included:
●     Strength training
●     Stretching

4. Focus on finishing

Runners love to go fast. But we sometimes get fixated on mile splits, finish times, and PRs. 
There’s nothing wrong with that. But for most runners, a first ultra isn’t going to end in a PR mile pace.
Save yourself from stress, disappointment, and the urge to overtrain and risk injury and follow Heard’s advice:
“I decided to just focus on finishing,” says Heard. “And I ended up surprising myself.”
5. ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’
After struggling to finish the Portland Marathon, Heard knew ultramarathon training and running 40-mile race wouldn’t be easy. But he didn’t let that stop him.
“Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional,” says Heard. “My biggest piece of advice...keep a positive mindset. It might hurt or get to be a grind to get into a training routine. But persevere and commit to it. Stay the course and do the work.”
Jitters subside when toeing up to the start line

What’s it like to run your first ultra?
Heard experienced the typical race-day jitters. A few days before the race, he started having aches and pains during his taper.
Fortunately, that subsided once the race started. He cruised through the first 20 miles, climbing 2,000-plus feet on trails in the Cascade Mountain Range.
A couple hours in, he started running a faster mile pace. And he chatted with experienced ultrarunners about their other race adventures.
But then things started to break down…
●     He had to troubleshoot a problem with his watch. 
●     He forgot to refill a hydration pack bladder at an aid station. 
●     Late in the race he realized, he needed more fuel to go the distance to prevent stomach issues and muscle cramps.
●     The fix came just 5 miles before the finish...pickles and Nuun water.
That was enough to get him to the finish line of the Peterson Ridge Rumble, finishing in 6:45:14...more than an hour faster than he expected.
“When I finished, I ate the best burrito I’ve ever tasted in my life and drank a Mountain Dew,” says Aaron. “It was amazing.”
The finish-line take-away
“It’s hard to explain,” says Aaron. “I felt so relieved to be done. But also grateful that I accomplished something so many people can’t or won’t ever do in their life. For me, that’s really, really empowering.”
And that puts him a little closer to running a 100-mile race.

How do you celebrate finishing your first ultramarathon? A burrito and Mountain Dew at the finish line hit the spot for Aaron Heard.

Gear recommendations from a first-time ultrarunner
Here’s what helped Aaron run hundreds of training miles and cruise to the finish at the Peterson Ridge Rumble…
●     Shoes: Hoka One One Speedgoat 4
●     Nutrition: Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gel
●     Nutrition: Gatorade Prime Energy Chews

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Evan Jensen
SANDY, Oregon
2 Following

I help RUNNERS reduce injuries, fix running form, run longer & faster by strength training without running ragged. I'm a NASM...


David Moore Congratulations Aaron! I can definitely relate to this. I’m 39, in the real estate business and training for my first ultra (only 50k for me) on June 26th. Amazing work!

Brynn Cunningham Evan, great write-up of Aaron's impressive story! Love it.

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