Training for an Ultra Beast… (or a Toughest Mudder)

The Spartan Ultra Beast is unlike any other event out there and therefore requires its own specific training regimen. On any given Ultra Beast the top elite athletes will finish in the 7-9 hour range and the majority of the pack will have finishing times in excess of 10 hours. These times are vastly greater than the typical Beast courses which tend to have finishing times around the 3-4 hour mark.  The finishing times of the Ultra Beast alone should be enough to make you realize that it takes a great amount of time and dedication to train for and conquer a Spartan Ultra Beast.

I can’t recall exactly where I read the following information but I remembering reading an article that stated “if you want to be competitive in a Spartan Ultra Beast you should be able to run 50 miles”. I knew the Ultra Beast wouldn’t be 50 miles, but the time duration and exhaustion I’d feel could be very similar. So that’s where I started, I found a 50 mile training plan and tweaked it to incorporate more obstacle specific training.

As far as running was concerned my training focused on duration rather than distance. I did not need to train my body to conquer 42.2 km of mountain running, but instead I needed to train my body for 8 hours or more of mountain running. Switching run workouts to have a time goal rather than a distance goal takes some time to get comfortable with, but it’s worth it. When running for distance it is very easy to get caught up in how fast you can complete the run. Whereas in a duration run it doesn’t matter how fast you go, time always moves at the same speed so best to lock in to a good solid/comfortable pace and enjoy the outdoors.

Training doesn’t always have to be boring. Go get lost in the woods, explore, take in the beautiful world around us.

Once you are able to handle duration workouts mentally, they become quite enjoyable and are very easy to do. Easy in the sense that you don’t need to plan out a route to hit your goal distance. For example if I had a 4 hour long run I’d have a loose plan in my head as to where I’d like to try and go, but I’d improvise out on the run and take random turns down through some woods, or up a hill I happened to pass (I suggest doing as many hills as you can…on race day you’ll be glad you did). For those 4 hours I was simply outside exploring the city/mountains, and it was wonderful. It’ll take some time to truly enjoy these long runs, but be patient because they become somewhat meditative and it’s quite amazing.

I found that doing back to back long runs to be very beneficial during the peak of my training. For example I would rest Friday, go for a long run Saturday (~4 hours), then on Sunday go for another long run (2.5-3.5 hours), and then rest on Monday. I found this to be very useful as the Sunday runs were a great battle mentally and physically to even just get out the door and run. Getting out on those Sunday runs were very beneficial as they provided good insight into how my body may be feeling 6 hours into the Ultra Beast (sore, tired, and mentally exhausted).

The beautiful thing about Spartan Races is that they aren’t just running. You’ll need to be able carry large objects and jump over walls, among many other obstacles. Therefore your Ultra Beast training needs to incorporate some upper body strength aspects as well. I lifted weights 2-3 times a week, but I tried to focus more on body weight exercises and functional movement (pull ups, push ups, burpees, lunges etc.). I’d also recommend buying a sandbag or something similar and get use to hauling it up and down hills, as this is a great hill workout and will prepare you for the inevitable sandbag carry and/or bucket brigade obstacles. During those long run sessions I’d always throw in some sort of strength component to help mimic the effects of a Spartan Race. For example sometimes I’d look for a rock and carry it up a hill a few times, or at every playground I’d do the monkey bars or 5-10 pull ups. Get creative with it and don’t feel embarrassed about stopping in the middle of a crowded park to do some burpees or monkey bars as people stare at you. You’re just working out and they are probably staring cause they think what you’re doing is bad ass…because it is!

Find a log in the woods…pick it up and do some lunges, then keep running. Great way to mimic an obstacle course race during training runs.

I’d also recommend doing as many Spartan Races as you can prior to the Ultra Beast, to simply practice the obstacles. There’s nothing worse than failing an easy obstacle and having to suffer 30 burpees. If you get better at the obstacles and do less burpee’s you’ll have far better race results (duh).

Finally it is very important to take rest days as needed. If you are feeling particularly exhausted one day and have a workout scheduled, you’ll be far better off skipping that workout and letting your body rest. If you don’t recover you put yourself at risk of getting injured, and if you get injured you may not be able to train for a long time (weeks). You are putting your body through a lot of stress and the only way it can build fitness is if you allow it to rest! As much as we’d like to think more is better, no pain no gain, but this is simple not the case. Listen to your body, take care of yourself and don’t overdo it. Take one extra rest day rather than being forced to take weeks off because of an injury.

Hopefully this has helped shine some light on how to train and prepare for a Spartan Ultra Beast. Let me know if you have any questions.

Below is a sample week from my Ultra Beast training plan.

Sample Week (8 weeks from Race Day)

Monday: Rest (Sauna or light stretching [yin yoga])

Tuesday: Double Day

Workout 1: a) 5 rounds of: 10 push ups, 10 burpees, 5 pull ups, 30 s sprint

  1. b) 4 rounds of: 15 squats, 50 lunges, 10 chest passes, 10 underhand tosses (use a rock or boulder)

Workout 2: Run 14-15 km

Wednesday: 2 rounds of: 10 lunges, 15 push ups, 15 stone deadlifts, belly crawl 10 yards, 10 stone chest pass. Run 8 km

Thursday: Double Day

Workout 1: 3 rounds of: 30 backwards lunges, 30 alternating chest press, 30 alternating dumbbell row, 15 back extensions, 15 wrist curls, 15 wrist extensions, 15 hammer curls, 15 triceps extension (each arm), 15 bridge and leg curl, 30 bicycle, 30 dead bug, 30 flutter kick

Workout 2: Run 14-15 km

Friday: Rest (light stretch or walk)

Saturday: 4 hour run

Sunday: 3.5 hour run

Hopefully this helps you end up at the finish line of your Ultra Beast with two thumbs up!

7 comments

  1. Thanks for the insights. What rough pace did you target for your long runs and how did it compare to your shorter distance runs? Trying to get a sense for how to get dialed in for those sort of distances without going too easy or hard.

  2. What was or is your longest back to back training/running sessions on the weekend (time) prior to an Ultra beast?

    I have read that 8 hours is suggested. So, if I break it up 4 hrs on Sat and 4hrs on Sunday can this be just as affective without worrying about injury or recover issues? Thanks for sharing in advance.

    1. The longest back to back I ever did was just under 5 hours (4:50) on Saturday, and 3 hours on Sunday. That’s exactly the right idea. An 8 hour training run would likely do more harm than good, so breaking it up over two days is what you want to do. Good luck in your training!

  3. Hey really enjoyed your take on training for the Ultra Beast. Having completed a few myself, I definitely agree with the mindset of training by time instead of distance on the runs. Well said and Good stuff!

  4. Thanks for sharing your experience on the UB! Facing my first one in under 6 months time and looking for all the tips I can get! Like the idea of simply putting a time-duration on a nature-based run rather than setting paces/distances. Will be putting that in place for sure.
    Cheers! Daz.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *