What Are Elite Ultrarunners Doing That You Are Not?

Six reasons why they are so good.

But why wouldn’t you be doing the same? It’s not rocket science.

Knowing these facts about the Elites might just propel you past a good few others on your next challenge run.

Adapting your training to be a bit more like them will pay dividends, so much is certain.

Read on here and find out!

1. Elites Run Slow[er Than You Do] Uphill.

Elite runners can and do run very hard uphill. However, because they are acutely aware of their cost, elites save these efforts for a precious few tactical moves on race day.


Powerhike to conserve muscle energy and avoid the lactate burn until the end is near and your brain is confident you’ll make it! An even-keeled approach avoids spikes and crashes, and ensures your fastest performance.

2. Elites Always Run Fast Downhill.
Descents are free time and distance, and elites know it. Or maybe they don’t, but they quickly learn that in order to stay in contention, they have to keep pace. Elites learn to run quickly–yet utterly effortlessly–down the most technical terrain. They do so using a variety of methods:

  • A lightning-quick cadence. Elites tend to run a cadence of 180 steps per minute. And not only is that maintained on the downs, it is often accelerated–to upwards of 200 steps a minute. …………………
  • A relaxed upper body. Elite runners allow their arms to go out to the side and even overhead on quick downs. It’s partly for balance, but mostly because they can dissipate ground-landing forces through their arms.
  • Practice, practice, practice! 


Make quick-cadenced, light-footed downhills a part of every run. Fast downhills must be practiced, and they must be consistent. A moderately fast downhill, performed with a quick turnover, might result in soreness at first, but stick with it. Over time, downs will be faster than ever and with less soreness! And do it on every run, unless one is incredibly sore. (In which case, why are you running hilly terrain?). Quick, efficient descents cost nothing.

3. Elite Runners Swing Their Arms.
The arms mirror the legs, as well as adding a dimension of efficiency to footstrike. An efficient arm swing is vital to optimal performance and limited aches and pains. Elites by and large have excellent arm carriage: the trunk is tall, shoulders are open, and the elbows and hands move straight forward and back.


4. Elite Runners Run Minimally.
Elite runners train themselves to run on the bare minimum of external tools: food, water, salt, supplements, and other gear. Often, you’ll see them run with nothing more than a small bottle and a few gels. Simply put, they don’t use much. So they don’t have to carry much or load themselves–inside or out–with excess weight.


Simply put, they do the most with the least.

If you do use gear, practice using it, and practice running fast and efficiently with it!

5. Elites Train Slowly (Most of the Time).


Slow down and tune in. Base mileage must feel extremely easy. If it doesn’t, you’re simply running too fast. Get a heart-rate monitor, and consider heart-rate-based training systems such as the Maffetone Method to ensure you’re developing that fundamental system. Polar and Asics have nice training schemes as well – amongst many others.

6. Elite Runners Train Very Hard (Some of the Time).
By training most of their mileage easy, elite runners have the physical ability to push themselves hard. The world’s best ultrarunners–during the middle to peak periods of their training–frequently run at a high intensity three to four times a week.


Midpackers tend to make one big mistake. They frequently (and often daily) enter ‘The Gray Zone’–an area of moderately intense aerobic output that’s too fast to be fat burning and too slow to obtain true fitness benefits. Because the body thrives on stress and rest, this lukewarm zone limits development and results in injury and burnout.



Thank you Joe Uhan for the original article. You can read it in full here.

Main photo credit: Trail de Signes Méounes Belgentier 2011 (85) via photopin (license)

Article photo credit: Trail de la Sainte Baume 2012 arrivee Akuna (735) via photopin (license)

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