Workout Specificity for Ultra Marathons

I have a selected a 50k Mid volume training plan and the workouts are predominantly 1k Thresholds and then Long & Short Hill Intervals.

Thinking about the rule of specificity in training, it seems like those workouts are least specific and should be farther out (I won’t be doing any Threshold or Sprints in the race), moving to more longer hill tempos or long steady state efforts as I get closer to the event to mimic what I will be doing in the race?

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Hi Toke, welcome to the Forum! That’s a really good question and one I recently asked Paul on the Athlete’s Compass podcast about HIIT. Both Marjaana, the other host, and I do long races, so I asked him why would we do short HIIT workouts. (The episode hasn’t been published yet.)
The answer was that yes, there is a place for longer workouts. But primarily, the HIIT work gives us adaptations that carry over into the long distance work. The two most important were increased VO2max and increased threshold. If you raise the ceiling of your fitness, you’ll be able go faster and further with less effort.
I’ve noticed in my own training that doing the short hard intervals helps me in my long rides as well.
I hope that helps. Let me know what other questions you have!


Hei @Tokej

Håper du har det fint! (Based on your name you are Danish or Norwegian? )

I don’t know how far out from your ultra you are but the 1k threshold and short and long hill efforts are a powerful mix to raise your ceiling. Raise the ceiling and everything follows. You are engaging those fast twitch muscle fibers and making them more fatigue resistant when you do these sprints uphill. And working on your vo2max as well (the ceiling…) Although you may be walking those trails up during your ultra (assuming it is a trail ultra) these sets are still specific to your race (unless it’s totally flat).

You should also have strength endurance sessions in your plan where you simulate going uphill or undulating terrain like you suggest.

If you think of long distance Cross Country skiing, yeah it’s very much endurance sport, but the terrain they ski at offers natural interval training with plenty of either long or punchy short hills where their heart rate increases and their muscles are working hard to elevate their body over the hills. If they never gave their system specific stimuli like that, they would substantially slow down on the hills ( like many new-to-skiing do if they don’t do hill sprint work at all)…

There’s many assumptions in my reply but you are always free to make your individual adjustments to your training plan based on your own experience

Ha en fin dag, Toke



Thank you both for your responses. My race is Sept21 up in Mammoth Lakes, CA with ~6.8k ft of climbing, starting at 8k ft. and climbing to a peak elevation of 11k ft…so no doubt I will need to spend some time training at elevation in Aug/Sept.

I will give the plan a try and see how my body responds to it. It does have the strength and lots of aerobic base, which will be useful, though it is limiting me on my long runs to 2 hours, which for me will need to be more.

MJ- Yes, Toke is a Danish name (first name is Torben), but I am a 2nd generation Californian so I don’t know the language and still need to visit Denmark; hopefully I can do that soon!

Thanks all



So cool! Yes Denmark is awesome!
No mountains though haha

Yes, extend those long runs as you see fits into your schedule AND what you are safely capable of. Athletica will adapt to what you do.


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