Extreme Travel | Adventure Sports

5 best ultra marathon training trails

A runner offers his pick of the five best places on the globe to train for ultra marathons

Ultra Runners around the world have their favourite races, and that long list of “to do” challenges that they want to finish just once in their running careers. For many, these races are the pinnacle of their event calendar, and what they look forward to. Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays don’t get a mention, but a big race…

To prepare for these long, grueling, and life-changing events takes not just time, energy and planning, but also having a location to train (if possible) in similar conditions and terrain as the big race.

I’ve been lucky to have visited a few countries over the years, and train in some majestic and peaceful places. They may not be the most well known, but training for any ultra is not just about running on trails which are covered in footprints of runners who have pounded the same path, but more so to create your own trail and find your own way along the Earth’s floor. Run free, be free.

Here are five of my favourite places to train

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala 2300m

The Santa Maria Volcano 3800m

Quetzaltenango is Guatemala’s second largest city, located in the country’s southwest. Although it may not sound like an ideal place to run trails, get out of the history-rich city centre to the surrounding hills and volcanoes, and your eyes will be amazed. The Santa Maria Volcano is one of the largest in Guatemala. Situated only 20 minutes outside of the city, the trail starts at 2300m above sea level, and when reaching the summit (way above the clouds) you will be at 3800m – a great place to get in some altitude training.

We all like rewards at the end of hard work, and the views from the top of Santa Maria are spectacular, you can see for miles, taking in sights of numerous other volcanoes, and even the beautiful Lake Atitlan. The climb, which usually takes 4 to 5 hours to hike, can be ran/hiked in anywhere between 1 to 2 hours. It’s made up of muddy trails that start wide enough to run side-by-side with someone if you choose to have company, then thins out to single-file tracks navigating their way around sharp switch backs, and up and over man-made mud steps. Arriving at the top is breath-taking – figuratively and literally – and you’ll share the grassy summit with a few stray cows. The run back down is just as demanding, but with the wild scenery and small vegetable farming communities to keep you visually aroused the entire way down, this fantastic run is great preparation for any mountainous race which involves altitude. It may not be easy, but it’s beautiful. 

Sydney, Australia

Bundeena-Otford coastal track

This is an amazing track, hugging the coastline the entire way. And when it’s not showcasing the marvelous Australian coast, you will be taken along winding hiking paths rich with indigenous flora. You can start at either end, or make it an out-and-back “long” run. Situated in the city’s south, Bundeena is a picturesque ferry ride from Cronulla, a fantastic start to any training adventure. The path snakes through a national park, along cliff tops, beaches and escarpments, with jaw dropping ocean views and rocky lookout points. With 1300m of climbing over 27 kilometres one way, the out-and-back route is a great training run for that race which has several different types of mountainous terrain. The climbs are met with panoramic views at times, and the descents with soft sandy beaches. 

Throughout December to February it can be quite hot, as you will be exposed to the elements with only a few areas that have cover. If you fancy a cooler run, head out between May and August and you might just spot a few humpbacks migrating – a once-in-a-lifetime experience while training for an ultra marathon.

If you’re ever in Sydney, this is definitely a must-do, and the Aussie bush will not disappoint, and neither will its magnificent coastline.

London, England

Richmond Park

I’m not sure what it is about Richmond park that I love, but every time I run along any of its numerous designated running paths (or create my own) I’ve always got a smile on my face. This 6 sq km park is intertwined with numerous trails and paths for runners to navigate their way around. Although during the weekends (especially the summer months) it can get packed with other runners, cyclists, and walkers, its still quite easy to detour off one of the main trails and be surrounded by nothing but ancient oak trees, one of the many ponds, native shrubs, or a herd of Red or fallow deer which roam freely throughout the entire park. There are a couple of nice inclines to make sure your legs are working, as well as short descents to practice your down-hill running. A great place to start a new training period after a big race, or to simply have an enjoyable run surrounded by nature and only 15 kilometres from the centre of London. 

Napa Valley, California U.S.A

Lake Berryessa, Berryessa peak

Napa Valley is one of the most famous wine regions in the world, which is a small part why I love this area to run in. It’s located north of San Francisco, and west of Sacramento in Northern California. Lake Berryessa is situated 100kms west of Sacramento, and in the northeast of this famous wine-growing region.

The lake and its 265km shoreline is definitely a place for the adventurous ultra runner. Surrounding the lake are numerous hiking and mountain biking trails, with plenty of less-travelled pathways for you to explore. With numerous marinas dotted around the lake, it’s easy to refill your Camelbak, and purchase a few snacks to keep you fuelled.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this running location is all flat and easy going along the water’s edge. From the north side of the lake, Berryessa peak is approximately 30 kilometers round-trip to the summit. The 1000m summit is worth the peaceful run out from the lake, and on a clear day you’ll get beautiful views of several other mountains, buttes and peaks, as well as the idyllic blue lake which is surrounded by numerous shades of greenery.

This is a great place to run for hours to get inside your own head and enjoy some real trail running. Whether your training for a 100-miler, or just wanting to put yourself in the “hurt locker”, Lake Berryessa, and its surrounding trails will certainly help you out!

And once you have finished several hours of scenic trail running up, down and around this wonderful lake, there are numerous wineries close by to sit back, relax and enjoy a wonderful Californian chardonnay.

Pokhara, Nepal

Between Chhorepatan and Pumdi Bhumdi

The trails in this area are amazing, especially the one leading out of Pokhara in a westerly direction from Phewa Lake’s Dam. Heading up into the surrounding mountains, these trails are what most ultra runners crave: ascending and descending tight switch backs with long drawn out climbs, birds singing in the trees, and locals gingerly making their way past you heading to or from temple or a market carrying everything in their doko – the oversized basket on their backs and secured with a strap around their head.

If you ask around for directions to the World Peace Pagoda, then you will be in for a treat. After negotiating several tiny villages with rocky paths, you then have to climb up to where the pagoda is perched high above on a narrow ridge. On arrival the sight you see of the city, astounding Phewa lake, and the surrounding Annapurna Mountain range will definitely help with the pain your legs will be in.

If you still want more you can continue running up the ridge from the Pagoda, and continue along the trail which follows the ridge line of the surrounding mountains. I’ve known Nepalese ultra runners who have spent 8 to 9 hours running along these paths; you will never tire of the trails and scenery – just remember you have to RUN back the way you came as there are no buses!

Starting at a elevation of 900m in Pokhara, with the top peaks reaching approximately 2500m, with numerous undulations in between, make sure you’re ready to climb, because in Nepal, there is no flat trail running. It’s all about The Adventure, The Travel, The Challenge.

For more information on Luke Tyburski, visit Luketyburski.com