Tips for Running An Ultrarun with Castore Athlete Rona McMillan

Tips for Running An Ultrarun with Castore Athlete Rona McMillan

Kristin Kennedy-Brown - March 22, 2024

Rona McMillan is a professional photographer based in Glasgow with an interest in outdoor sports and fitness. Over the past few years, Rona has been documenting her training, lifestyle, and outdoor pursuits on Instagram. Through combining both photography and sports, Rona has been given an array of opportunities to work with a number of brands, including currently standing as one of our female Castore Athletes. 

As we approach Marathon season, we wanted to share some tips on how to train for an ultrarun. We chatted to Rona McMillan, about her top tips for ultrarun Training, including; mindset, nutrition, and motivation. Read on to learn more… 

To begin, what is an Ultrarun?

Ultramarathons, or ultras, are any running races beyond the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles (or 42.2k). The most common ultra distances are 50k, 100k, 50 miles, or 100 miles, but each event is unique in terms of distance and terrain. 

Rona ran her first Ultrarun last September, around the Island of Tiree in Scotland. The run in total was a distance of 35 miles (56km in total), covering 14 beaches, roads, hillside terrain, and quite a lot of bogs along the way. 

What inspired you to start training for an ultrarun?

I was inspired to sign up for an ultrarace that both my mum and older brother had done before me. I'd watched them train for it and after seeing them cross the finish line I knew it was something I would like to sign up for one day.

I'd say my main reason for signing up to my ultrarun race was pure curiosity, I didn't know if I'd ever be capable of something like this - and I was interested to know if I could take on such a challenge, stick to the training and actually complete it. I wouldn't describe myself as an overly competitive person, so races have never overly appealed to me - which is why the format of an ultramarathon was so much more attractive, it sounded more like an adventure than a competition to me! 

What top tips would you give to anyone starting out in their ultramarathon training?

Time management was the biggest alteration to my lifestyle when I first began training - I suddenly had 15+ hours of training to fit into my schedule each week, on top of work and other responsibilities. Planning my training schedule in advance was really helpful for helping me stay on track. Having an organised calendar where I could clearly see what I was doing on what day, a few weeks in advance was the best way for me to keep on top of everything. In turn this also really helped me manage my personal and social life to ensure I still managed to see my friends and enjoy downtime.

Something that really helped me before I started my running program was strength training. I joined a crossfit gym in Glasgow and went along to classes a few times a week to build muscle and strength in my joints - especially my hips, knees and ankles. 

I'd also recommend following a training program that allows for movement aside from running - for example indoor cycling and swimming, this really helped me to stay motivated in-between those longer runs. 

How many weeks in advance do you begin training for an ultrarun?

Everyone trains for races very differently, however I spent 17 weeks training for my race. 

Talk us through what your ultrarun plan looked like? 

My training plan was pretty varied, I had one rest day a week and some days I doubled up on sessions which was a lot more than I was used to. That said, I quickly adapted to the routine, and because I was training through summer, the time spent outdoors felt really good. I would run around 4/5 times a week, as well as combining pool swimming and indoor bike sessions within my training regime to compliment the shorter running days. I also maintained strength training in the gym throughout my ultra run plan, as well as yoga stretching before and after each run. 

My training plan included one long run each week. My long runs increased in distance week-by-week - on week one my long run was 6 miles and by the end of my training plan, my longest training run was a marathon (26.2 miles). 

How many miles would you recommend running on a weekly basis, when training for an ultrarun?

Rather than counting miles, I focused a lot more on the time I spent doing continuous exercise - long distance swims, cycles, and runs. I used to find running without having stops and breaks IMPOSSIBLE, so I spent a lot of time getting used to the discomfort of fatigue. Trying hard to push through the niggles that told me to stop during long distance sessions. 

What type of terrain did you train on?

Because my race was predominantly on a mix of terrain, I tried my best to run trail, hillside and beach routes as much as possible in my training. but because I live in the city the majority of my runs ended up being on pavement. 

Can you talk us through nutrition and fuelling for an ultrarun? What foods and snacks did you prioritise?

Food, snacks, calories - the more the better. I didn't follow a nutritional plan specifically, but I noticed a huge increase in the amount of food I ate each day. An extra main meal each day, and plenty snacks, gels & hydration during training. During my long runs and cycles, I relied heavily on peanut butter and jam sandwiches, Baby-Bells and Candy Kitten sweets.

What's your advice on avoiding blisters during an ultrarun race and training?

Good shoes, good socks, and spare socks. Keeping your feet dry is difficult training off road in Scotland - I found the best socks that helped me avoid blisters even when my feet were wet were Twin Skin socks. They provide a double layer of fabric to absorb friction so your skin doesn't have to - these were a really great addition to my training wardrobe alongside finding shoes that really fitted my feet. I've used the same shoe style for almost three years now, and have rebought the same shoe twice because I found what works for my feet. 

Also, always be sure to pack spare dry socks in your running pack - and change them over as soon as you feel any friction at all! 

What protective running clothing and accessories do you wear when ultrarunning? 

My outfit is fairly minimal - consisting of shorts, a sports bra, and a long sleeve quick-drying top. I carry a lot of protective accessories and provisions in my running pack, especially when I'm out on the hill or off-road. In my pack, I'd usually carry a head torch, a whistle, foil blanket, lightweight waterproof jacket & trousers, energy gels, food, water, phone and battery pack, blister plasters, warm hat, sunglasses and depending where I am, a map and compass. It's a mission to find all of these items in the lightest weight and smallest size possible to squeeze into that tiny running vest - but having them on me made me feel a lot safer when I was out running on my own. 

Ultra running takes a lot of determination and bravery - How did you prepare mentally for you ultrarun?

I think my main mental focus fell towards my running plan and program. I knew if I stuck to it, the more confident I would feel for race day. Ticking off each training day helped me feel mentally prepared and positive in my ability to complete the race. 

How did you remain motivated - even after setbacks?

I found switching up my environment, and feeling excited about a change in scenery helped me stay motivated for long runs. I spent time looking at maps and researching off-road routes, which helped maintain enthusiasm for training days that I felt tired and sore.

How do you prioritise recovery when training for an ultrarun?

Recovering properly was something that I learned the importance of very quickly. I tried my best to prioritise a good night's sleep over social events. I ate plentiful, regular and organised meals over snacks and rushed meals. I noticed the benefits of yoga, stretching and ice baths or cold swims - not only physically but mentally. I'd say the recovery is just as important as the training, or it was for me during this time. Lots of sleep, lots of food, lots of water, all the good stuff! 

Where are you heading for your next ultrarun?

I'm yet to sign up for round two, but I've been admiring some long distance hill races in Scotland later this year. Perhaps something like this will see me through training this summer! 


Shop our latest range of Women's Running Clothing and follow Rona's social channels to stay up-to-date with her next ultrarun adventure.