Ultramarathon training in the City

Training for trail and mountain races is pretty difficult when living in the concrete jungle. Instead of trees, dirt and fresh air, I have skyscrapers, concrete and a probably unhealthy amount of air pollution. But I’ve learned to make the best of my situation. I’ve learned that while I may not have picturesque trails or really just even trees there’s plenty of ways I can “train.” Everyday life in the city is actually a better training ground than you would expect. There are plenty of opportunities to practice balance, flexibility, mobility, endurance and leg strength. I just needed to think outside the proverbial box, get creative and a little #weird.

I will say that there’s no replica for a mountain or forest trail - nothing beats the real thing. Replicating, loose dirt, twigs, fallen trees, rocks, etc.., and all the obstacles and dynamics that trails present is not really possible. You will need to hit the trail at some point just to familiarize with the terrain. As an example, the first ultramarathon I ever did was the 50k North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain in New York and for the entirety of the 7.5 hours it took me to complete, I never moved my gaze away from the 10 feet of ground in front of me. I don’t think I looked at one tree, pong or vista, the entire race, which when I signed up was a part of the appeal! There was always an obstacle, every time my foot touched the ground, it was at a different angle -- completely different experience vs a road race where you’re moving at a consistent cadence. But that’s boring :) -- trail races are where it’s atttt. You vs Mountain. You vs You. In my experience, running ultras in the mountains is much more than a running race. It’s nutrition, mental, management, leg strength, endurance and will. And damn is it fun!


Below are some of the things I do regularly, at times much to the discomfort of those with me :).

  1. Walking on Curbs -- ah, the concrete tightrope without the danger! Minus the cars :0. I’ll walk whole blocks only allowing myself to walk on the 8-inch curb. Improves balance, coordination, and core strength. Really any kind of narrow straight path you can find.
  2. Stairs over Escalators & Elevators (when reasonable) -- if you work or live in a city, this is almost definitely something you can do every day. Taking a break in the office? Walk the stairs. Going out to grab your lunch? Take the stairs down and walk back up.
  3. Carrying Groceries -- Arms out and stroll along. Weird? Probably, but basically, modified farmers walk. I’ll do bicep curls with the bag, back flys, tricep extensions, etc. Depending on how far you’re walking, this could be a full workout routine, haha. But seriously, it can be a great workout. I’ve come home from my local grocer exhausted and ready for a post-workout protein shake. #TrueStory
  4. Standing on the Subway -- Why sit? I sit all damn day. Don’t hold onto a bar or lean on anything and subway surf! The constant movement and shifting of the subway car activates all sort of stabilizing muscles in your core and especially calves and ankles.
  5. Minimalist Shoes -- closer your bare feet are to the ground, the more action your legs get #gainz. Specifically, all the stabilizing muscles in your lower calves and your feet. Be careful though and don’t jump right into this, slowly build it up. You also put yourself at risk for the ultimate runner death, plantar fasciitis.
Written by Daniel Rizza

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