Ultra Marathons | A Guide To Running Really, Really Far
If you aren't already a part of the ultra scene, you are likely wondering how races like these are even possible. After all, running a couple of miles is tough, and at the end of a "regular" marathon runners often look as if they couldn't travel another step.
As someone that has successfully navigated my way from the couch to recently completing my first 50-mile trail race, I decided to fill people in on the not-so-secret formula for pushing your body to its limits. These are the steps to take yourself from a recreational runner to the pinnacle of endurance.
Build Up Slowly
Slow and steady wins the race with this style of training. The truth is that running long distances requires you to practice running... a lot. Building up your volume slowly will be critical to your success. It is prevalent for runners to get injured as they try and increase their running volume. Start training for an ultra only after completing a marathon first, and give yourself at least 12-16 weeks of dedicated training before your event.
Tally Up Time On Feet
One of the most interesting shifts away from a typical training program is that for ultra marathons, one of the most important adaptations to build is your tolerance to time on feet. Races will have you running for many hours at a time, and the first thing to fall apart is typically your feet. Forget trying to run fast and start focusing on how to run long. Find a steady pace that keeps your heart rate under control and practice being out there for increasingly long periods. If you can't be moving for 4-5 hours straight, this is an excellent baseline to work towards first.
Ultra Marathons are unquestionably very demanding on your body physically. What makes them unique, and I think more difficult than a regular marathon, is the total time you will be forced to deal with discomfort. You will need to practice getting uncomfortable in training so that you can build confidence in your ability to persevere.
Learn How To Eat
Another unique challenge with ultramarathons is the necessity to eat as you are running. Eventually, even the most well-fueled body will need additional calories, or it starts to break down. This is affectionately known as "bonking" and is one of the most miserable experiences you can have as a runner. Practice eating 2-300 calories an hour and taking in plenty of fluids; a botched nutrition plan can end the race of even the most physically prepared runner.
There you have it! The considerations listed above, if accounted for in your training, will leave you with an excellent chance to finish your first race and call yourself an ultrarunner. The work is hard and the training hours can be long, but the reward of crossing the finish line is the ultimate justification that hard work pays off and that you are capable of anything you set your mind to.
See you out there!