Running your First Ultra Distance Race
by Coach Jennifer Kimble
You’re intrigued. You’ve run a few marathons, and have friends that have run ultras.
“I could never do that!” you say, but deep down you wonder…….do I have it in me?
The sport of trail running is becoming more and more popular in our busy, concrete world. We long to get out and play and find solace in nature. And while some ultras are done on paved paths, most can be found on single track trails through thick forests, mountainous regions, beaches or deserts.
Ultra running has its challenges for sure, but with that comes exciting opportunities.
You learn to relax. Gone are the mile markers and obsessing spit times of the marathon. Every course brings it’s own test, and each day is a new PR dictated by terrain, weather and your body’s decision to cooperate. Breathtaking courses and the social aspect of these races allow you to enjoy the time you spend outdoors.
To begin training for an ultra, it is recommended that you have a few marathons under your belt, a current long run of at least 20 miles, and are running 40-60 miles per week.
Training for an ultra is not that different from training for a marathon. One change is that you extend your long run, and many ultra runners do back to back weekend long runs to learn to run on tired legs. For a 50K, you will want to do one or more runs of at least 5 hours; and for a 50-100 mile race you should do one or more runs of 6-10 hours of duration. The good news is that these runs will be done at an easy pace, with regular walk breaks as fast walking is a skill that can be trained for (and will be used!) during your race.
These long runs teach you to become self-sufficient, and give you a hint of some of the trials you will face on race day. Ultra races require more calories, so honing in on nutrition and hydration during these long runs is essential. Follow the rule of specificity by making your training look like the race. Train not just for the distance, but also the terrain.
Self sufficiency is a prerequisite for ultra running. It is your personal responsibility to take care of your nutrition, navigation, hydration and safety. The aid stations will be farther apart than they are in a marathon, sometimes up to 4 hours! If you are doing a 100 mile race, I strongly recommend a pacer for the later miles.
Determination and mental fortitude is crucial! The question in an ultra becomes not “if”, but “when”. When you hit that wall, what will you do? Take in calories? Electrolytes? Rest? What do you need to fix the situation? Train your brain. It's a mental sport.
Running your first ultra is a life changing experience. You CAN do it, but it will take hard work, determination and a willing, humble spirit.
As Seth Godin said, “If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.”