Ultra running…a daunting, challenging, and very rewarding distance.
What is an ultra marathon? It’s a distance that exceeds the standard 26.2 mile marathon. It can range from 31+ miles to the century distance of 100 miles.
To many people, the distance seems impossible. From 31+ miles to a 100 miles, all at once? Before you dismiss the idea of an ultra, let me tell you, from my own experience, that we can all lace up and take on the challenge of an ultra.
Let me tell you, that I am not an expert when it comes to ultras. I am not born with some super genetics and I don’t have all the answers. But I can give some insight on my experience preparing for my ultras and what I did that was good and what didn’t work so well.
Preparing for an ultra is not very different from preparing for a marathon. You need to commit, maintain consistent training, have proper equipment, and keep your eye on the prize. Here are some things that I did that helped me prepare. THESE THINGS WORKED FOR ME….I HOPE THAT THESE HELP YOU. Remember, what works for me may not work for you. Find your niche and run on!
1. Committing to running an ultra. First thing is first, you need to commit to an ultra. I looked for a run that was close to home, provided ample support, and let me have support crew close. Once I searched for a while, I finally said YES and registered. A good website that has many ultras is www.ultrasignup.com.
2. Once I found a run that worked for me, I did my research on what type of run it would be. Ultras range from complete trails, to total asphalt. Some runs are looped courses while others are point A to point B. knowing this will help you in figuring what kind of training you will need. It’s good to know what you can have and what is required on your run. Some runs require you to have pacers and a support crew, some require to have drop bags that have items that you need such as food, change of clothes, ETC. I am not that much of a trail runner, so I naturally gravitated to an urban ultra. Look for a run that is similar to the type of running that you do now. It will make the transition that much easier.
3. Training for an ultra really depends on how well your base running is. It is never a good idea to go from 10 to 30 miles all at once. The key to train for an ultra is consistency with gradual mileage increase. In my opinion, what works is how much time you spend on your feet. I would run upwards of 100 miles a week, focusing on distance not time. I had to remove the idea of pace while training. Remember, it’s not about your pace for your first ultra, it is about finishing. So look at your runs as time spent moving. 3 hours here, 5 hours there. Build your time up. Also, run when you would not think to run. I work a night shift. And when I get home at midnight, instead of going to sleep, I would lace up my shoes and go for a 4 hour run. You need to be as tough mentally as you are physically. For example, when running errands, park your car as the farthest end (if safe) of the entrance so you spend more time on your feet. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Get miles under your belt and comfortable with the thought of being on your feet.
4. Find the right combo of shoes, socks, clothing, equipment that work for you. Do you need to change shoes every 20 to 30 miles? Do you blister easy? Do you sweat a lot and need a change of shirt? Again, as you train, find what works for you. All these things make your world heaven or complete misery while running an ultra. Be honest with yourself and spend the money that you need to. TRUST ME!
5. Fuel yourself and hydrate yourself! I have always done my best to eat as healthy as I could. When I first began training for my ultra, I found myself starving and wanting ANYTHING while running! I finally accepted my hunger and ate different things I was not used to. I learned that my body was craving different things while on my run. Fatty foods, candy, regular foods. When I would deny these things, I found myself sluggish, zapped and not in the mood to run. When I finally accepted things that I wanted to eat, I was full of energy and fueled for my run. Pizza? Yes. Candy? You got it. I also did my research on supplements that would help me on my run which included various supplements from Hammer Nutrition that are meant for distance events. I also have grown very fond of the breakfast of Champions, Wheaties Cereal! With the right amount of complex carbs needed and a great amount of fiber needed to keep you feeling full. Again, this is what works for me. Find the right combo for you.
6. Last, HAVE FUN! Enjoy every moment. Revel in the moments and know that you are attempting to complete something only a few people can say they have completed. Be proud in yourself, spread the word to everyone, make new friends and never give up!