Got ultra on the brain? And by ultra, I don't mean the beer brand. I mean running. I have received a lot of questions on ultra running. Some from people who are training for their first one! So here is part 1 of a TBD part series.
What does it take to run a ultra? A lot of stupidity! Kidding aside though, it takes a lot of mental toughness, strong-will and a can do attitude. It's also about being okay being by yourself. I think that is what separates running a marathon from an ultra. Running a marathon has crowds, cheer stations, girls kissing you (Boston Marathon), and oh yeah, special things like porta potties. Running an ultra typically is run on trails, so the only crowds are trees, deer, and hopefully no snakes. The woods serve as the bathroom. Seriously.
So, what exactly is an ultra? Besides losing your mind:)
First a definition. Ultrarunning/ultramarathon= a distance longer then a marathon (26.2 miles). Typical distances are 50k, 50miles, 100k, 100miles. Another definition could be to check your sanity at the door.
Where: Ultramarathon's are typically run on trails as opposed to roads. Usually involves hills, rocks, boulders, crossing streams, creeks, rivers and encountering snakes, bobcats, bears, and even pretty things like flowers and snakes (not).
How: Your mind. Oh and your feet/legs/arms help too.
When: Races always seem to be held during the toughest part of the season. So expect high heat temperatures, rain, cold, snow, wind- otherwise known as hell.
Where: Outdoors. Trails. Mountains.
To run an ultramarathon you should be prepared to be self-sufficient. You will be by yourself for long periods of time. Don't carry everything but the kitchen sink, but make sure you have enough water/hydration and food/GU/Gel's. A lot of my ultra's I have run I have had to rely on the good graces of the people I encountered along my route. But they were an added bonus.
But for most ultra races, there are aid stations. AKA, an oasis in the woods. They are stocked with food, hydration, first aid (Vaseline, duct tape, tweezers, scissors, etc), and helpful people. Personally, my goal is just to make it to each aid station. Before the cut off times. If you don't, you are out of the race.
Some ultra races have drop bag options.What it is not: a body bag. What it is: some of your favorite things. Like your teddy bear (kidding), socks, maybe a pair of shoes for a 100 miler, change of clothes (again for a 100 miler), food/hydration you use. This is probably the key thing. Most aid stations won't have what you train with. So if you train with GU, Hammer, and other like products, make sure you have them with you. If you are Vegan or on a special diet, having the nutrition your body is used to, is key to running a ultra.
I have run a lot of distances over 26.2 miles and I have never used a drop bag. I have never used one during a training run, so I knew I would be okay on race day. If I can run 36 miles for a training run, then I can run 31 miles or 50 miles without such a luxury.
For a 100 miler however, I would recommend having a crew. Running 100 miles is no cake walk, so having all the support you can get is critical this race distance. When you have a crew they will have all the food, supplies, gear, special touches that you need. More on this in a future article.
Running an ultramarathon is a lot of hard work, blood, sweat, tears and conquering fears, but when you cross that finish line, man is it sweet. And the chair you fall into? Priceless.
Have ultramarathon questions? Send me email to sarah [at] sarahstanleyinspired [dot] com. For more useful running tips sign up for the e-newsletter. Happy trails!
Photo by Wolfgang