You can run an ultra marathon

Run an ultra as your next challenge

With a few events and perhaps even a marathon behind you, you may be looking for you next running challenge. So what's next? Increasingly popular is the ultra-marathon or 'ultra', and you could be lining one up as your next running target.

 

Run an ultra marathon

So what's an 'ultra'?

An ultra-marathon is an event that is typically a lot further than the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles. Ultras usually take one of the following forms:

  • An event where the challenge is to run, run/walk a set distance as fast as you can.
  • An event where the challenge is to run, run/walk as far as possible within a specific time, say 12, 24 or 48 hours.
  • Stage races where the challenge takes place over several days, with different distances to complete each day, almost like a Tour de France but without the bike.

Why run an ultra marathon?

Ultra marathons are noted for the tremendous sense of camaraderie that prevails between those who enter. Ultras are hard, but unlike shorter races, they are generally less competitive, with taking part being a large part of the appeal. It is not uncommon to find competitors sharing equipment, food and drink, navigational duties and generally helping out each other during a race.

Other frequently cited reasons that people run ultra marathons include:

Location

Many ultras take place in beautiful locations well of the beaten track. The opportunity to really 'get away from it all' can be a big motivator.

Bigger challenge

Some competitors want to challenge, extend and find their own limits. They may have found that the 26.2 miles of the marathon no longer test them, so they need the ultra bigger goal.

Charity fundraising

Trying to seek sponsorship when you're perhaps doing yet another marathon can be difficult, but if you are doing an 'ultra',  the response may be much different.

Runnning different events

Many runners run the same events year in, year out. Consistent training (volume and intensity) ensures that progression or improvements can take place. But as we age, eventually race times will tail off, which can be de-motivating. However, by seeking out a different event, like an ultra,  can reinvigorate training and focus.

There are a few sensible prerequisites that you should consider before you plan to step up to an ultra-marathon:

Running experience

Both your body and mind take time to adapt to the physiological challenge of ultra running. Ideally, you should have at least three years of regular running experience, incuding a marathon, before you look to move up.

Start 'easy'

The world famous 145 mile Marathon des Sables, staged in the Sahara, is likely to be too much for your first venture in ultra-marathoning, so try some easier events before you take on your ultimate challenge.

Get checked out

A minor gait abnormality, musculo-skeletal imbalance or flexibility problem may not be readily apparent in a half marathon race. However, competing over several times that distance can easily result in a very minor problem becoming magnified due to the repetitious nature of running for a much longer period of time. Get a professional check-up with a specialist who can assess and evaluate you and prescribe any necessary remedial training before you move up.

Training for an ultra

Training for an ultra is not dissimilar to training for a marathon. The ingredients are broadly the same and your training plan should include a mix of:

  • Long runs
  • Hill sessions
  • Intervals
  • Recovery runs
  • Rest days

There will also be additional factors to consider as part of your training plan, including:

Longer, long runs

By definition, as you are training for longer distances, you have to train over longer distances. However, you don't necessarily have to run the entire distance and in fact walking breaks can help relax the body and allow you to load on food and drink, as you will do in an event.

Back-to-back weekend sessions

To further replicate the demands of the long distance event, back-to-back long runs on consecutive days should be a part of your training. For example, a Sunday long run preceded by a Saturday run of approx two thirds of Sunday's training distance, will help condition your body for the demands of the ultra.

Hydration

Gettting this right is highly important because you’re training for longer. Using hydration as an opportunity to fuel the body is a key strategy by using carbohydrate drinks.

Nutrition

Your body's demands for fuel will increase, before, during and after training. Careful attention to your diet and particularly your pre-event diet can mean the difference between having a successful build-up, event or breakdown.

Rest

The most important component of your training plan. More training requires more rest. It is during your rest periods that your body will rebuild and get stronger so that you progress during subsequent training sessions.

You can run an ultra

Ultra running is possible and should be viewed as progression from marathoning as much as marathoning is from shorter events. Of course, due consideration and respect for the distance is necessary, together with attention to diet and training, but long distance events are most definitely not out of reach.

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