Updated: Jun 2
You have completed a few half marathons and have a couple of marathons under your belt, now you are thinking about taking it a step further, is it ultra time? By definition, an ultra in running is anything over 26.2 miles, so basically anything past a marathon. The natural progression is to move onto a 50K and then beyond where there are many different distances you can race. Anything from a 50K to 250 miles, like Cocodona in Arizona. (For those bitching how a 50K is not an ultra, stop complaining, get over yourself and move on, the line has to be drawn somewhere.)
Just like training for a half or full, there are different ways to train and different tips you can follow. If you are ready to move on into the world of ultras, below are my 5 tips I found to be at the core of my success in running ultras.
Change your definition of success.
Is success just the podium or is it surviving (not DNF’ing) your first 50K? Or actually challenging yourself and completing a 50k, or a 50-miler, or even a 100-miler. Only a tiny fraction of humans will ever podium which is why it’s important to engage the skill “Expectation Management”. If you work a full-time job and are not genetically gifted, the probability is that you will never be one of the running elites. If you step into your first Ultra expecting to crush the competition, you will be humbled. However, majority of humans will never complete an ultramarathon. It’s about scale. You become human elite when you complete your first ultra-marathon. To get even more crazy, complete a 100-miler and be one of the few that will actually know what it is like to “win glorious triumphs”.
Redefine your definition of success when setting your goals. My goal was has always been to find a group of people of among whom I was average. Why? Because that’s where I belong, where I am energized and where I have fun. Besides your reasons behind why you want to run an ultra, set 3 goals for any race:
The first goal 1 is perfect day, the day in which everything in on point. For example, 5% above your theoretical, mathematically calculated outcome.
The second goal 2 is about being reasonable and is based off of your training to date, your injury status and predictable (e.g. miles between aid stations).
The third goal covers the possibility that if shit were to go sideways, like if there is a sudden downpour turning the course into a slip and slide at mile 1 or you forget your running shoes. There should be a fallback position of “I learned a lot”. This happens frequently at DNFs, just ask Courtney Dualter.
Work for it
There’s this smart guy, he’s got degrees and shit. He says the Lowest Common Denominator to completing an ultra is consistency. Not training type, not how long your legs are, but rather how much “work” you put in prior to the event. He’s done a meta-analysis of other studies and come up with a helpful gauge of how many miles you should put in to expect success at your next ultra. I will not steal his thunder. The he I am referring to is Professor Shawn Bearden and you can find out more about him at https://www.scienceofultra.com/. If you are into podcasts, look for him on The Science of Ultra.
File this under “No shit Sherlock”. If you have completed a similar race within the recent past, there is a greater probability that you will be able to do it again (likely faster). However, this is a bit contrary to the average ultramarathoners spirit as most of us would prefer novel adventures for our restless spirits. Anyways, focus on what training, actions and habits helped you succeed at your last race, but at the same time, be ready to be flexible with them. Just like no two runs are the same, no two races are either.
Imperative. If you don’t think about, food, water, clothing, lighting, and random possibilities you’re probably thinking about a shorter race. In ultra-running, you have to plan to succeed. Plan your calories per hour, water intake per hour, gear and silly things like sunscreen as these things can make or break your experience. Nobody knows it all, this is an open book test. Every race you will learn a thing or two which you will take with you to the next one. You don’t have to pay for the answers to your questions assuming you have access to the innerwebs.
Two sides two this coin. First, they can encourage you to keep moving after you’ve found your way into your pain cave. Second, you may not want to disappoint them (even though the probability is low). Just the threat can motivate some. I would suggest putting a pacer at the top of the want list (at appropriate distances), followed shortly by crew. It's always nice to not have to drive yourself home after your legs fall off. And don’t forget, it is imperative that your show thanks in some manner to those that support you, “This is the way”.
What are your questions comments or concerns? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Coach David is a running retired military veteran who has been mentoring, motivating, and challenging humans for 15 plus years and has been running ultras for over 20 years. For him, ultra-running is all about having fun on the journey. As a coach, his philosophy is, Level up: developing consistently thru physiology, science, psychology and philosophy.
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