You crossed the finish line of your marathon—tired, sweaty, achy, hungry (so hungry)—and more than anything, you are excited! “What an amazing accomplishment, I can’t believe I just ran 26.2 miles” you say to yourself. This excitement lasts for a few days as you foam roll on your living room floor and maybe knock out a couple miles of your recovery run. Then, as the next few weeks pass, there is a small amount of anxiety and sometimes depression that overtakes you. You’ll wonder why you’re feeling this way. You’ve just completed one of the greatest challenges of your life, and yet, you feel an ultra desire for your next undertaking.
One of two things will usually follow these feelings. The first is a search for another marathon to complete. Maybe a themed race like Hard Rock, or a destination marathon like Disney piques your interest. Next thing you know, you are entering your credit card into the online submission form and off you go. You have your next goal to begin focusing on and training for. The other occurrence is realizing that you want something more challenging. Something that will give you a larger and more powerful dopamine hit. You’ll open your browser and search for what is more difficult than a marathon, then find your way down a rabbit hole on the subject of ultra marathons.
What is an ultra marathon?
An ultra marathon—technically any race with a distance greater than 26.2 miles—comes in many forms and is rarely measured to an exact distance. The common distances advertised are 50 kilometers, 50 miles, 100 kilometers, and 100 miles (though very few are those exact distances, and typically span a few extra miles/kilometers). There are many other types of races that fall into the category of an ultra, but we will keep this simple and focus on these distances for now.
You may find yourself wondering why anybody would want to run that far, or doubting if you are even physically capable of doing it yourself. The truth is that there are many reasons why runners decide to attempt an ultra. Some runners want to see how far they can push themselves, others want a change from running marathons on pavement through urban or city sprawls. Some races entice participants to register through promises of a generous cutoff time, or smooth and non-technical courses—like a rail-to-trail course. One thing is for sure, those extra miles will be ones that you never forget.
How to prepare for an ultra marathon?
The next question is how do you prepare for an ultra? While you can always troll the web for training tips and advice, it is always better to rely on experience rather than suggestions. Your best bet at getting legitimately prepared is to find an experienced running coach that specializes in preparing athletes for ultra marathons. These coaches know how to research races, examine terrain data, provide training tips and provide insight to the more technical aspects of your ultra (weather conditions, equipment, fuel sources, etc.). Most importantly, these coaches can advise you one whether your selected or proposed race may be a little more than you are ready for. Your ultra coach can help guide you to an event that is best suited to your experience and capability. Ultra marathon coaches want you to love the experience, be safe, and finish the race.