So you have completed your first marathon. Congratulations! The pride and feelings of triumph felt after crossing that first finish line is nearly indescribable. All those weeks of diligent training and hard work finally paid off. It's an incredible feat, as you've just placed yourself among the ranks of the 0.5% of the U.S. population that has completed those 26.2 amazing miles.
So what's next? A trip to the moon? A cure for cancer? World domination?
How about an ultramarathon? If you think you're ready to take your running game to the next level, then an ultramarathon might be perfect for you.
What is an Ultramarathon?
Known also as the ultra-distance, the ultramarathon is technically defined to be any race totaling more than the standard 26.2 miles of a typical marathon. There are two types of ultramarathons. The first is purely a matter of a longer distanced race, while the second takes into account time (that is, the longest distance covered in a set time). As far as the distance races go, they are most often found in lengths of either 50 kilometers (approximately 31 miles), 50 miles, or 100 miles.
If you've successfully completed your first or a few marathons, then tackling an ultramarathon may be just the challenge for you. If you think you're ready, we've put together a few need-to-know essentials for nailing your next race. Here are a few of our in's and out's when it comes to ultramarathons.
Training is Required
It's important to first recognize that running an ultra is not easy. Just like training for a marathon required a lot of hard work, discipline, practice, and sustained effort both mentally and physically, so too do these lengthier races. The key lies in training smart and training early.
While it may be tempting to just "go for it", you'll likely be sorry if you do. Ultra-runners put in months of training and practice prior to their big race to ensure a strong finish (or a finish at all). Allowing for 5 to 6 months of consistent pre-race training enables athletes to work through all the kinks and possible snags, from nutrition to gear and equipment to injury prevention. Proper preparation is a non-negotiable.
Proper nutrition is another a non-negotiable if you hope to have success running an ultramarathon. Many athletes make the mistake of under prioritizing what they put in their bodies while training. What you eat acts as the fuel for each day's efforts and ultimately for the final race. This not only includes your pre-workout and post-workout meals as well as what you consume mid-race, but also what constitutes the entirety of your diet during the months of training.
Focus on key nutrient-dense foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, lean proteins, and dairy. Use the periods leading up to your ultra to test out different foods, gels, and electrolyte-enhanced supplements to see what works and what doesn't. This will help you map out a game day food plan that you'll know and trust before the race begins.
Incorporate Longer Runs into Your Training Schedule
Add back-to-back long runs about every two weeks in your training schedule. If you've already completed your fair share of marathons, you're likely already familiar with the typical running schedule of alternating between short runs, extended runs, and days off.
Training for an ultra is no different and includes a similar schedule of alternating distances. The addition of back-to-back long runs helps prepare you for the extra mileage and the extra mental fatigue.
Some professionals suggest focusing on inclines and elevation gains during the first extended run, and then opting for speed on the second. This works alternating muscle groups and focuses on efficiency during bouts of physical fatigue.
It's also a smart idea to familiarize yourself with the course before you run it on the big day. Knowing the terrain, the inclines and declines, the average temperatures of the area, and so forth will adequately prepare you in advance on what to expect. There are often course maps and profiles you can view ahead of time, as well as photos of the terrain. Do your homework and know what your run will look like ahead of time.
Test New Equipment in Advance
Unlike other sports, there isn't a lot of equipment required for ultra-runners and marathoners in general, but a little goes a long way. You'll want to ensure proper fit and consistent performance in your footwear and clothing choices. Comfort is key. You'll likely also be carrying water and food with you, so practice finding a balanced load carrying those extras as well.
Remember that training for your first ultramarathon should be approached like the race itself - slowly and steadily. Be patient with yourself and know that you may not measure up to your greatest expectations the first time around. That's okay. After all, it's an impressive feat just to compete in an ultra, let alone finish one. Remember to always put your body first and avoid overtraining.
With all that being said, get ready for the race of a lifetime. With these tips and tricks at your service, you'll be more than ready to try your hand at an ultramarathon.
So on your marks, get set, GO!