There comes a time in many runners lives when they get a hankering for something a little different, something a little more. Sometimes, that something different turns out to be the ultimate running challenge, the ultramarathon.
If you’ve run a marathon, an ultra is different in a few ways. You’re almost doubling your distance (or more) and you’ll spend most of your time alone in the woods, mostly on trails vs. roads. This can be serene and uplifting for many, but for some, it can turn out to be much less desirable.
But a marathon-distance race isn’t a prerequisite for an ultramarathon. Several elite ultra runners have never even attempted the 26.2. What matters is your willingness to properly train, which includes mental, physical and nutritional training. If you’re ready to put in the work and make the commitment, you’re probably ready to get prep for an ultra.
Start with 50k
Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or a newbie runner, it’s usually best to start with a 50k ultra. You’ll gain valuable info about your pacing, nutrition, hydration, gear and abilities in the first that you can apply to the next. And yes, there’s almost always another on the horizon, you’ll see.
Train yourself for exhaustion
How does one train to run a 50k+? One puts in the hours running, stretching, lifting, yoga-ing, sprinting, swimming and jumping. You’ll learn to masterfully prep food for the week and you’ll visualize your race. Your week-to-week cross-training activities will probably vary while your weekly distance regularly increases until your long training runs are around marathon distance. And you might run that, or close to it, two days in a row. That’s how you train for exhaustion.
Food IS fuel
Some would argue that your diet is more important than the physical aspects of training. You can’t expect your body to perform if you don't give it the proper fuel to do so. Gone are the days of carb loading, say hello to training your body to more efficiently burn fat as fuel, a longer-lasting energy resource for your body as opposed to carbs. Get familiar with metabolic efficiency and you’ll improve your running and nutritional health.
Are you mentally prepared?
We’re not going to tell you your first ultra will be a piece of cake, but preparing well makes all the difference when it comes to not being miserable. In an ultra, you’ll be wet, cold, hot, muddy, dirty, dusty, salty and mostly alone in the woods. For many, it’s serene and uplifting, for some it’s their breaking point. Mentally preparing for the elements you’ll encounter is key from the get go.
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