We asked Jessica to share a few tips for those who may be interested in getting into Ultra Marathons!
When people hear the term “Ultra Marathon” their first question is always…
‘How many miles is an Ultra Marathon’?
The simple answer is that it’s any distance beyond the standard 26.2 miles. The most popular Ultra distances are:
- 50k (31 miles)
- 50 miles
- 100k (62 miles)
- and 100 miles
There are also some events that are time specific instead, where the participant runs as many miles as they can in a certain amount of hours. These events seem to be gaining in popularity as more and more runners try to reach milestones without the pressure of having to make it to a set finish line.
How does a runner progress from running 5k, 10k, 13.1, 26.2 and then on to those beefier runs?
That’s a harder question to answer. I can only speak from my own personal experience and that of close friends whose journeys I’ve observed. Some people progress very quickly. They run a marathon or two and next thing you know, they’ve signed up for a 50 or 100 miler, not knowing what on earth to expect.
My personal experience:
(This was me finishing Mad City 100k. It’s my proudest running moment because I placed 1st Masters female in the USATF 100k road championship. I even got it turned into a tattoo.)
For me it was a pretty long and gradual journey. I’d been running for years, just as a way to stay fit, when I finally discovered the joy of racing. I started with a few 5k races, then ran the Bellin 10k and from there did a few half marathons. Training for longer and longer distances was becoming a therapeutic way of dealing with a failing marriage and stressful career. My kids were school aged and it was becoming easier to find time to fit running into my schedule. In short, running was my sanctuary.
Then, 10 years ago I decided I was ready to train for my first full marathon. I found that I actually excelled in longer distances. I had never been a fast 5k or 10k runner but discovered I could hold a descent pace at the 26.2 distance and I ended up qualifying for Boston at my 3rd Marathon.
After a few years of running marathons I developed a little pipe dream of someday running the Fall 50 solo. In order to gauge if I’d be ready for that feat, I entered a 6 hour Ultramarathon. Most timed events run on a loop course and this was no exception. I ran for 6 hours on a 4 mile loop on a park-like trail and wracked up 34 miles. I was ready! The following year I ran my first 50 miler in just a little over 8 hours. From there things just naturally progressed. The next year I attempted a 100 miler but DNF’d (Did Not Finish) at mile 77. Undaunted, I kept training for Ultra distance while still running plenty of standard 26.2 marathons. I learned a lot during that first failure and less than 2 years later I finished my first 100 miler in just under 24 hours.
I’ve since run a handful of 100k and 50 mile runs including USATF Road Championships where I hold a few National Masters titles. I’ve completed the 100 mile distance 4 times and although I’m proud of those finishes, I constantly question whether it’s smart to run these mega-distances. Bottom line: it takes a huge toll on you physically. You’re looking at weeks of recovery instead of just days. It also slows your average pace so that switching from Ultra training to running Marathon or shorter distances becomes a challenge.
Another typical question is:
“Don’t you get bored out there for all those hours on end”?
Simple answer (for me anyway) “Hell no”. It’s like meditation. You get dialed in and just go. You think through everything on your mind until your mind is empty and then you’re in the zone. I like to call this my “cruising altitude” or “nirvana”. Of course you have to pay attention to your hydration and how you fuel while you’re out there for many hours. You learn over time what fluids and foods work and don’t work for you. You learn to pack toilet paper because you know you’ll eventually end up out in the middle of nowhere and have to go poop or pee. You don’t want to have to use your sock (don’t laugh, it happens) because socks are expensive.
Preparation is key! You learn to lube every inch of your body that’s ever chaffed and then, inevitably, you get eager to head out on your long run and you forget the lube or forget the toilet paper or even forget a headlamp and you’re stuck miles from home in the dark, bloody and raw. It’s all part of the process. It’s all part of the fun and joy of Ultra running. Yes…..I said F.U.N. It really is! I’m sure I haven’t done a whole lot here to convince you but you’ve gotta believe me. If you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball, right? Well, if you can run a mile you can run 2….or 20….or, heck, how about 100?
Advice? Take it slow. Increase your distance very gradually. Try finding a friend or a group of people who are interested in running longer distances. The friendships you build while running are like no other. Who else can you talk so freely with about poop habits, menstrual cycles and other personal issues? Think therapy, but it’s free! Reach out to your local running club and you’ll find so many runners also searching for a run buddy or, if you’re a more solitary person, just to have others around to bounce ideas off of and ask for advice is invaluable. Come see the friendly folks at Run Away Shoes and they can put you in touch with the area clubs.
It’s an incredible feeling when you cross any finish line. Recently, the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon used the slogan “It’s Personal” in their ad campaign for their events. I loved that because it’s SO true! It really is personal. Each and every one of us has our own goal whether it be time, distance or just spiritual. Running is every person’s sport.