Is Ultra Running For Me?

NDW 100 miles. Decided to buddy up with the attractive man!

NDW 100 miles in 2012 - 40 miles in. Decided to buddy up with the attractive man!

Post first published in conjunction with Entry Central.

I was sitting around the table with my housemates on Saturday night, having my one glass of wine before they went on their proper night out, leaving me to my solitude and 10pm bedtime.

As the drinks flowed, conversation became more animated. “Name one of the most ridiculous things you’ve ever done,” said Herbert (names have been changed to protect identity).

“I streaked at my best friend’s wedding,” said Jemima. Whoops of laughter. “I ate a 150 oz steak challenge” said Betsy. High-fives all round.

“I ran 100 miles in one day,” said a small voice at the end of the table. The party looked at me, then left.

Is Ultra Running for me?

Ultra-running is a strange past-time. There’s no question that people do think you are a little odd. But I believe the rewards are abundant.

Not so many moons ago, humans believed the marathon distance was the Holy Grail of endurance running. Greek legends perished in the pursuit of 26.2 miles on foot. It doesn’t get more challenging than that.

Or does it?

It appears that the marathon is actually the tip of the iceberg when it comes to distance. More and more people are taking to the roads and trails and racking up distances that are reasonable enough on four wheels, let alone two legs.

So how do you start?

I found the best way to begin was on the bottom rung of the proverbial ladder. I began with a 50km event which I found really testing but it was beautiful and a great way to see lots of countryside on foot. The escapism and the simplicity of it struck me. It was just you, running and fueling. The other competitors were very laid back. The gun went and people were still tying their shoelaces! If someone ran out of water or needed help, other runners were the first to reach out. It was a far cry from the tense atmosphere of other competitions I’d done previously.

Where does it end?

From there I ticked 50 miles, 100 kilometres and then 100 miles. There is still more in the tank. I haven’t found that limit yet.

To train requires not much more than you would for a marathon. I see coaching programmes containing really long training runs but that’s risking a lot of damage. There’s no denying running a long way is probably going to hurt you. Hence I like to leave it for the day, rather than go in to the event with an injury already sustained in training. Better to be 10% underdone than 10% over. Factor in a decent amount of recovery afterwards (at least two weeks without running) and you’ll be amazed how quickly the body heals.

Becoming Ultrafit

To prepare for the big 100 miler, I did one 4 hour run and lots of 2-3 hour runs. People were shocked at how relatively little I’d done, yet I set the women’s course record that stood for a few years. 2-3 hour runs build aerobic endurance and condition your legs to take the strain, without tipping the scale into damage and irrepair. It also means you don’t spend all day training – bonus!

I fell back into triathlon and am fixated on this elite existence for now, but I look forward to the time when I can relax a bit and explore the world again on two feet. There’s such a fantastic sense of accomplishment and an unrivalled sense of community amongst ultra runners. These runners don’t do it for the bling, glory or material rewards. You finish an event and you may be lucky enough to get a medal, a T Shirt or a commemorative mug (which I will hold onto forevermore). What you do get to take home is your result and the personal satisfaction. For an accomplishment so extraordinary, that’s reward enough.

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