So what are the reasons to run an ultramarathon? I get odd, quizzical and confused looks from non-running folk when I tell them this year I’ve done a marathon and an ultra. For those of you new to running, an ultra is a race at a distance longer than the 26.2 miles of a marathon.
I don’t look like a marathon or ultra runner. Indeed, I don’t look like a runner at all really. My thighs are not on the small side and there are bits of me that wobble that perhaps shouldn’t and I’m slow. But following the Ultra, much more so than the marathon, I kind of feel like I kick arse.
So I wanted to spend some time going through why I think every runner should consider an ultra. Yes, and I mean YOU. If you’re reading this, you know you want to.
1. It might just change how you experience running
My experience of running has changed. I couldn’t have anticipated how natural running feels to me now. My gait has improved and I know I can keep going for many many hours without collapsing in a heap. I’m slow but I feel like the little engine that could.
A big part of this is including walking as part of the training. Walking early on into a long run takes some getting used to. During marathon training, if felt like failing. But there’s something lovely about taking your time – stopping in the woods to hear the birds sing or pat a dog. OK, so I certainly don’t do this on all my runs, or indeed most, but I do plan for runs where I don’t a toss about time and I take as long as I take. These runs are best off-road which brings me to reason number 2…
2. Running off-road
Green space is good for the head and the heart. Being off-road is a fantastic way to destress and put the world to rights. I now look at landscapes and imagine what it would be like to run through them – it brings me peace.
And it’s good for you…
3. Improved overall fitness
Running trails is physically demanding in a way that is different to road running. It can feel a little like a dance, skipping over rocks and negotiating muddy puddles. It works the muscles in your legs in a way different to running on roads and you need to use your arms more to help with balance. It can also make you a better road runner. Read more here.
4. All day picnic with some running in between
Ok, so my first and so far only ultra was only 50k in the wilds of the Chilterns. There were aid stations, or as I prefer to call them, feeding stations, every 10k or so. While I’d taken some SiS gels and caffeine shots and other bits and pieces, there were veritable feasts at each of the stations where I had the chance to grab handfuls of pretzels, cornchips and sandwiches and ram them down my gob as I went.
The best by far was the final station at about 42k with cups of flat coke. While I didn’t feel hungry, my body too focused on keeping going and also trying not to sob (yeah, gotta love a bit of high drama), I grabbed a few handfuls of tasty salty goodness and kept going. The taste and sensation of food at that point is indescribable – so very very good – food has never tasted so good.
And then there’s a little matter of a bit of running to get done.
5. Hurts less than a marathon (for a 50k at least)
Linked to number 2, running 50k on trails is easier than a road marathon on the body. While I certainly wasn’t skipping down stairs the following day, it didn’t hurt as much as post-London. I felt a lot less physically trashed.
The other thing for me is I’m an introvert. While I’ll happily chat away to folks I don’t know, have tweet ups etc, being around too many people for too long exhausts me. Post-London marathon, the exhaustion I felt was also an emotional exhaustion. Don’t get me wrong – the London Marathon is a most amazing day but negotiating all those runners, the crowds etc. – once a year is I think more than enough for a big race like London for me.
Spot the difference….
6. You get to cry like a baby, throw up, poop your pants – and on reflection, you get to say you had an awesome time
There was no pooping in pants on my part during the 50k, nor throwing up, but there was a lot of crying like a baby. I trashed my arm about half way through and my arm and shoulder were useless and agonising every time I tried to use them. Even without this, I would have cried at some point – out of tiredness, low glucose levels etc.
This has happened at a few longer races – it’s a bubbling up of sensation at a certain point of tiredness. It’s difficult to predict – it can happen about mile 12 or mile 26. There is no thought involved – it’s visceral. A few times I’ve had to stop myself from long sobs escaping. The great thing about my 50k is I could sob to my heart’s content for much of it as there weren’t too many folks close by. And I kept going. A few tears and a little pain in my arm and shoulder is no reason to stop.
And yep, it was an awesome time!
So here’s to trails and some happy running! And let me know if you ever find yourself crying like a baby on long runs – I’m sure it’s not just me.