It’s Time To Run Your First Ultramarathon!

Ultrarunning can be a mission in solidarity where you have the support of an entire community. Photo: Emma Garrard

As marathons continue to gain popularity, so to do ultramarathons. Are you ready to move up?

Stuck in a rut running marathons? Looking for a new challenge and new adventures? It might be time for you to run your first ultramarathon, a race longer than the marathon’s 26.2 miles.

Okay, so maybe you need some convincing to leave the familiar and tackle your first ultra. Here are some reasons for running an ultramarathon.

Journey into the Unknown. You may have mastered-or at least plateaued in-the marathon. Before that you ran every sub-marathon distance under the sun. You need a new challenge.  What better way to challenge yourself than by racing further than you’ve ever raced before?

Reconnect with Running. Devon Crosby-Helms, who placed 4th at the 2009 100k World Championships, offers, “A good reason to switch from marathons is because in ultras you have to think about more than just splits and ticking off the miles at a certain pace. I think it reconnects you with running in a way marathoning doesn’t.”

Make a whole new group of friends. Most folks who have tried to transition from the roads to ultramarathons have found a tightly knit, but welcoming community.  Ultrarunners are often eager to share the trail with anyone dipping his or her toe into the ultra world. Not only are these runners welcoming, they can be an invaluable resource.  Lisa Smith-Batchen, who coaches new ultrarunners, suggests to new ultrarunners, “Find a group of people that are already running on the trails so they can help you.”

Stop Sucking Car Exhaust. Most North American ultramarathons are run on trails and getting ready for one is a great excuse to get off the pavement and up into the hills. While you’re up there you might just see spectacular things. Scotty Mills, who has run ultras for more than a quarter century, notes, “The advantages of training for trail ultras over road marathons are the beauty of the trails, the shared trail time in remote areas, and the peaceful feeling of training on long runs with the mindset that you can run forever.”

Race yourself, not others. It’s easy to get caught up racing when there are 10,000 runners blasting down the course with you. The smaller fields, longer distances, and variable conditions of an ultra help shift your competition from others to yourself. Knowing that others are thinking the same way makes this transition all the easier. Plus, if it’s your first ultra, you’ll be setting a PR no matter how long it takes to finish! Finally, as Mills points out, “The training and friends you make in ultrarunning are the real payoffs; the race itself can almost be secondary in importance.”

Inspire yourself. “The mind is a very powerful thing, and it’s generally the only thing standing between you and something incredible. You can always do more than you think you can,” suggests recent ultra convert Paige Troelstrup.

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