Last week I introduced the first part of an amazing interview series that I participated in with NordicTrack all about making the leap to an ultramarathon. Part one of the series was all about facing the challenges of running your first ultramarathon – it covered the surprising and also difficult aspects of running a long distance race – from what to eat and what not to eat to how to prepare yourself!
It doesn’t matter if you’re a casual runner, marathoner, or even an ultra marathoner yourself – this series contains applicable tips and new perspective that can help you tackle your first ultra distance race.
For part two of the series, we’re back to bust some of the myths and misconceptions about ultrarunning. Enjoy!
There are a surprising number of myths, stereotypes, and stigmas surrounding ultra running – and those who love to do it. We talked to our expert ultra bloggers to see what myths they’ve come across, and see if they can debunk any of the most common ones. Myths included the belief that ultrarunners are mentally unstable, that they dedicate all their time and attention to intense training, and even totally untrue rumors about what an ultra race is like. Read on to see what our ultra experts have to say about these common myths.
Who are they? Intense and crazy people? Superhumans? Obsessed? Old and slow fitness addicts? Actually they’re just… normal. Ultrarunners are just like anyone else.
“I think one of the most common misconceptions about ultrarunning is that it’s only for the superhuman types. Sure, you have to have mental strength and you have to train, but it isn’t an impossible feat. At the end of the day, running for a long distance on trails is a pretty basic activity. You put one foot in front of the other, stay tuned in to your effort, make sure to eat and drink, and most likely, you’ll be just fine.”
“I would say that the most common misconception is that you have to be a little crazy to be an ultramarathoner. I have met some of the most down to Earth, sane people that I have ever met through ultrarunning. It really helps to put a lot of life’s problems into perspective. I jokingly say that I stopped going to church because I found running. But that’s not it at all. I feel so at peace when I am out there on the trails, in God’s country. I have let all of life’s troubles wash away; it’s my therapy session. Once those wash away I feel that I am able to appreciate the world and all of its wonders. It brings me such joy to be free in nature. It has nothing to do with distance for me, but with wanting to be out there in the beauty of the world. Signing up for races is more of a way to bond with other runners, to all have similar goals, to cheer each other on through our accomplishments, and have fun while doing it. But we all know that the trails are where our hearts are. It’s not crazy to be out in the places where we feel the most at peace.”
“One of the most common misconceptions about ultrarunning is that it is an outlandish sport that irrational people do to satisfy some absurd obsession. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve gotten to know a lot of ultrarunners over the years. What I’ve learned about them is similar to what I’ve learned about myself. As I’ve said before, we are just normal people. We are the electrician who crawls into your attic when you need wiring in your home. We are the parent who drives their child to water polo practice every day. We are men and women who report to an office every day. More than anything, though, we are people who want something more in life. Something real, not just material. Something we have to dig deep within ourselves to obtain, and the deeper we dig, the more satisfied we are.”
“A lot of folks still think that Ultrarunning is for “slow old people”; even so, that was a little true for the sport years ago, but not anymore. There are plenty of young guys in their mid twenties moving up from road racing to Ultras and Trail Ultras. We are talking guys that can run 62-64 minute half marathons and 2:14-2:18 marathons. Also, a lot of people think all you need to do is run long and slow; not true. I train a lot like a marathon runner, just with long runs being longer and closer to race day. My training is more specific to the upcoming course (flat versus mountain, i.e.).”
Ultrarunning may seem like an impossible sport only for a select group, but it’s actually just a goal to set like any other. They like to run, and decide to reach a particular goal – all while enjoying the world around them and with the satisfaction of accomplishment.
“But isn’t that SO MUCH TRAINING?” is a question that comes out right away when we talk ultrarunning. Even within the community there are different opinions and beliefs about what training for an ultra race looks like. What our top bloggers have found is that the assumptions about insane training and long hours aren’t always true.
“When road marathoners start considering a trail ultramarathon, they often think that ultra training looks a lot different than what they did for the marathon, and that it will take up a lot more time. In reality, they’re very similar.
Sure, you’ll want to increase time spent on the trail, and replace some of the speed work with extra mileage, but I’m a firm believer that if you can run a marathon, you have the strength and skills to run a 50K ultramarathon.
And you can do it while having a job, taking care of kids, and juggling everything else life throws your way.”
“New ultrarunners and people considering the sport often assume that adequate preparation requires an incredible volume of running in time and mileage. “I can’t do it because I’m too busy,” they tell themselves. That’s not true. You CAN do it, and you might be surprised that you don’t need to go for 40-mile long runs in order to be an ultrarunner.
I train for 100-milers with 65-75 miles per week of running, and I always take one day fully off. Granted, these are hard miles at altitude with plenty of quality, but I’m not spending my entire life running and I still have time for work and family. Many of my clients have experienced success in long ultras on less training than that. Key to your preparation is intentional, structured training, and you might consider reading books and articles and/or working with a coach. Also, keep in mind that what’s right in training for your running buddy might not be right for you, so don’t shy away from doing your own thing when needed.”
“I hear one thing over and over from non ultrarunners (many of whom are established or elite marathoners). “You must have to run a lot of MILES to be able to run a race that far!”
As a coach, I make it clear to my clients that it doesn’t take 100+ mile weeks, long runs of 30, 40, 50+ miles, or regular “back to back” weekend long runs to be ready to run an ultra. That goes for 100+ mile races too! Many of my clients have been fit and ready to complete (and complete it well) their first ultra from 50k up to 100 miles on just 30-35 miles per week with long runs that rarely crack 18-20 miles. Much less than most road marathoners. That’s not to say that ultrarunners are lazy! If you factor in the time on feet and vertical gain into the training notes then it’s easy to see why “less MILES” is actually OK. As in any sport, specifically those with high impact like running, rest if especially important to benefit from the training. Don’t get caught up in the number of miles you run. Rather think about the type of miles you’ll be running during your goal race(s). Tailor your training to mimic that. Chances are your total miles will decrease, but your fun while training and time on your feet will likely increase!”
The consensus we found is that if you can run a marathon – you have what it takes to run an ultramarathon. You can still meet all of your responsibilities and have a life alongside ultra training. It’s also important to realize that success in an ultra race is not contingent on how many miles you ran per day or per week during training. It’s an important stereotype to dismiss before you begin training for your own ultra race!
The Day of the Race
If you have ever run a race, from a 5k to an ultra, you know that race day can’t be perfectly planned. Runners spend a lot of time building expectations or visualizing the race, and they might be shocked to find what an ultra actually looks like.
“Everyone thinks that runners “run” the entire way and this couldn’t be more far from the truth. In fact, Id say that 99% of the field walks in almost every ultra out there at some point. Yes, even the elites walk!
So, that said, if people train the walk/run and become very efficient at power walking (or as I call it, power walking with purpose) chances are good that they have the capability to complete an ultra! All of my athletes who are training for an ultra spend a great deal of time learning how to be efficient at power walking. This includes training the hip flexors in that range, how to intake calories while walking fast, and how to really move uphills with power and speed, all while walking. The longer the race, the more power walking that happens. In fact, in many cases, it is much easier and faster to walk then it is to run. I challenge many of my athletes to test this theory. I ask them to power walk up a hill beside someone who is running and to notice if they are maintaining the same pace, while determining who is expending more energy. In addition, it is important for ultrarunners to become good at transitioning back and forth between run/walking and to not get lulled into just walking when they could in fact be running.
So, when someone says that they ran 100 miles, chances are pretty good that they actually mean that they walk/ran 100 miles!”
Running an ultra is not just about running for 100 miles without stopping. In fact, that could be dangerous! Instead, ultra runners use training and careful strategy to create a race day performance that works for them. Surprise! It actually means doing some walking.
As these ultra running bloggers have documented their journey with ultra races, they face and fight plenty of rumors about their sport. They contributed to this series in an effort to shed some light on what ultra running can actually be. They hope that you’ll walk (or run) away from this series with a few key points: ultra runners are average joes, training isn’t as intense or time-consuming as you expect, and most ultra runners are also ultra walkers. Now you’ve faced some of the roadblocks that may have kept you from beginning your ultra training
In the final section of this interview our ultra bloggers will be discussing exactly what you should know before you run your very first ultra marathon.
Our Ultra Bloggers
NordicTrack is proud to share this series and very grateful for our expert bloggers who participated and shared their experiences and advice. Check out their blogs for more details, stories, and to follow along on their ultra adventures!
Josh Arthur – http://www.runjosharthur.com/
Katie Bassett – http://sunkissedredhead.blogspot.com/
Will Cooper – http://www.willrunlonger.com/
Doug Hay – http://www.rockcreekrunner.com/
Travis Macy – http://www.travismacy.com/
Thomas Reiss – http://thomasreiss.com/
Jen Segger – http://jensegger.com/
Part three will post next week – stay tuned!
Stay sweaty friends!