A blog by runners. For runners.

The basics of the ultra marathon

Getting started with the ultra marathon

I recently returned from a trip to my childhood hometown where I dropped by this little sporting goods store on the main street to check out running shoes. At the checkout, I flipped through a brochure for the local runners club. Since I’m from a rather mountainous region of Pennsylvania, I expected to see lots of trail races on the calendar. What I didn’t expect, however, was most of these races would be longer than the marathon.

Ultramarathons are exactly what they sound like. They are walking or running events where participants go farther than a 26.2 mile course.

Common distances include the 50K (31.1 mi), 100K (62.1 mi), 50 miles (80.5K), and 100 miles (160.9K), although many events feature other distances. And while some of us might be utterly overwhelmed at all those miles, there are quite a number of these endurance races around the country – and world – each year.

Are ultramarathons safe?
Researchers studying ultra-runners didn’t find any significant health complaints beyond what regular recreational runners report. What’s more, it seems this distance is appealing to middle aged runners (between 45 and 65) more than any other group for the slower per-mile pace. And most of these individuals have a history of running many standard marathons before jumping to the longer stuff.

How do to get started
If you’ve been running for many years and enjoy distance over speed, training for an ultra might be for you. But where to start? A lot of people ease into the sport by completing the first distance on the spectrum, the 50K. In theory, 31 miles isn’t a lot farther than 26.2, but you may want to incorporate back-to-back long runs into your training to acclimate your body – no matter how much farther you’re looking to go. In addition, a lot of ultras are run on more trail-like surfaces, so incorporating the ground surface of your event is certainly a smart move.

Training for an ultra is “not about speed, or even distance, but rather time on your feet,” according to Runner’s World. When it comes to training and the actual race, start slow, take(regular) walk breaks, bring plenty of fuel, and be prepared to run a pace much slower than you might estimate. In terms of training plans, here is a comprehensive, 5 day/week ultra marathon plan. It’s a lot of miles, but seeing it broken out makes the whole process seem much less intimidating.

Have you run – or would you eve consider running – an ultramarathon?

Written by Ashley Marcin.