A Crash Course in Ultra Running
Looking for a life-changing event? Something that will challenge you both physically and mentally? Well, welcome to Ultra Running. Those two words, depending on who reads them, either inspires and motivates, or causes a rant of curse words.
Yes, it is taxing. In fact, you might even question your own existence at some point along the way. All this is moot compared to the personal greatness that can be achieved through it. So let’s go through some key points to help you into your role as a newfound member of this crazy clan of runners willing to run farther than marathon distance.
Embrace the Journey
Life is full of ups and downs. It’s the downs, or challenges, that mold your character. They make you who you are. So right from the start embrace these hard times and know that they will pass. Learn from them, and move forward. Know that you will be stronger in the end. The good thing is this: There are normally more ups than downs.
How Do I Run That Far?
So you’ve picked a race, congratulations. There are many training plans that can be found online or in books. Most of these plans require you to have a good base mileage to work off of already. If you don’t have a good base established, simply build yours slowly.
A good method to use is the 10% rule. This rule builds your mileage slowly to help prevent injury. It goes as follows: increase your weekly mileage by 10%. So if you are running 20 miles a week, then you will increase it by 2 miles the next week to properly acclimate your body to the mileage. Once you have a proper established base, start the undertaking for your training plan.
Don’t get manic about the training plan either. Sometimes life gets in the way. It happens. Just adjust your running schedule accordingly.
That doesn’t mean ignore your training plan either. Do your best to follow it.
Don’t Just Run
To truly be a strong runner, you need to do more than just run. It is like the difference between going into battle with a gun, and going into battle with a tank. I suggest you add strength training in the form of kettlebells and yoga to your routine. Working with kettlebells strengthens your hips and posterior chain, gives you a better range of motion, and will also help improve your running form.
It has also been proven in studies that runners who strength train with kettlebells significantly reduce the likeliness of injury from running. Yoga builds strength and flexibility, and can even help you run more efficiently. It should be noted that with both kettlebell training and practicing yoga, you need to ease into into. Don’t get too ambitious. Just like you build mileage up safely, you also need to build strength training up safely.
Nutrition is Key
There are many factors that can make or break a run or race. Nutrition is possibly the biggest one. It also happens to be hardest to give advice on. That’s because what works for some, might not work for others. Dietary choices (paleo, vegetarian, vegan, etc.) is a great example of this.
Find what works for you, stick with it, and stay hydrated. Especially on race day. I will say this; ultra race aid stations tend to have a full on buffet of yumminess. Some even have vegetarian and vegan options as well. When you eat can be just as important as what you eat.
Remember, when training, you are going to want to eat a post long run snack within 30 minutes of run completion. At the end of a race, eat when you feel ready. Don’t rush it, and don’t worry… you will be all sorts of starving when your body catches up with you.
The Expected “Paincave”
On race day, you must be aware that even a perfectly laid plan can fall apart. These things happen. Which is why we plan for multiple scenarios and have multiple race goals.
There is, however, one thing you can more than likely expect to endure… the dreaded pain cave. At some point in your race (or sometimes long run) it will seem like an everlasting struggle. You will hurt. Sometimes you will be downright mentally negative. You have arrived at the pain cave my friend. Every ultra runner has been here, and there is a way out of the tunnel.
Here is the secret door to exit the cave… keep moving forward and go to your happy place. That will eventually get you out. Stay vigilant because it does end.
Completing an ultra can change your life. The feeling of accomplishment is unmatched and you will definitely learn what you are made of. A warning though; as arduous as ultra running is, it is highly addicting. So I will leave you with what I tell people when they ask how I run that far: Put one foot in front of the other and smile. Enjoy the journey.