So, You Want to Be An Ultra-Runner?

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I really wanted to title this “Run Your First Ultra Without Being An Asshole”.  But, thought I’d lose some audience.

Earlier this month I read an article about the state of the sport of ultra-running.  The number of first time ultra marathon finishers by distance in 2017 was:

  • 100 miler - 2,558

  • 100k - 2,615

  • 50 miler - 6,245

  • 50k - 15,539

WHAT A VIEW! (Cuyamaca, CA)

WHAT A VIEW! (Cuyamaca, CA)

These numbers reached a peak in 2015 and have since leveled off for all distances.   The sport of ultra-marathons has grown significantly recently with more and more folks joining in at least one time.  In case you didn’t know, an ultra marathon is any distance beyond a marathon distance of 26.2 miles and is often times run on trail or off-road.  To complete a 50k you need to run about 5 miles more than a marathon.  And, runners can take just about as long as possible to do so.  With generous cut off times as part of the good nature of ultra RDs and longer distances run on race day, you can literally walk a 50k and still “finish”.  The average person walks at a 15 minute per mile pace.  Compare that to a handful of first time (non-injured) 50k'ers finishing in 9-10 hours.  That’s an 18 minute per mile pace!  You can literally walk slower than the average person and still earn credit as an ultra finisher.  (I don't support walking or hiking the whole 50k - afterall, it's a run not a walk : )

Because of the spike of interest in ultras over the years there were lots of articles about how to hack your way to a 50k by running low mileage during training.  There were trends from Crossfit - using Crossfit endurance training principles to help you run ultra marathons.  People read books like “Born To Run” and felt they could be a part of this group of crazy people, but, didn’t do any real prep work to get themselves ready to run an ultra.  Basically, there was a ton of information about how to make it easier for you to say you’re an ultra-marathoner which put you in an elite category of people who do this.  Hence, the uptick in the 50k races and uptick in participation.  And, lots of first time 50k folks tend to never do another ultra.  And, that kind of sucks.  I love this sport and really want more people to run as many ultras as they physically can, even if it's one a year.  As an active ultra-runner and a running coach, I expect that my clients have a valid interest in running ultras (not just one) and will follow the basic ultra etiquette to be sure they run safely and for a long time. 

Here are some tips on ultra etiquette:

Training:

Try your hardest.  Train for the race and jog/hike/walk, but, please don't just walk the whole thing.  You should not find yourself talking about your upcoming ultra-marathon more than you are actually on your feet training for it.  Attempting this distance on trail terrain requires respect.  Respect yourself by properly training.  Respect the other runners who may have wanted your spot but couldn’t get in because the race sold out. 

Awareness and Participation:

Slower runners must be aware of runners coming up behind them as well as runners coming towards them for those races that have out and back sections.  Run to the side of the trail.  Move over for the faster runner coming towards you.  It’s not your trail - you gotta share.  And, run with your ears open.  Running an ultra marathon includes lots of problem solving.  And, learning how to negotiate the trails with others is part of that. 

Acknowledge other runners.  Say “hi” “great job” “those socks are awesome”.  The trail and ultra community prides itself on camaraderie.  If you don’t like talking to other people while you are running, maybe it's best for you to consider a road race where you don't engage with anyone else. 

Littering:

You are running in the woods, national parks and mountains.  The same rules apply if you were to visit those sites.  Please don’t throw things on the ground.  There’s no need to.  If you have trash (yes, even as you leave the aid station) don’t throw it on the ground.  Even the elite runners who chug their drinks and inhale their fuel at aid stations and on the trail throw their trash in the bag, pocket it or they hand it to a willing volunteer.  You will NOT be running that fast that you can’t throw something away properly.

Investment:

Chances are you’ve spent at least $350.00 on gear for this race and $0.00 on proper training with a coach or at least a book.  Not training properly for an ultra-marathon will put you at a very high risk for injury and will probably ensure that you don’t do another one of these ever again.  If you spent just a tiny bit on proper coaching, you’ll finish the race with less pain and you’ll want to do another one.  Also, as I told everyone when I started on this ultra journey, I will not call myself an ultra-runner until I complete at least (2) 50 miler races.  

For me and my ultra friends, crossing the finish line of each ultra is one of the most amazing moments in life.  Completing an ultra is a human challenge that will enhance your life in so many ways.  I hope you can love and respect the sport as much as I do and look forward to seeing you out on the dirt!  

My coaching packages run between $89-149 to get you going.  Small price to pay to be a real ultra-marathoner!

Running Resume, since 2013:

2 - 100k's completed.  9th and 11th place.

10 - 50 Milers completed.  1 - 1st place. 1 -3rd place.

7 - 50k's completed. 1-1st place. 2- 3rd place

1 - 54k SkyRace completed - 1st place AG.