Ultrarunning: When a Marathon Just Isn't Long Enough
6th July 2017.Since time immemorial, humans have been challenging themselves in one of the most basic ways we know how: by measuring how fast and how far we can carry ourselves. We've even immortalised an ancient runner's mad dash to relay important news in our "marathon," a race that covers the 26.2-mile distance said to have been run millennia ago. The marathon is widely held to be one of the pinnacles of racing and running endurance; you might train for months to be able to complete a marathon successfully. Many people devote their entire running activity schedule to marathons and training. For some, though, running for hours in a marathon just isn't enough. They want to go farther, push their bodies harder, and cover incredible distances on foot. That was the birth of ultrarunning, also sometimes called half-marathon. It?s a sport where the runners stretch to the edge of human endurance in courses that span multiple marathon distances. What exactly is this sport, and from where did it originate? Who are the major competitors in this sport? Most importantly: is this something that you could try to get into as well? Let's examine all the answers to these questions.
What is ultrarunning? Understanding this new sport
Individuals have been covering distances longer than the marathon competitively for more than a century. A precursor to ultrarunning arose in the late 19th century in the form of "pedestrianism." Individuals regularly walked competitively across very long distances, sometimes more than a hundred miles over days at a time. Today, that same spirit manifests in the ultrarunners who cover standard distances like 50k or 100 kilometres. Even longer races exist, too: some will stretch out to 50 or even 100 miles ? that's nearly 161 kilometres! Racers rarely stop, either ? the clock keeps ticking in most events whether you stop to rest or not. That often means running through the night and in inclement weather. In other words, it's the ultimate endurance test. However, organised ultrarunning is a relatively recent phenomenon. It wasn't until 1984 that a group of enthusiasts formed an official body for ultrarunners. Four years later, the International Association of Ultrarunners won global recognition. Today, there are hundreds of sanctioned events around the world encompassing a huge variety of landscapes and challenges. One thing is the same through all of them, though: the incredible physical challenge. Who are these fitness fanatics that put so much time and energy into running these distances?
What types of runners enter these events?
You might think that it's all the young guns who are out there competing in these extreme races. They're the ones who are always questing for glory and faster times, right? As a matter of fact, you'd be incorrect ? while there are young people who race in ultramarathons, the field is predominantly made up of older individuals. In fact, in one study, the average participant in these events was about 43 years old. 34 was the most common age at which people chose to run their first event, and a significant portion of runners are over 50! The same study also revealed that many of these older runners suffer far fewer sports-related injuries than younger, harder training participants. For these runners, the appeal of the sport is the endurance not so much running courses in the fastest time possible. However, there are plenty of big names in this sport, just like any other. There are hundreds of competitors who race every year, trying to shave more time off the world record pace for various courses. However, the average participant is just there to have fun and enjoy the challenges of maintaining physical fitness. Don't let the challenge of the distance intimidate you. If individuals at an advanced age can run these lengths, almost anyone can rise to the same challenge.
The rising popularity of ultrarunning events
With increasing interest in the sport, ultrarunning events have popped up everywhere over the last few decades. Many of the most famous runs have now been going on for well over ten years and attract a considerable number of competitors. If you were interested in following the sport or even in jumping into it yourself, what are some of the events you should know? You can't mention ultrarunning without mentioning the Badwater Marathon. Runners everywhere uniformly agree this is the toughest race in the world, and for a good reason. It crosses 135 miles, and portions of the race take place inside Death Valley in Nevada. Temperatures there can soar to well over 100 degrees during the daytime. Did we mention the course also rises 13,000 feet from start to finish? It isn't for beginners, but it is one of the greatest physical challenges around. There are many events that run in the UK and Europe, too. The annual Country to Capital run crosses more than 40 miles in the cold of the winter. Runners follow country lanes all the way into London itself. Both a challenge and an opportunity to take in the fresh country air, it kicks off the running season for ultra events. Check to see if there are any races in your local area!
How you can get your start in ultrarunning
So, do you want to try this for yourself? With the right preparations, you can. What's important to focus on is the fact that you will not be ready for your first race right away. While there's no pressure to finish your first race, you should take the time to prepare adequately. You could also seek to enrol in a race that takes place in stages, to allow your body time to rest along the way. Don't focus on speed while training. Instead, focus on endurance ? and learn how to hydrate and eat while on the run. It will be vital as you travel between aid stations on the route. One pro's suggestion involves spending roughly as much time on your feet and moving as you think it will take you to race. Since very long ultramarathons might take you over 24 hours to run completely, that means spreading those hours out over seven days. Dieting right and a regular, slow, and steady running pace will help you prepare. Try running a marathon at your own pace, too! It will be a good chance to assess your ability.
Staying safe and having fun at your first event
When you do decide to participate in an event, you'll need to take precautionary steps before you get on the racing course for the day. After putting in all your training, you shouldn't let it go to waste by making a mistake in your preparations. Hydrate yourself well in the days leading up to the race, and equip yourself with the right gear on the day of the actual event. Dress appropriately. Check the weather in advance; is it going to rain, or does it seem like the heat index will be high? Follow your normal rules for running wear. Bring along a large capacity BPA-free water bottle. There will be plenty of stations along the way for you to refill. Fill up a runner's pouch full of energy gels and other on-the-go snacks, too. These will allow you to give your body the quick boosts it needs when your energy starts flagging after so many miles. Finally, don't be afraid to rest! The aid stations are there for you to use. Don't worry if it means your time will be longer than you'd like. Everyone must start somewhere, and a few extra minutes is worth avoiding heat stroke.
How far can your feet carry you?
Ultrarunning isn't for everyone, but for those who take it up, it often becomes the passion of a lifetime. You're not just testing your limits; you're enjoying the opportunity to run in beautiful and interesting places. Of course, even a track race can be exciting due to the competitive aspects. Remember that if you do decide to proceed with an ultrarunning attempt, thorough training and preparation is crucial! You wouldn't try to drive your car for huge distances without tuning it up first. Treat your body with the same level of care and respect. When you do, who knows how far or how fast you'll be able to run? Follow @SportNessUK