Making the Leap to the Ultra-World: Introduction

making the leap intro

What do you do when you hit the marathon distance and you run marathons for a few years and it just no longer satisfies the need? Go longer.

Ultrarunning is challenging and not everyone wants to be an ultrarunner. It takes a pretty big commitment in order to finish races and not be injured. The internet is packed with information about how to make the transition from “regular” runner to ultrarunner. I’m going to try to simplify things and make it not so daunting.

I love running and I want everyone to love running, so I try to make this crazy thing I do easier for others to digest. If you run less than a marathon, I encourage you to get to the marathon distance before jumping into an ultra.

An ultra is anything over a marathon. Most people think about the 50 or 100 when ultras are mentioned, but there are also the less known 50k (31 miles) and 100k (62 miles). I’m going to give you an overview of the differences in this post and then give you more detail on each section over the next few weeks by comparing the marathon, fifty miler, and 100 miler when it comes to training, food, crew, pacers, gear, and what I’ll call body functioning issues.

Here is a snapshot of what I’ll be covering:

Training: there are definitely differences here. First, the back to back long runs. Second, speed work. However, the rules of ten percent a week increase and taking a rest week every fourth week still applies. This gives your body time to adapt to the increase in miles. Speed work is more controversial some ultrarunners do it and some don’t. There are costs and benefits both ways, which will be in my next post so stay tuned.

Food: You’re going to need to increase your calories obviously, but what I want to tell you about is eating while running. There are few ultrarunners who get all their fuel from gu, or similar product, while running. Solid food is the norm or a mix of solid and energy gels. Bottom line is you need to find things you can eat while you run that won’t make you sick and you need to train your body to digest while you are running.

Crew/Pacer: Once you move into the ultra-arena it becomes harder to organize your events and get through them without a little help from people who love you and like watching you torture yourself (or achieve greatness. It’s really the same thing here). Who you have out there with you and what they do can make or break your race. The more you know about ultrarunning the better prepared your crew and pacer will be to help you.

Body functioning issues: The possibility of injury is always there for runners, but just because you run farther doesn’t mean you will get injured more. And injury is not the only body functioning issue you can encounter. Runners of all distances can have problems with vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and other pleasant things. The longer you’re out there the more chances there are for body functioning problems to arise. You need to know what causes them and how to fix or minimize the problem and keep going.

Gear: There is always lots of new fun gear out there for runners. As an ultrarunner, it’s easier to justify buying fun new things because well…you’re out there for a really long time and you need things, Right? Of course you do. There are some things that can be helpful for ultrarunners to have like blister kits, hydration packs, and drop bags.

Like in anything new, there is a learning curve, but I hope this makes breaking into the world of ultrarunning easier. If nothing else it gives you enough knowledge to begin asking questions or enough to deepen your belief that we’re all crazy. Either way, I’ve done what I set out to do.

The Weigh In…

weigh in

 Image curtsey of Anne Summer of

Does your body weight impact your race? Of course it does. American culture puts the screws to both men and women to have the perfect body. Women want to be thinner and men want to be more muscular. Weight has become a part of our self-identity, which is very unfortunate. People judge others based upon their weight in a variety of ways. They make an assumption about lifestyle, intellect, and financial success. This is ridiculous.

The most important question is what is the healthiest weight for my lifestyle and where do I feel comfortable?

Hanging out at either end of the spectrum can hurt your running. Being underweight will slow you down more than being overweight. Your energy bottoms out, your speed declines, and you loose lean muscle. If you need to measure something, you should measure body composition, not weight.

It’s hard not to focus on the numbers. Runners hear losing one pound will make you two seconds faster per mile (or some such thing). Heavier runners are more likely to injure their joints. It’s a balance. The goal of athletes should be health and fitness regardless of their body weight.

If you believe you need to change your weight in either direction talk with a doctor or sports nutritionist to determine what is a good weight for you based upon your goals and lifestyle. They can help you lose fat while maintaining muscle mass.

Make sure you are fueling your body with a healthy balanced diet. I know, I know, we all run so we can eat the extra piece of cake or Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. That’s fine and good every so often, but 95% of the time you should be choosing fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and health fats. What you put into your body, really does matter because you get out what you put in. We learn all this stuff when we’re kids remember the food pyramid. As adults, life gets busy and it’s hard to make time to cook rather than dump stuff out of a box.

There are a lot of “ideal weight” calculators out there for runners and just for anyone. These are helpful, but I caution everyone not to get overly caught up in whatever it spits out as your ideal weight.

Your ideal weight is where you feel healthy and strong.

The Wind


Oh, how I hate the wind. I have done some very windy runs. Two years ago, I ran the Salt Flats 100 where there were wind gusts up to 40 miles an hour. It was a tough race and two-thirds of the runners dropped out.

This past weekend, I found myself pushing against more wind gusts although not as wicked as Salt Flats. I was running along the side of a canyon toward the mouth and the closer I got to the mouth the worse the wind became. This wasn’t surprising of course, but it was still unpleasant. It was strong enough to push me around a bit and to bring me to a walking pace as I came around a few of the bends.

The wind is the most frustrating weather condition for me, especially, when it comes in conjunction with rain, hail, or snow. I don’t mind rain hail and snow without the wind. I do mind the wind alone. Even a tail wind, is unlikely to be met with neutrality let alone gratitude. The wind is a tricky thing and changes direction in the mountains with each bend in the canyon or drop in elevation.

Why do I hate the wind so? Because there is nothing I can do about the wind. Nothing. A wind resistant jacket you say? I suppose it helps keep the chill out, but it doesn’t stop the fight.

The only intervention I have come up with is reframing. I have to look at the wind as an ally. Well, I don’t know if I can go that far without some therapy for the Post traumatic Stress of Salt Flats 100, but I need to see it as benefiting me in some way.

Changing our perspective to see things we don’t enjoy to a more beneficial or at least neutral way can decrease our overall stress, especially when it is something we have to deal with on a day to day basis.

How does the wind benefit me? It makes me stronger both physically and mentally. When I was fighting with the wind around the bends this last weekend, Salt Flats immediately came to mind and I thought, “It could be worse, I can get through this.” Any adversity makes it easier to deal with the next challenge. When it is similar in nature or even the exact same, it really helps our confidence to endure again. Physically, it’s like running hills.

Challenges make us stronger when we overcome them. Don’t back away. If you aren’t successful, try it again. Tenacity, it’s a good quality in a runner.