Ultra's - only for the hardcore?
I spent a lot of my early running days in awe of those hardcore nutters who run the fabled Ultra. 'Yeah man, it was tough - twenty hours into it my left leg fell off, and I swear my ultra beard fused to my buff. Had to break the new skids in on the run, 'cos with the vomiting bug I had, only managed to clock 300 miles last week'. How do they do that? Are they even human?
Well, I’ve just done my second ultra-distance race, and one in a similar format race to the first one I did 10 months ago. I should say at the outset, that I'm not in any way hardcore, and don't even sport an ultra beard. Fact is, they're actually not as hard as you might think (or perhaps hardcore beard dude would have you believe). Admittedly this run was very beginner friendly; the idea being that the run is not a fixed distance, but for a maximum duration in which you can run as much (or as little) as you like. The event is based on a relatively short lap – about 5K in this case – and you run as many of these as you want, pausing for refuelling at the feed station at the end of each.
This kind of format is great as an introduction to running ultra distances (I believe over 30 miles is the definition) for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that the short laps mean the distance is never that threatening; you’ll always be close to the end of a lap, and there’s no need to worry about missing cut offs or getting stranded or lost on some remote mountain waiting for the St. Bernard to come and save you. It’s why I did my first one in this format.
Suprisingly I didn’t feel I had endured it, I actually really enjoyed it! What I hadn’t appreciated at the time is how different an ultra trail run is to a marathon road race. For a start, those extra 4+ miles turn a race into more of a ‘run to finish it’ mentality. You can’t really get a PB on one of these, and even if you could, it’s hard to imagine that anyone doing this would be that bothered. Entrants run these with a view to conserving energy (not a choice, a necessity), and above all to enjoying the experience. At a feed station in a marathon, no-one stops to chat for five minutes followed by ‘think I’ll do a bit more’, and I bet that it’s rare for one competitor to say ‘mind if I run/walk with you for a bit?’ to another too. Ultras are fundamentally more sociable and supportive in nature.
So there you go. If you’re intrigued by running an ultra-distance and want a safe supportive introduction to it, this format is highly recommended. You might still want to grow your ultra beard first though.....