I have been running for forty years, and I coached cross-country for many years. Running has always been a passion and I have run many different types of races, but nothing prepared me for the ultra-marathon. An ultra is a race that is longer than 26.2. This race causes both mental and physical feelings that were unexpected, but that also made the ultra my favorite distance to run.
Let me start by saying that I am not an elite runner. I usually run most races in the middle of the pack. If you are an elite runner who is hoping to be the first one to cross the line, I am pretty sure your feelings and experiences might be different from mine as I plod along trying to reach my goal distance for that race. I probably should have titled this, what an ultra-marathon feels like for a slower runner. I hope though that you will relate to some of my descriptions no matter how fast, or how long you run. I especially hope that some people will be intrigued enough to give an ultra a try.
Everyone is a slightly different runner, so although veteran runners can make suggestions for what will lead to success, each runner has to do a certain amount of self-discovery. You have to determine what food and liquid work best for your fuel, and how often to take it. What clothes are going to be comfortable for a race that can last 12 hours and beyond. I love learning what my body needs to do better, and what leads to disaster. I have been forced to stop before my goal several times because my stomach was so upset. It is a victory when you figure out one more piece of the puzzle.
No one judges your pace
I will never forget running in a 5k (three miles) and feeling pretty good about my pace when a woman passed me and said, “Well, at least you are wearing cool shoes.” You will not hear comments like that at an ultra. You can run it fast, plod like me, or walk. Many people walk some and run some. You can stop and rest or refuel if you need to, and most people are moving slow enough to converse with you. I love the feeling that I can go any pace I want and make my own plan for the race.
Ultra-runners are amazing
I learn something new at each race because the runners are very generous about sharing the secrets to their success. Runners offer each other food, socks, and encouragement. The stories of these runners always make me feel like I need to step it up because they are rock stars in life.
Doing something special
Doing an ultra makes you realize you are doing something that many people would not even consider. You feel like you are tough enough to push yourself to your limits.
A mental and physical struggle
There are many moments during an ultra where you will want to stop. It is called hitting the wall. Your feet hurt, you are tired, and stopping sounds like a wonderful idea. Usually, you can break through a wall at least once.
Mileage is addictive
I had signed up for a 12-hour race when a man asked me if I was doing the 24-hour race. I said, “Absolutely not!” He said, “Oh, it’s only a matter of time before you do.” He was right. When you reach a goal, you immediately make another one.
An ultra isn’t like any other race. There is a camaraderie, and a push to achieve new goals. At times it feels horrific, and at others it is euphoric. You should consider giving it a try.