Dirt Dawg (podcaster and Ultra runner.)
What is an ultra? The standard definition, courtesy of Ultra running Magazine, is anything past the marathon, or 26.2 miles. However, the shortest standard distance that is considered an ultra is the 50 kilometer distance, or 31.07 miles. Other standard distances are the 50 mile, 100 mile, 100 km, and a series of events that last for specified time periods such as 6 hour, 12 hour, 24 hour, 48 hour, and 6 days.
Based on the distance being covered, some people refer to it as the “dark side” or “extreme” side of running and think that anyone covering this distance is nuts, loony, or otherwise has a screw loose. The fact is that ultra running is a great way to see the planet and often on a much varied terrain (trails, tracks, rails to trails, etc) than your standard 5k, 10k, Half Marathon, or Marathon course. Besides that, given the distance often being covered or attempted, it is often covered at a much slower pace and with far fewer people. A slower pace often means less wear and tear on your body and a quicker recovery considering the pace and the fact that you will be not at your top end speed and redlining yourself. Yes, that means there will be walking; even “elite” runners competing do it. You don’t have to run the entire distance. Think of it as time to see the things you are running around and over rather than focusing on mile splits.
Another misconception is that you have run “crazy” amounts of mileage to be able to compete in one of these ultras. Not all of us are a Dean Karnazes, Scott Jurek, or Pam Reed and have the time and financial backing to run full time. In general, if you are able to complete a marathon, then you can do a 50k with ease. It is only 5 more miles, and remember, you are going at a reduced rate of speed. Stepping up to a 50 miler or beyond will require you to extend your long run a bit, with a general rule of thumb that you can compete in an event/distance that is two times the distance of your longest run. If your mind is willing, the body will follow.
If for no other reason to try an ultra, then do it for the food and camaraderie of fellow runners. Food normally reserved for the finish line at a normal race, are a mainstay at aid stations. Cookies, potatoes, soup, sandwiches and other assorted goodies are often there along with the normal gels and drinks. Think of your run as a strolling buffet. You will need the calories to keep the fires stoked as you are out there enjoying the scenery and that of your fellow runners. That being said, runners at ultras are probably one of the friendliest and gregarious bunch of people out there. They are out there to have fun and are willing to share not only their experiences, but tips and tricks to get you through the miles. Since ultras tend to have less participants, little mainstream exposure, and little or no awards there is less pressure and that is reflected in the overall atmosphere.
Embrace the “dark side” and consider an ultra. A relaxed pace, strolling buffet, and a merry cast of characters. What more could you ask for out on a run?