Transitioning from marathons to ultramarathons

50 mile races? 100 mile races? That is just plain excessive, why are ultramarathons creating such a buzz? The people doing these races must be crazy or something? Ultramarathons are becoming more and more popular each year, and more and more races keep popping up. Ultramarathons are usually done in 4 distances: 50k (~31 miles), 50 miles, 100k (~62 miles), and 100 miles. How the heck do you even train for something like that? Keep reading to find out!

Running an ultramarathon does not take any special level of talent or fitness. It is a psychological thing due to the distance seeming so impossible. There are runners of all genetic backgrounds with varying levels of natural running talent out there running ultramarathons Runners get hooked on it because they are able to complete a distance that seems practically impossible and make it possible! Even if you have done a 100 mile race it is still hard to comprehend that you completed that distance when looking back retrospectively.

The sport is accomplishment based. You rarely, if not ever, hear people discussing PR’s or mile pace, which is a breath of fresh air to get away from the petty competitiveness. This lack of statistical monitoring loosens up the spirit of ultrarunning and makes it more personable. During an ultramarathon there is a jovial community of runners and volunteers, and by the end of the event you have made many new friends and shared lots of great conversation. Yes, even while out running the event you somehow always find yourself chatting it up with another runner and the volunteers at aid stations. At the finish line there is always tons of food to eat and beers to drink. Runners sit around for hours after the race hanging out, indulging, and telling stories of the battles they went through to finish.

Most ultramarathons have aid stations every 5-10 miles. Aid stations are managed by volunteers and offer up water, electrolytes, and food for the runners. Runners stop into aid stations and usually take a few minutes to talk to other runners and the volunteers. This community aspect of ultrarunning is enticing. Runners and volunteers are there for you to accomplish the seemingly impossible task for the day. The community of ultramarathons also thrives due to the limited number of participants that are able to do the races.

Most ultramarathons take place on trails in wilderness areas. Permits only allow for a limited group of participants, otherwise there will be too much ecological damage. Typically a race will have about 150-250 participants. The limited number of participants adds to the community of ultramarathons. Runners aren’t as shy to talk to each other since there aren’t thousands of other runners around, on top of the fact that most participants in ultramarathons are looking to finish, not set a PR.

Comparing your times from one course to another in ultramarathons is very difficult to do. The courses vary so much due to the nature of different trail networks that ultramarathons take place on. This means runners aren’t able to get super analytical on their time stats. This adds to the laidback atmosphere that is highly enjoyed.

The problem still remains: doing your first ultramarathon seems scary and deadly! For your first ultramarathon train like you are doing a normal marathon, in terms of the amount of time spent training, but try to get the majority of your miles in on trails. Understand that running on trails is a slower process and you are not going to run as many miles on trails in the same amount of time that you would on road. Train for amount of time on your feet instead of miles run. A good start would be to build up to running for 10 hours a week before your first ultramarathon. The other aspect you want to focus on in training is hills. Do runs that have as much ascent as possible. Get used to grinding steep uphills, which will help you run further on flatter terrain, and practice running the technical terrain of downhills.

Hydration and nutrition is the last key aspect to completing your first ultramarathon. Staying hydrated while running a race is imperative. Most ultrarunners use a hydration vest to stay properly hydrated, and refill it at the aid stations. Another aspect to staying properly hydrated is to make sure you are taking in enough salt. Most ultrarunners take one salt tablet an hour to retain proper salt levels. These salt tablets are sold at running stores and outdoor outfitter stores. Lastly, be sure to take in enough calories. Test out different nutrional strategies in your training and have that nailed down before your first ultramarathon. Test yourself with energy gels, energy bars, and calorie dense energy drinks and see what works best for you. Don’t forget: all aid stations will have water, electrolytes, salt tablets, and food so that you don’t have to mule all that junk for the entire race!

Give ultramarathons a try! The ultramarathon community is very humble and friendly. Plus ultramarathons take place in beautiful wilderness settings where you don’t have to worry about dodging cars or overcrowded street blocks. Train for time on your feet and get used to steep uphills. Do your first ultramarathon with no expectations: run from aid station to aid station and don’t be ashamed to walk J

-Brian Peterson Feel free to email me at if you have any questions!

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