Gritty Truths About Ultra Running
If you had told me I would be writing this a couple of years ago—hell, 12 months ago—I would have told you to skedaddle quicker than a front runner at parkrun.
But, as they say, anything is possible. Any long distance runner will tell you it’s amazing how little by little your running goals can change. From a casual weekend 5k, to a 10k fun run, to a half marathon, to a full marathon. Then, before you know it you have fallen through a rabbit hole into the crazy world of ultra-running.
This time last year I was writing about finishing the North Face 50 for the first time and, well, here I am alive and half-kicking after finishing my first 100k at the same event.
Thinking about tackling an ultra-marathon? As with any undertaking, it’s always good to know a little bit about what you’re in for. So here it is, no holds barred.
It will cost you, but it will be worth every cent.
Race entries don’t come cheap these days, and if you’re running a super long distance one you can expect it to have a price tag to match. Mandatory gear is usually required and a new pair of trainers (or two) will probably be the order of the day. You will eat a lot on the run (most likely in the form of expensive gels and bars), and you will have the appetite of a medium sized wildebeest afterwards. Massages will also be a sensible maintenance cost and physio might become a necessary one, too.
You will completely readjust your interpretation of ‘a long run.’
Yep, you will be running marathons as training runs and you might even head out for another one the very next day. Popping out for a quick 15k recovery run will become normal, your weekly mileage will look more like a speed limit than a running distance and you will repeat hills and stairs for an hour in the middle of a five-hour run. Your mates (even the running ones) will therefore think you’ve gone mad, and you have a little (embrace it). Rest assured there will always be someone who is madder—people who run these for a start.
You will chafe.
You will discover which sections of your body rub together and it will probably be a different body part every time you head out for a run. Vaseline will become your best friend.
You will play a lot of mind games with yourself.
“I only have to run the equivalent of Shelly Beach and back six more times and then I can sit down for five minutes.”
“If I do another 2k I can stop off at the petrol station and buy a chocolate milk.”
“It’s okay that I did two hours less than I was supposed to. I’ve had a really busy week and I’m almost certain my left ankle was hurting about an hour ago.”
Mental games will be your saviour or downfall on race day. The mental approach that got me through 100k was forbidding myself to think of the total distance left. The way I looked at it was that I was simply running eight little races between each checkpoint or water station. I just happened to be running those eight little races back-to-back. The Beatles were right, it’s honestly all in the mind, y’know?
You will test your guts.
I’ve heard it said that if you’re fit enough to run 50k you’re fit enough to run 100k. The second half just depends on mental strength and well-practised nutrition.
A massive part of your training will be focusing on your race nutrition. For example, you’ll find yourself in the baby food aisle of your supermarket reading food packaging for grams of carbs. You’ll also get sick to death of sweet energy drinks, gels and bars. Lastly, you will spend hours on the trail thinking about crunchy savoury food. (My cravings for salt and vinegar chips are still living strong.)
You might not feel the fittest, strongest and healthiest you’ve ever felt.
Prior to tailoring my training specifically for the 100k, I ran, boxed, did yoga, swam, played beach volleyball and lifted weights. I was in good shape and felt strong. After training for the 100k I felt like I could run 100k, but ask me to do double figure push-ups or a sprint and I’d struggle.
Plus, race nutrition isn’t exactly healthy nutrition. White bread, gels, bars, lollies and sports drinks often just left me feeling a bit meh. I’ve definitely felt better.
You will become a bit of a bore.
Eat, sleep, train, repeat.
Nope, you can’t go out for drinks because you’re running for five hours the next day. Nope, you can’t go to the cinema because you won’t be able to stay awake beyond 8.37pm anyway. As I said: eat, sleep, train, repeat.
You will have a totally awesome race day.
Whatever happens, your fellow trail runners are kinda cool. Whomever said, ‘Road runners are out to beat you, trail runners are out to support you’ totally nailed it. The battle in an ultra is with the terrain, your mind and your guts, not the people around you. The people, the scenery and ultimately the sense of achievement will be off the scale of awesomeness.
Prepare to feel like anything is possible.
Because it is. You just ran 100k.
One 100k race won’t be enough…