I was sitting around the table with my housemates on Saturday night, having my one glass of wine before they went on their proper night out, leaving me to my ten pm bedtime.
As the drinks flowed, conversation became more animated. ‘Name one of the most ridiculous things you’ve ever done’ said Herbert (names have been changed to protect identity).
‘I streaked at my best friend’s wedding’ said Jemima. Whoops of laughter. ‘I ate a 150 oz steak challenge’ said Betsy. High-fives all round.
‘I ran 100 miles in 1 day’ said a small voice.
The party looked at me, then left.
It’s a strange past-time, ultra running. People do think you are a little odd. But the rewards are abundant, in my eyes at least.
Not so many moons ago, humans believed the marathon distance was the holy grail of endurance running. Greek legends perished in the pursuit of 26.2 miles on foot. It doesn’t get more challenging than that.
Or does it?
It appears that the marathon is actually the tip of the iceberg when it comes to distance. More and more people are taking to the roads and trails and racking up distances that would be impressive in four wheels, let alone two legs.
So how does one start out?
I found the best way to begin was on the bottom rung of the proverbial ladder. I began with a 50km event which I found really testing but it was beautiful and a great way to see lots of countryside on foot. The escapism and the simplicity of it struck me. It was just you, running and fuelling. The other competitors were very laid back. The gun went, and people were still tying their shoelaces. If someone ran out of water or needed help, other runners were the first to reach out. It was a far cry from the tense atmosphere of any other competition I’d done previously.
From there I ticked 50 miles, 100 kilometres and then 100 miles. There is still more in the tank. I haven’t found that limit yet.
To train requires not much more than you would for a marathon. I see coaching programs containing really long training runs but that’s risking a lot of damage. There’s no denying running a long way is probably going to hurt you. Hence I like to leave it for the day, rather than go in to the event with an injury already sustained in training. Better to be 1% underdone than 1% over. Factor in a decent amount of recovery afterwards (at least two weeks without running) and you’ll be amazed how quickly the body heals.
To prepare for the big 100 miler, I did one 4 hour run and lots of 2-3 hour runs. People were shocked at how relatively little I’d done, yet I set the women’s course record that stands to this day. 2-3 hour runs build aerobic endurance and condition your legs to take the strain, without tipping the scale into damage and irrepair. It also means you don’t spend all day training – bonus!
I fell back into triathlon and am fixated on this elite existence for now, but I cannot wait for the time when I can relax a bit and explore the world again on two feet. There’s such a fantastic sense of accomplishment and an unrivalled sense of community amongst ultra runners. These runners don’t do it for the bling or material rewards. Often, you finish an event, and there is no medal or T Shirt. But you do get your result and the personal satisfaction. That’s reward enough.
There are many ultra events happening all over the country every weekend. Check out www.entrycentral.com.
Pro Long Distance triathlete Alice Hector is our sponsored athlete. With a few top-tens in Ironman 70.3 events already this year, she’s now looking forward to Ironman UK in a few weeks. Alice returned to triathlon in 2013 after a brief but stellar career as an ultrarunner – please see alicetri.com for a full list of her achievements.