If you’re reading this you’re already thinking about it. You should read our piece on Getting Started if you want to know what you need to do to plan and prepare. If you’re still undecided, this piece is a reflection on why running ultras is a challenge worth taking on, a commitment worth making. Despite the need to plan, prepare, and train, it’s not necessarily as hard as you think.
Pounding the streets in a big city marathon can be great; but it’s nothing compared to the connection you get to the great outdoors during most ultra events. Running at a slower pace through more beautiful and natural terrain is quite simply more enjoyable and better for you than road running. Ultra running and mountain events have taken me all over the UK, to corners of the country I would otherwise not have experienced. I remember the sensation and sights of descending from the fells of Lake District into Great Langdale, running one of the most beautiful strips of trail I’ve ever found from World’s End towards Llangollen along Offa’s Dyke Path, descending from Grey Knott’s into Ennerdale…. (notice they’re all descending?). I don’t remember much of the sights and sounds of city runs in London or Amsterdam. Take on an ultra and you’ll have experiences that will stay with you a lifetime.
There is no getting away from it – ultras are tough. But they are tough in a different way to road races. You are freed from the watch – for most of us, we want to finish an ultra, not finish it in a set target time. Too many road races are spent (for me) watching my pace and doing mental arithmetic about my projected finish time, pushing as hard as I can, to get a time I can be pleased with. I barely see where I am running (see point above!). During an ultra, pace is less of an issue. It’s all about progress, ticking off the next checkpoint, the next climb, the next big milestone. You can relax more and enjoy the view, and stop worrying about how fast you are going. Just make progress.
For an ultra, you won’t run that much more in training than if you are running a marathon. What’s more, you can worry a little less about pace. You need to build all round strength, resilience, and endurance, rather than train to run uniformly at a predetermined pace for 26 miles. The training as a result can be tailored much more, the long runs might be longer, but not necessarily harder. Finally, if you can get out on trails for training, running at ultra pace for long miles on trails is far kinder to your body than pounding city streets at marathon or half marathon pace. As someone who has suffered stress fractures in the past, I find running outdoor ultra events a more sustainable way to maintain my fitness and challenge myself than running city events.
Finish a big city marathon and you’ll get smiles and the odd high five from the people who crossed the line beside you, some encouragement along the way from other runners and the crowds. Run an ultra and you will actually talk and bond (and suffer!) alongside the other runners taking part. You’ll see them in the tent at the finish and raise a glass of beer to them and talk about the lowest and highest moments of the race. By this point you’ll be laughing – hopefully! – about the low moments, and revelling in the achievement together.
What are you waiting for?
Why not join us and we will make the journey that little bit smoother?