Tired of the old 26.2? Ready to hit the trails and run long? Are you looking for something more out of your race than a medal and banana? While you’re planning your 2013 race calendar, consider an ultra marathon as your goal race! Ultra runners are a great community of people of all levels and experiences and getting involved can be a rewarding and amazing experience.
So now you’re thinking about it, but don’t know where to start? Here’s some tips on how to plan for your first ultra race:
Pick your distance. An ultra is considered any race over 26.2 miles. In the US, ultra races are typically 50K (31 miles), 50 miles, 100K (62 miles) or 100 miles. The majority of ultras are ran on trails, but there is a good handful of road ultras. 12- and 24-hour endurance events are also considered ultras by most because individuals who run continuously can run much much farther than a marathon (some even more than 100 miles!) in the 24 hour period. 50Ks are considered “gateway” ultras as the training is similar to marathon training and adding on five miles isn’t incredibly difficult. I recommend starting with a 50K before jumping into the next step—a 50 miler!
Pick your race early! Ultras are a niche and the fields are often only 100-200 people. When I signed up for the Oil Creek 100K last March (the race was in October), the 50K sold out in FIVE minutes. The 100K sold out in a half hour! Trail races have limited fields because of state or local park regulations so they have to limit how many people they allow in the race. Ultramarathon Running and UltraRunning Magazine are great resources to race websites. If you’re having a hard time finding a local race, try Facebook or hit the trails and ask what the best local races are.
Choose a race as close to home as possible. As fun as it is to run a destination marathon, for your first ultra I highly suggest you stay home! There are so many bonuses to racing close to home: you get to sleep in your own bed, drive to the race in the morning and go home after. And unlike bigger, more popular races out of town, if you stick close to home you may find port-o-potty lines shorter, mass starts and better parking. And best part is that you get to learn the course beforehand so you know where the hills are, have a feel for the course and confidence in yourself!
Plan your training. 50K training is easy to plan for. Unlike training for 50 miles and above, it won’t completely take over your life, you don’t have to do back-to-back long runs and simply getting time in on your feet takes up less time out of your schedule. Think about the marathon training plans that worked for you in the past. If you were already on an advanced or intermediate version of the plan, use that, but increase the long run distance by a few miles while you’re building up. For example, instead of a longest run at 22 miles, make your longest run 24-25 miles. Take it slow on your long days and keep up with short, speedy runs during the week as well.
There’s so much more when it comes to starting out as an ultrarunner, and we’ll talk more about preparations and about training for longer races in future posts!
What questions do you have about ultrarunning? Have you considered a 50k? If so, how are you choosing your race?