What Is An Ultramarathon: And Why You Should Try It

When I first started my new health drive in my late forties I thought I would just be doing a little bit of running here and there. At that point I didn’t realise that I would end up running in multiple ultramarathons.

Back then I had no idea what an ultramarathon was or entailed so I decided to do some reearch to find out what they were and why on earth I should try one. This is what I found.

An Ultra Marathon is any distance over that of the Marathon distance of 26.2 miles or 42 km. The main distances covered in an ultra are 50km, 50 miles, 100 km, 100 miles. However, there are some events that will do anything in between and often beyond 100 miles.

So as you can see, there are many different race distances that can be covered, but why would you want to put yourself through it?

Lets read on to understand why.

Why Run an Ultra Marathon

To me, as someone who didn’t start running until their mid to late 40’s, it’s one of those bucket list items I guess. I started off by running for fun, then charity, and then I started to increase my distance.

Believe it or not, I actually ran a 50km race before I ran a Marathon – why? Because the race appealed to me.

I think as well, it’s one of those things that you might contemplate doing once you stop doing other sports as you get older.

I played a lot of football (soccer) and when I stopped there was a gap.

If you read me About Me page you will see that I went through a lot before I decided to start running. And I really think I’m probably very similar to a lot of people.

So what’s so appealing about Ultra Marathons and Trail Running?

The Scenery

I don’t care what anyone says when it comes to breathtaking scenery you can’t beat being out on the trails.

The picture above was taken by me during the Snowdonia Trail Marathon in 2018 and to this day it’s one of the most amazing races I have ever done.

It certainly beats pounding the pavements of your local town or city any day of the week.

I don’t think it matters where most people live, there is so much to offer running outside of the towns for sure.

I live in the UK and it’s only over the past 5 years that I have realised how stunning our country really is – and I mean stunning.

Shame the weather wasn’t better of course lol.

But seriously, for me, I cannot wait to get out on my trail runs and discover what the countryside has to offer. It’s just amazing.

Less Competitive

One of the big things I noticed when I did my first Ultra and Trail Marathon was that everything was less competitive.

Personally, I’m not going to win a load of medals for running a super-fast race. But then again, that’s not why I’m out there.

To be fair to road races, there are generally more people that enter them and many people are going for a PB.

Because of this, you find that races can be quite competitive – I know because I have been there and done it.

I personally don’t enjoy road racing at all, it’s just not for me.

So when I say Ultra Marathons and Trail Races are less competitive it’s for a good reason.

The field is never as big as it is with a road race. Road races can be 1,000’s of people. Trail races can be less than 100.

A lot of people doing Ultra Marathons are out there just to push themselves and finish the big distance. The only people they are competing with are themselves – it is a personal battle sometimes.

Of course, you do get guys that are trying to win these races, but they are generally long gone leaving us mere mortals in their wake.

A Different Atmosphere

It’s hard to explain, but the atmosphere at an Ultra and Trail Race is just so different.

I guess it ties in with the competition, people just seem to be a lot more relaxed.

I have been in so many races where people have been in trouble, or might be struggling. There is no running community I have ever met that are so willing to stop and help others – it’s heartwarming believe me.

Running A Very Long Distance

“Let me tell you a little story about my 86 mile Ultra last year”

By far the longest distance I had run to date at the time was an 86 mile race called the Ridgeway 86.

It’s one of those races where you can have a race crew to support you at checkpoints due to the distance.

However, I was running alone – without a crew I mean.

Now I can tell you, running that sort of distance is a battle of mental strength. It’s amazing what your body can cope with.

Your mind will normally give up before your body that’s for sure.

I set off during the run, chatting to people and generally having a great time and plodding along. A bit of running, walking up the hills, etc. and on pace, for the time I was hoping to finish in (24 hours).

I had just passed mile 32 when I caught up with 2 guys that had been running in front of me for some time.

When I caught up with them, I thought I recognised one of them. It turned out he only lived a few houses down from me in my street.

I couldn’t believe it, I had bumped into a guy in a race that was 100 miles from our town, with a field of fewer than 200 people.

What was more gutting was that his wife drove him to the start that morning and I had paid £200 ($240) on train fares and a hotel and I could have got a lift from them.

But enough about that. From mile 32 we ran to the halfway checkpoint at 43 miles and stopped for some hot food – we had to run through the night.

Here we met a lovely lady from London who said she was a little nervous about running through the night on her own.

Of course, we said that she should join our group and we would complete the race together.

And finish we did, we pushed and supported each other all night. Keeping each other motivated during times of pain and discomfort.

It was truly an amazing experience and I made friends just through running this one race. We have even signed up for more so we can all run together some more.

Below is the photo of 3 of us at the finish (1 ran ahead because he just wanted his feet to stop hurting) – it just goes to show how people can come together and support each other having never met each other before.

Ultra marathon
Ridgeway 86 Finish

And that is why Ultra running is different in so many ways.

You Get to Eat a Lot

One thing with running ultra distances is that you need to keep your calorie intake up.

That takes a lot of food – I think on one of my races I burnt over 10,000 calories. Basing it on the assumption that you burn 400 – 600 calories an hour whilst running.

Your body can absorb roughly 240 – 260 calories per hour so you need to feed it regularly to avoid crashing out of the race.

When I first started the long-distance runs I thought I might be in trouble at the aid stations because I ate a plant-based diet.

Now I have to admit, I didn’t eat fully Plant-Based but it was fully Vegan food that I ate.

As a side note, a general rule with running long distance is that you shouldn’t try new things on race day.

That goes for shoes, clothing, hydration packs, food etc.

You don’t want to get to the big race and find out something doesn’t work and causes a DNF (Did Not Finish). It’s not worth it.

It’s the same with race-day nutrition. I try to stick to the same foods on race day that I do for my training runs.

That’s right, your training runs aren’t just about getting the miles in for you races. It’s your testing ground for everything else.

When you have completed your training you want to have everything tried, tested and in place.

What I Eat on Race Day

First of all, I want to point out what I don’t eat – GELS!!!

I know some people swear by them but to try and throw 4 gels an hour down your throat normally ends up with a very bad stomach.

This isn’t a pleasant site believe me – so think about that before you go mad on them.

However, my go-to calorie intake on training runs is something called TailwindOpens in a new tab..

I will do a review in another post, but it’s basically All-In-One race nutrition in a powder format that you mix with your water.

It comes in multiple flavours, as well as flavourless and is completely Vegan-friendly, plus you don’t get gut problems with it.

Typically it will deliver around 200 calories per hour depending on how much fluid you are drinking and how strong a mix you make.

So that’s a decent chunk of my calories and nutrition for the race.

Next, I love Medjool Dates. They are easy to carry, taste great and deliver great energy.

Just 100g of these dates will give you:

  • Calories: 277
  • Carbs: 75 grams
  • Fibre: 7 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Potassium: 20% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 14% of the RDI
  • Copper: 18% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 15% of the RDI
  • Iron: 5% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B6: 12% of the RDI

That’s just great return from these little powerhouses.

Of course with the aid stations, there are the usual Nuts and Crisps along with loads of fruit.

Fruit will range from Banana, Orange, Apple, Grapes, Melon etc. which are all easy to digest.

On the Ridgeway 86 race the hot food at the Halfway point had an option of vegan chilli and vegan rice pudding – lovely.

So there’s no need to go hungry as you can see.

The Volunteers

I couldn’t write a post without mentioning the volunteers that support Ultra Marathons.

Without their help and support the races simply wouldn’t happen. A lot of them even work through the night.

They support the aid stations, so they make a lot of food that goes on the checkpoints.

And they help marshal the courses, they serve hot food and drinks and are always on hand to offer support to everyone.

I simply cannot say enough good things about all of them.

You Get Fit and Lose Weight

One thing you guarantee is that alongside a healthy diet you will lose weight running. Lot’s of it.

As I wrote in my Bio, I lost almost 50lbs in 5 months by changing my eating habits and starting to run.

Of course, results aren’t typical and you should consult your doctor if you have any health issues that may be impacted by a change in diet or exercise.

If you are new to running, start off slowly and don’t go for silly long distances.

Build yourself up to the distances and look after yourself. You will lose weight and you will certainly get fit.

At my fittest being 50 years old, I will typically run an Ultra with an average heart rate of 130 bpm with a resting Heart Rate of 50 or less. I could never say that previously.

You Get Time to Think

Honestly, this may seem odd but it’s true.

When I’m out on my long runs I love being on my own and having time to think. We live in a busy world where everything seems to be in a rush.

I just love being out there in the peace and quiet, with nothing but the trails, a bit of good music and my own thoughts.

Blimey, I’ve pretty much planned out my next month after a 3-hour run. There’s nothing like it in my opinion.

Summary

Well, those were just a few benefits of running Ultra and Trail Marathons in my opinion.

If you like running, give one a try at least once – you never know, you might get hooked just like me.

I hope you enjoyed the post. It’s just me jotting down my thoughts on why I love this sport so much and I hope it gave you an insight into the world of Ultrarunning.

As ever, if you have any comments or even any past experiences you want to share then please leave them in the comments box below.

I would love to hear from you.

All the best,

Mark.

Mark

Hey! Mark here. Welcome to my blog. At the age of 47 I was a 212lb unhealthy mess. At the age of 50, I had run an 86 mile trail ultramarathon and converted to a Plant-Based Diet. I had turned my life around in 3 years. This blog is set up for those of you who want to make that change and I'm here to help.

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