December 12 2017
A student athlete and indoor track competitor sheds light on the somewhat elusive sport.
I remember two years ago when someone asked me if I thought I would ever run an ultra. I laughed and said, “No, I can’t imagine running more than 26.2. I will never run more than that because that is crazy.” At that point, I had run three marathons, but that distance always seemed within my ability. An ultra is any distance beyond 26.2 and I always thought that those races were reserved for the super fit runners who ran hundreds of miles and were practically Navy Seals. I discovered that I was very wrong.
Anyone who can run, can do an ultra. I know this because my friend and I signed up for one and started to train, but then my sister became seriously ill and my training was derailed. I decided to still do the race, but I told myself that I would just stop when it became too much. The night before the race, I read about an elite runner who ran a marathon after having the flu for a week. She talked about how you could do almost anything if you just went very slowly. So, off I went to my first ultra. I ran like a snail and asked advice from the veterans and listened to the runners’ strategies. I was able to run 27 miles at the first ultra. Then at the next one I made it to 32, and in a week, I will attempt my third ultra and try to make it to 40 miles. Let me tell you what I have learned from my ultrarunning journey so far.
My feet held up pretty well during the first ultra, but the second one did a number on my feet. One toenail fell off and the other one was black for months. I asked some experts and one suggested toe socks by Injinji, to separate the toes. I also bought some toe shields to protect myself because although I love to run, I would like to paint my toenails from time-to-time; when several don’t exist, it makes it difficult.
Long distances can leave you chafed—and sometimes bloody—when your clothing rubs your skin the wrong way, but you don’t have to buy anything expensive. Vaseline applied on sensitive body parts, under sports bras and other areas of clothing that can irritate your skin will do the trick. Bring some with you to the race to reapply when necessary.
You have to fuel yourself well when you run an ultra. Experiment what works for you on training runs. I like to eat something every seven miles and I alternate between peanut butter sandwiches, payday bars and other food that is provided. You need to know what might upset your stomach (for me that means no gels). You also need to hydrate well. Do not wait until you are thirsty. Every three miles works for me, but you need to see what works for you, and of course it will also depend on the temperature. I made a huge mistake during my first ultra. I thought that drinking just sports drinks would help refuel me, but instead it sent me to the bathroom and upset my stomach.
I am not an elite athlete and when I do an ultra I am doing it to see how many miles I can do; not how fast I can do them. If you feel the same way, my advice to you is run super slow. Try to run about two minutes slower than you usually do. The next day you will not feel like a train hit you, and it will allow you to run farther the day of the race.
I had heard that pickle juice could keep your muscles from cramping, but I had never tried it. During my first ultra, I had stopped in front of the food, and I chose a pickle. The man next to me told me that pickle juice helped him get through. He was doing the 24-hour race. I used it and was not very sore the next day. When I ran 32 miles, I drank pickle juice every seven miles, and the next day I was not sore at all.
When I start to feel stiff, I pull over to the side and stretch everything out. It may take a few minutes, but I can run longer because of it.
You will have your best run when you enter the race with the right attitude. Instead of worrying about your performance, enjoy the experience and try to learn from the people around you. Stay positive.
When you arrive at an ultra and you see that all sorts of people attempt theses races, you will realize that this distance is within your reach.