While a marathon is always 26.2 miles, an ultra marathon could be any number of distances ranging from 50 kilometers to 200 miles. The most popular ultra marathon distances are 50K, 50 miles, 100K, 100 miles and 200 miles. This endurance sport first intrigued me four years ago while I was on a pre-deployment cruise with my 12 month-old daughter and my husband. We watched a special on the weather channel about an ultra race that goes right through the scorching desert with temperatures so hot the soles of runner’s shoes will melt off if they don’t run on the white line of the road.
Back then I was a relatively new Stroller Warrior at Camp Lejeune. My longest run had been 8 miles, of which I was (and still am) immensely proud. A few months later I crossed the finish line of my first marathon. The marathon hadn’t gone as I had envisioned it. I wasn’t proud of my time, I felt my body had failed me, and my husband hadn’t been there to console me (he was forward deployed at the time).
So what changed? For one, marathons appear to be like childbirth. You forget the pain and want to do it again. Secondly, I have realized that ALL of us are capable of doing anything we set our minds to.
Though in all honesty, my husband signed up for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k trail race first. We talked about the 50k he had signed up for on one of our family runs. I kept thinking back to the last marathon he trained for alone. I was jealous the whole time he was out running and wished I had been able to train and race with him. It was hard to be home alone watching kids while he was out on his long runs. So I approached him about me doing the 50k too. He is the most supportive husband a wife could ask for and immediately agreed and signed me up. I wouldn’t have known I could be an endurance athlete if it wasn’t for him.
Over the course of our training I learned many things about ultra marathons and wanted to share a few of them with you.
-YOU can be an ultra marathoner (yes, I’m talking to you!)
-Training for a 50k in my opinion is similar to training for a marathon. I've met multiple runners on course who feel the same way!
-You have to have a strong core and strong hips in order to run long distances. One way to test if your hips are strong enough for distance running was told to me by my sister Meg, who is a Doctor of Physical Therapy. To test yourself: Do a side plank (my sister said you can start on your elbow if needed but you should be able to build up to doing it on your hand). While in the side plank raise and lower your top leg 10 times. If you can do 3 sets of 10 fairly easily then your hips are strong enough for distance running (half marathon and more). Switch sides and repeat. Be careful your hips are staying stacked and you’re not dropping a hip back. This is not only a good test, but it is also a good way to strengthen your core and your hips. Incorporate this into your workout.
-Don’t neglect cross training and weight lifting. Working slightly different muscles through cross training and strengthening your body through weight lifting will really help to keep you injury free!
-You need to find a nutrition and hydration plan that works for you. If you have ever “hit a wall” during a race, your nutrition or hydration plan wasn’t adequate. When I race or do long runs I eat every 30 minutes or sooner if my body is telling me it needs it. I eat granola bars, fruit, potatoes dipped in salt, and honey stinger (caffeine free) products or homemade gels. I wear a camel back and drink on demand. With this nutrition and hydration plan I have not yet “hit a wall” while racing or on long runs. I still have had aches and pains and injures, but mentally I have been clear and positive. Every body is different so what works for each individual will be different. Test out different hydration and nutrition plans on your long runs and figure out what works well for YOU.
-When there is a will, there is a way. My husband and I were able to train for and complete the 50k with 3 children under the age of 5. We had to stop and breastfeed the baby sometimes, but we were okay with that. Our longest run with strollers (we each pushed one) was 23 miles. Our kids love spending time with us and described the 23 miler to the grandparents as “the best day of my life!” Though that is likely due to the fact that we stopped at a fire house’s open house on the way home.
Have you run an ultra marathon? Why or Why not?