How to become an ultra runner

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Written By Amber Dale

Amber is one of our placement students working here at Ultra X. She is currently studying Business Management specialising in Marketing at Cardiff University.
She loves her sport especially netball but is now switching it up and testing her limits on the trails. 

4 May 2023

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

HOW TO BECOME AN ULTRA RUNNER

Before diving head first into your first ultra running race, it’s best to understand what is an ultramarathon?

An ultra marathon is a foot race that is longer than the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles. Typically, an ultramarathon is any race distance longer than 50 kilometres (31 miles), although some ultramarathons can be as long as 100 miles or more.

Ultramarathons can take place on a variety of terrains, including roads, trails, mountains, and deserts. The race can be run in stages or continuously, and competitors can either run as individuals or as part of a team. Due to the longer distance, ultramarathons often require a higher level of endurance and mental toughness than traditional marathons, and participants must be well-prepared for the physical and mental demands of the race.

Now you know what an ultramarathon is you ask yourself if you can cross the finish line…

Yes, you can! If I can do it, you can do it. I started my journey back at the start of October 2022 and agreed that I would run the 50km course at Ultra X Spring Trail Series by ASICS on the 15th April 2023. The longest distance I ever competed before training was 1500 metres at secondary school and 25km during training. I knew I was in for a challenge, but I was determined to cross that big blue arch at the finish line! Fair to say that there was no better feeling.

I started this journey as someone who was not a seasoned runner but have fallen in love with the sport. Becoming an ultramarathon runner is not an easy task as you must be dedicated, disciplined and motivated. This includes the whole process from the start of training to completing the event. Once you have decided you are ready to take on the challenge you need to book a race. This will be give you a goal to work towards but also look at booking a race that leaves you a minimum of 6 months to train. 50km is a great distance for your first ultramarathon race before you start looking at longer races. A great race would be Ultra X 50 England in September or Ultra X 50 Morocco in November.

Click here to view all the races Ultra X has to offer!

Step 1 – Ultra Running Training Plan

To begin with you need to look at either researching and creating your own training or look at hiring someone to create a training plan for you. You need to ensure that the training plan is catered to your goals, fitness level and lifestyle. Moreover, training plans can be adapted as sometimes external or internal issues can affect your training.

Feel free to check out Sam’s blog, Ultra X Co-Founder, on how to create your own training plan here.

Training plans are incredibly important for someone who is becoming an ultramarathon runner as you need a structure to work from. Meanwhile, you can start building your mileage by running shorter distances, such as 5km or 10km. This may seem a lot at first but gradually this will become an easy run for you which will mentally boost your confidence and build your endurance. Ultramarathons require a high level of fitness and endurance; therefore, you must have a solid training foundation. Within your training plan you should be aiming to run four times per week, 1 of those runs should be longer to help increase your mileage; and another should be to work on sprints or hill sprints. On top of the weekly running, you should be incorporating strength and conditioning sessions, stretch classes and rest days. The strength and conditioning classes will help your body to increase muscle and strength when doing long climbs as well as benefitting your endurance. The stretch classes and rest days will help to prevent injuries repair muscles and keep your body from becoming stiff.

Step 2. Rest -Why rest days are so important.

Many people feel guilty for having a rest day or only going for a short walk because they feel they have wasted a day, but any professional will tell you rest days are equally as important as your training days. To become an ultramarathon runner rest is an essential component to allow your body time to recover and repair.

Rest days will allow your body time to recover from the physical stress of training. During exercise, muscles undergo microscopic damage, and rest days provide the necessary time for muscles to repair and rebuild themselves, making them stronger and more resilient to future training.

In addition, if you do not allow the time for your body to recover you risk the overuse of particular muscles which increases your chance of developing injuries significantly. Giving your body time to recover reduces the risk of injuries caused by repetitive stress, which is very prevalent in running.

Ultimately, if you do not have rest days it can be damaging for your mental health. Training can be mentally taxing, and rest days will give you a break from the daily grind of exercise. It’s essential to prioritise mental health and allow yourself the time to recharge mentally, as this can help prevent burnout and keep you motivated to continue your training. It will make your training more enjoyable throughout the process rather a burden.

As a result, incorporating rest days into your training plan is essential for both physical and mental health, it can also help your running goals more effectively in the long run.

Step 3 – How to optimise your nutrition and hydration during training and race day.

Nutrition and hydration are essential for any athlete, but they become even more crucial for ultramarathon runners. Ultramarathons can last for several hours or even days and require intense physical exertion. To sustain this level of activity, you need to ensure that you are correctly fuelling and keep hydrated throughout the race. Throughout training you should be fuelling your runs and hydrating with the substances that you are going to use in the race. Be aware that some food brands or electrolytes that work for someone, will not necessarily work for you. Additionally, it is good to do some of your own research and see which brands are highly recommend or trusted in the ultramarathon world.

You must have an understanding of your nutrition and hydration during an ultramarathon as these components will help you to cross the finish line. I learnt from experience in my training that running 25km without some form of fuel is a terrible idea.

During your ultramarathon your body will burn through its energy storage between 1-1.5 hours therefore you need to provide a constant supply of energy for your body to keep moving. As a runner you will burn through calories at a high rate and if you do not replenish them, you will feel the fatigue start to set in.

In any exercise you do you will sweat but when you are running an ultramarathon you will be losing electrolytes from your body at an increased rate. You will need to replace these by drinking an electrolyte fluid to replace minerals such as sodium, potassium and magnesium that play a crucial role in regulating bodily functions. If there is an imbalance it will cause your muscles to cramp, fatigue and other internal issues which could lead to you being pulled out of the race from a medical view.

Overall if your fuel and hydrate correctly, after all your training and the race you will find that your body will recover and repair at a faster rate and it has the nutrients it needs to repair damaged tissues and replenish your energy storage.

Step 4 – Ask Questions

To become an ultramarathon runner, all the above will help you on this journey but I think what helped mentally and physically was reading about other people’s experiences and how they overcame situations. I highly recommend you learn from others and connect with other ultramarathon runners through online forums, clubs, or other races. You can learn from their experience and get extra free tips on training, nutrition and gear.

Ultra X Amber First Ultra Marathon

Step 5 – Have fun!

To become an ultramarathon runner, it will take time and patience and sometimes you need to be prepared for the unexpected through training or on race day. Be consistent with your training, listen to your body and most importantly enjoy and have fun along the way!  

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