Many people enjoy the feeling that accompanies running a successful marathon and for those who have the time, the next level is the ultramarathon.
The standard marathon distance is 26.2 miles (42 km) and the short ultramarathon is any distance beyond that. Usually the 50 km race is regarded as the event that technically fulfils the description of an ultra and also very common are the 50 mile races, 100 km and 100 mile events. Some events offer timed races like 6 or 12 hour events where runners complete as many miles as possible during the time-frame.
Preparation for an ultramarathon should, ideally, be an extension of the marathon training process but with a little less emphasis on speed and a little more on endurance. Setting a goal race will enable the planning of a program that builds to the target event.
Starting with a basic daily mileage, a moderately long run in the week, a long run on the weekend with once a month a very long run and regular rest days, will accustom the legs to long periods of activity and help develop the necessary endurance. The plan should be flexible, realistic and reflective of your actual capacity and aim toward stretching oneself without creating problems and injuries.
This is the challenge and requires several strategies to be employed. An ultramarathon is more than just a race – it is also a unique state of being. The inner qualities that are brought forward in marathon and ultarmarathon distance running involve patience, determination, resourcefulness, enthusiasm, sensitivity to ones physical condition and the practice of positive thinking. This is on top of the planning and organising of the training schedule which typically involves 6 months to a year of preparation.
Every training plan is a set of principles that’s needs to be tailored to the individuals needs and capacities. If a marathon takes you 4 hours to run then a 50 km can take you 5-5½ hours. So to prepare for running for that length of time, the plan could consider building the daily mileage up to an hour a day with a longer run of an hour and a half to two hours during the week and a 3 hour run on the weekend and once a month a 3-4 hour run.
During the longer runs, it is a good idea to spend some time walking to change the muscles used and give them a rest every now and then.
In longer ultras the runner is sometimes forced to walk so an appropriate strategy is to build it into the training plan so the mind will not think it is failing when the body starts to tire and fatigue becomes an issue. Many experienced people use a run/walk approach, often from the beginning of the race. With a consistent training effort, some things become clear to the novice ultrarunner that are not otherwise easy to grasp.
For example, one of the most important aspects is the running shoe. Going out for a 20 minute jog will offer one experience but a 4 hour run will feel very different in those same shoes. Getting the right shoes takes an understanding of what works and what doesn’t at the longer distances.
There are many shoes available to choose from and size is just one element to consider as arch support and cushioning, shoe depth, weight, construction materials all play a part in creating the right shoe for you and the only way to find out what works, when all is said and done, is by trial and error and getting used to how the shoe feels on a four run.
All problems have causes, whether we can determine what those causes are is another thing and that is why there are experts to figure these things out. Shoes are a rich source of issues as they are the interface between the body and the ground.
Running is about creating directing and maintaining a flow of energy. That energy involves the correct functioning of the muscles which in turn relies on correct posture. Correct posture in turn relies upon correct thinking and correct living. Obviously we have a certain set of life conditions and circumstances which influence us in many ways and how we are is a product of our environment and our responses to that environment.
All problems have causes so one of the challenges of ultrarunning is to find solutions to our problems. Blisters, for example, are caused by friction so the first step is to try and eliminate the source of that friction as soon as it becomes noticeable.
- It could be tight shoes as the feet swell a little during an ultra.
- It could be a rough seam in the shoe.
- It could be grit or debris in the shoe.
- It could be poor performing socks.
- It could be wet feet.
- It could be laces are too tight or the wrong lacing pattern.
- It could be worn out shoes.
- It could be poor posture.
So by investigating and changing the elements involved, we will be able to understand how the body is changing under the circumstances and how we can best adapt to integrate those changes. Some things are not as quickly solved. Posture problems will obviously take a lot longer to resolve than changing socks but as we spend the months and years on the road and talk to other people and discover their solutions to those same issues, then our awareness and understanding will expand.
One interesting feature of ultra and long distance running is that pain and problems often go away without you doing anything. Here we come to see that there are different kinds of pain and often they are just temporary messages and nothing more. The key here is discrimination and awareness – figuring out if this is the beginning of a significant injury or is just a passing ache.
Time will tell and if we are sensitive we will often be able to prevent a situation from deteriorating. Have faith in intuition yet be mindful of unnecessary worries. Training should be an enjoyable experience as well as one that stretches one to new capacities.
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