Whether you’re considering one yourself or just want to run ultra distances vicariously, follow local runner Anton Krupicka’s blog, antonkrupicka.blogspot.com/ . There you’ll find a training log of sorts, with gems like:
Fri-AM: 2:17, 4000′ – Flatiron Quartet (1-2-4-5)
Ran from Chat w/ Joel, going 1st, 2nd, 5th, 4th before descending back to Chautauqua. I would’ve liked to have scurried to the summit of Green, too, but didn’t have the time. Super hot morning on the slabs, but, thankfully, some clouds and a cool breeze rolled in toward the end making things tolerable.
Maybe you’ll do that tomorrow morning.
So you’ve conquered a marathon (whatevs, no big deal) and now you’re looking for another challenge.
How about running an ultramarathon, which is any race that’s longer than the marathon distance of 26.2 miles.
It takes months of preparation and mental toughness, but we gathered a few tips for how to ease yourself into longer, off-road runs and eventually, finish a race like the Leadville 100 or Western States. (Or, just read vicariously. We won’t judge.)
“Physically, the average person is very capable of completing an ultra,” said Boulder runner Kyle Kramer. “It’s not something that’s just reserved for the genetically gifted, athletic prodigies and phenoms.”
For the love of running
Why would anyone want to run 100 miles, you ask?
Most of the time, it’s for the love of running, or the chance to complete a monumental task. For trail runners of all distances, it’s often about seeing a beautiful place on foot.
Anton “Tony” Krupicka, one of the best-known ultrarunners racing right now, lives in Boulder when he’s not living out of his car up in the mountains and running. He’s run close to 60,000 miles in his lifetime and says he runs because he likes to see new mountains and peaks.
Boulder runner Kramer, who completed his first ultra race at the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run, a 50-miler, in June 2013, has a similar philosophy. Kramer says he only picks races that are aesthetically appealing to him, fit within his race budget for the year or make sense logistically.
Where to start
Scott Jurek, another champion ultrarunner living in Boulder, has written extensively about why he runs. In his book “Eat and Run,” Jurek describes how easy it is to become an ultrarunner: just start running. Try 50 yards today, a few more tomorrow and eventually you’ll be running miles on miles.
Boulder ultrarunner Buzz Burrell suggests finding a group of established runners to act as your mentors.
“You’ll feel safer and you’ll learn routes instead of studying maps,” he said.
He recommends bringing a camera, food and water — but leave the watch at home. Don’t time yourself and certainly don’t keep running if you can’t, he says. Walking is acceptable, he added. And when you’re ready to go home, turn around and don’t push yourself until you know your body better.
Try to pick a flat race before working your way up to something with huge climbs. For example, the Grand to Grand Ultra climbs around 19,000 feet over six days, whereas the Rocky Raccoon 50 and 100-miler in Huntsville, Texas, uses a mostly flat course.
A 50-kilometer ultra might be your best bet for a first ultra. At 31 miles, it’s an easy step up from the 26.2-mile marathon distance.
“Mentally, it takes a certain type of person (to run an ultra race),” Kramer said. “Grit is far more important than athletic ability. Even so, the mental aspect can be exercised and improved just like your muscles.
“The important thing is just to be a little better this week than you were last week, and to be consistent. Eventually all those weeks will really add up, and you might astonish even yourself with how far you can go.”
Grit is important, but seek out and follow a training plan. No one finishes a 100-mile race on willpower alone.
Most training plans call for a steady increase in weekly mileage before the race, including two days of back-to-back long runs each week. Those distances vary depending on what length of race you’re training for. You can find a variety of training plans online, join a running group or work with a coach who will keep you on track.
Kramer, who ran at Bighorn this year, said adding long periods of standing into your day is a good way to prepare. When he ran his first 50-miler, his body hurt mostly because he hadn’t sat down for hours. The constant impact on his leg joints from his feet pounding the ground mile after mile hurt more than his muscles, he said.
“The most painful thing about running far isn’t muscle soreness in my quads or calves, but joint pain,” Kramer said.
He recommends taking a few ibuprofen if pain becomes a problem during the race, and training your body and mind to keep moving all day by hiking or backpacking long distances.
Train on the terrain you’ll be racing on, say ultrarunners. Trails, rocks, asphalt or some combination of all three, depending on where you’ll be running. Train at all times of day, too, because a 50-mile race can take seven to 14 hours.
At the race
Most races will allow you to stash a bag, or many bags, to leave for yourself to access throughout the race. In that bag, many experienced runners bring heavier or lighter clothing in case the weather changes, sunscreen, a second pair of shoes, extra food and toilet paper or baby wipes (in case nature calls).
And nature probably will call. Think about what you eat the day or two before the race so that you can limit the number of number twos you need to take on race day, Kramer said. If you can’t make it to a port-a-potty, make sure you understand the race’s rules about, er, taking your stuff with you (it’s usually called a “pack it out” policy).
When you’re running, Kramer said it’s easier to break the total distance into chunks.
“The internal dialogue might go something like ‘Six miles until the next aid station. I can do that,'” he said.
It’s probably a good idea to book a hotel near the race for the night after you finish. If you’re really woozy or tired, coax someone into coming with you to drive you home if you’re planning to travel.
Most importantly, consider simply finishing the race a win — at least for your first time.
–Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.