Introduction to ultramarathon

The first time I heard about an ultramarathon was my senior year in college.  I remember feeling a sense of awe for people that could run 50 miles continuously.  It sounded crazy, ridiculous, absurd.  Just the kind of thing I wanted to do, but I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the mileage I would surely need to run to finish such an event.  If you read the accounts from ultramarathon legends you might well conclude that you would have to run 70-100 miles a week to stand any chance of completing such an event.  So, I set out boost my running mileage and failed miserably.  After a couple years of getting nowhere, I decided to sign up for a timed 24 hour race just to see what I could do.  On 20-30 miles a week I gutted through the worst 12 hours I’ve ever had during a race, but I managed to run 52 miles around a 1 mile track.  At the time my VO2max didnt even break 60 ml/kg/min which means I wasn’t in great shape.  The fact is though, I made it.  If I hadn’t just signed up and given it my all, I might never have become an ultrarunner.  Over the last few years I’ve had a chance to test numerous ultrarunners in the lab, and I can tell you one thing, ultrarunners come in all shapes and sizes.  Go to any race, and you won’t just find superhuman athletes.  Sure there are some, but mostly they’re people who love running, the outdoors and are just crazy enough to push themselves through something extraordinary.  I don’t mean to downplay the ultramarathon.  Running 100 miles is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but the reasons it is difficult are maybe not what you would expect.  Being in amazing shape I think helps, but in the end just getting through a race comes down to really 3 things.  1st, nutrition.  Can you provide appropriate levels of energy, electrolytes and fluid . 2nd, psychological arousal.  Can you avoid becoming so depressed/overwhelmed that you quit.  3rd, injury avoidance.  Have you spent the necessary time minimizing your risk for injury.  If you can address all three of these, then you should be able to complete 100 miles.

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