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Expert Feature: Leap into ULTRAs

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Posted by Rory Coleman of Rory Coleman Fitness and Personal Development under Ultrarunning on 16 August 2012 at 11:00 PM

Even if you’ve never run a marathon, you might be surprised to hear that ULTRA-marathon running could be for you. Personally, I would go further than that and suggest that ULTRAs are for EVERYONE. Compared to the likes of Cross Channel Swimmers and Himalayan Mountain Climbers, it’s a relatively short and cheap road to accomplishing the fitness required and to achieving an Extreme Challenge.

Many people take up ULTRA-running as a means to extend their running careers and achieve new running goals by running FURTHER rather than FASTER once they have peaked at other running distances. I arrived at my first ULTRA-marathon with a different perspective as it was only my 7th running race (my current career total stands at 728 marathons/ULTRA-marathons). In fact my marathon PB came six months after I had discovered ULTRAs, and only a week after running a 40 mile trail ultra across the muddy Yorkshire countryside.

You see for me it’s all about the ‘Challenge of the Distance’ rather than performing in classic city marathons, even though I have run most of the marathon majors many times over. When I took up ULTRA-running it was a fairly underground sport with relatively small numbers competing in mega-distance races. I loved the fact that it made me stand out from the normal marathon crowd.

ULTRAs suited my personality I found…

Running your first ULTRA

For me it was a 34 mile ULTRArace along the disused Grantham Canal Run. I wasn’t too sure what to expect on the day and I ran at my marathon pace all the way which meant that I finished high up in the results. I enjoyed running on the grass towpath, hurdling five bar gates and negotiating canal bridges and road crossings along the route. I was tired but elated to finish and found the process of travelling from A to B using just my own two feet felt really satisfying. For me I had discovered exactly how I could tick all of my own personal achievement boxes in one go and quickly looked for my next ULTRA-marathon challenge.

If you are considering running your first ULTRA, entering a race to train for is the best way to focus the mind. 50km is a great starter distance and there are plenty to choose from. I host one of the UK’s most popular of these - The London Ultra - which welcomes all levels of ability from beginner to elite. There are 6 months until the 2013 event in February, giving ample time for ANY runner to train. It is the perfect way to make your ULTRA-marathon debut and test your limits of endurance over a well-marked and interesting ULTRA-marathon course on the City’s trails.

What you will need

Lots of Courage, Determination and Enthusiasm. When you are stood on the start line you will also need to know that you are capable of covering the distance, something I refer to as ‘range’. Running in HOPE rather than BELIEF is a common error amongst fledgling ULTRA-runners. I believe that training for an ULTRA-marathon is like saving money in a bank account that you will take out on race day when you perform. The more miles you ‘bank’ in training, the richer your BELIEF will be on race day. It’s actually a great strategy for your entire running career.

In my early days of running marathons and ULTRAs I used the ‘VERY Long Slow Distance’ approach to running coupled with some very fast shorter training runs. It helped me to reach a sustained level of ULTRA-fitness but I trained myself very unscientifically and without any research or guidance. It possibly hindered my progress in some ways and I would have definitely benefitted from being fast-tracked by a Coach or Training Schedule/Resource.

Just like anything else in life, if you want to be successful in your running career you need a PLAN - a basic structure to your training is imperative. Nowadays, finding clear and reliable information can be difficult - the Internet can be a very useful tool but it can also be a dangerous ‘information’ source for the more novice runner. There is a plethora of bad information online and knowing where to get accurate information that is relevant to your level of ability is an art in and of itself. 

This is where my role as a Running Performance Coach is now helping people make that leap of faith into ‘The World of ULTRAs’. I have run the miles and done the exams and am now helping running clients of all levels of ability to enhance their fitness, re-energise their running, set new PBs, break Guinness World Records and run distances that they never would have imagined possible.

What’s next?

Take the next step… it’s time for you to pass 26.2 miles. ULTRAs are like running in 1080HD with Dolby Surround Sound when all you have been used to is a Black and White TV. I have run massive ULTRA-distances across countries, deserts and mountains. You could too and when you have, you will know what I mean.

Happy ULTRA-running…

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