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Why you should step up to ultra distance

by Editor
Thursday 24th July 2014

Jack Atkinson, Threshold Sports Ambassador, gives some great reasons why you should try an ultra

Should step up to ultra distance? In a nutshell – yes! In my experience the sport of running is very different to ultra running, making ultras far more accessible than people realise.

End of day 1 – during Race to the Stones. On a recce of Race to the Stones course (Grim’s Ditch)

Photos: End of day 1 – during Race to the Stones. On a recce of Race to the Stones course (Grim’s Ditch)

Firstly what actually is an ultra marathon?

An ultra marathon is any run that carries on beyond the marathon distance (26.219miles / 42.195km). However some say it needs to be a minimum of 50km, preventing people from running a marathon and then another 100m to say they’ve run an ultra - generally if a race is called an ultra marathon it’s over 50km anyway.

How is an ultra different to a marathon?

Apart from the obvious, that an ultra is further, the biggest difference is the approach to the race. Unless you’re a top runner aiming to compete, you will not be running the entire race. You need to manage your energy as best as you can and if that means walking, that’s exactly what you do. You don’t want to be that guy that races off at the start, only to be reduced to a slow painful shuffle later on. When the tortoise and the hare raced it wasn’t a 5km run…it was an ultra.

Still not sure about going beyond the marathon distance?

Ultras are far more relaxed and whilst people do aim for a certain time it’s really all about finishing. You can never be upset about finishing an ultra – you’ve just ran EVEN further than a marathon and sometimes two or more marathons! Ultras are sociable events and every event I’ve been to I’ve met incredible people along the way from all different walks of life.

How should I approach an ultra?

The best ultra runners have a very fast walk and will power walk up many of the hills. My plan of action has always been to run the flats and downhills and walk the uphills. Then once I’m really starting to fatigue I bring out the Jelly Babies and just hang on in there.

Points to consider when choosing a race:

  • How much elevation is there? Put simply, the higher the elevation, the harder it’s going to be.
  • Pick a race with a good route – you’re going to run a LONG way so you’ll appreciate a nice view
  • How many aid stations are there? Is it even supported?
  • What are the cut-offs? Some races will be more competitive than others.

As a first race I couldn’t recommend the Carphone Warehouse Race to the Stones enough. Everything is set up perfectly for the first time ultra runner, including fantastic pit-stops (every 10km), massages for the 2 day competitors, hot showers at the finish and very generous cut-off times. For more info on the 2015 sign-ups visit their website here – Race to the Stones.

It will be tough, physically and emotionally, but you will meet some incredible people along the way to share the experience with and no matter what ultra you go for you’ll have a great time, I promise you that.


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