Who are Ultra races for? Do you have to run most of the distance or for most of the time allotted? Well…no.
I had an amazing weekend participating in an ultra relay with some friends I had run with back in high school. It was a great reunion. The race was specifically the Arrowhead Endurance Run in Johnston City, Illinois. We took turns running around a 2 mile lake trail for 24 hours straight. As a team we covered 151 miles. Not too shabby for four guys over 40 years old.
It was at this race I was reminded how broad the audience for ultra racing is. For example, there are various ultra racing categories at most events. For example, this race had a 6 hour, 12 hour, 24 hour, 100 mile, and 24 hour relay option. Some people even made up their own challenges. Meaning, they might have signed up for a 12 hour race but their goal was to cover 50 miles and then be happy to call it a day.
Some runners simply walked the entire time and that is great! Others did a combination of walk one lap and then jog one lap. Some ran as far as they could and then did a combination of jogging and walking. Meanwhile, there was always the option to get a nap, eat some food, and have a seat to catch your breath after each lap if you wanted. Therefore, ultra racing could be for a lot of people. If you can run a half marathon or marathon then you could definitely run an ultra. In ultras you don’t have to be running the whole time or even moving the whole time for that matter. Sometimes it is best to walk or rest and then see if you can put some more miles in after time off your feet. It’s really more about testing your mind and body over a long period of time and not about going fast.
Ultra’s are also for those who like to enjoy the scenery (you might be camping) and the company of others. We literally get to experience the sunrise, the sunsets, and gaze at the stars all night! There is plenty of opportunity to walk and jog with friends or strangers if you’d like. For the more serious of athletes, yes, they run more and walk less and don’t care to stop for full on meals but ultras aren’t just for them. In fact, the elite runners are really just a small fraction of the people at these races. Most of the people that run road races like 5k’s aren’t elite either.
In the end, most people get to surprise themselves on how far they went. This usually ends up leading to new goals like being in a longer race or trying to cover a longer distance. Ultras really are for more people than people probably are aware of. Maybe we are scared away by the thought we would need a lot more training or that you’ve never attempted anything like this before. Yet, a lot of the people at these races don’t run huge weeks of mileage nor do they look like super fit athletes. Ultra race people do come in all sizes, weights, ages, and abilities. I saw a 12 year old boy place in the top 3 overall for the 50k, an overweight couple well into their 50’s doing a 12 hour race together, a group of church ladies walking, talking, and jogging their way through 24 hours. It’s probably safe to say if you are a runner….you can do it! Maybe an ultra is in the waiting?