You Can Run An Ultramarathon
These 10 tips will get you to the finish line and make you a superhuman.
I Was Never a Runner
I never ran track or cross-country. I played field hockey, basketball, and softball in middle school and in high school.
In college, I didn’t play any sport but began running to mend a broken heart and to reduce stress.
I enjoyed running.
I ran my first road race — a 5K — when my daughter was fourteen months old. I ran my first half-marathon when my son was six months old. When he was two, I ran my first marathon.
Five half-marathons and nine marathons later, I completed my first ultramarathon — the JFK 50 — in 2005.
In the past 14 years I have logged thousands of training miles and have completed 20 ultramarathons, also known as ultras or endurance runs.
I have finished eight 50 mile ultras, three 100 mile ultras, seven 24 hour ultra events, and one multi-day ultra where I logged 112 miles. I’ve even placed second and third overall, and in my age group.
I am now training for my first 48 hour ultra.
Who Are These Superhumans?
As a young girl, I loved watching marathons on TV. The marathon was one of my favorite Olympic sports. I was in complete awe of the male runners who ran 26.2 miles.
The female marathoners at the 1984 Olympics amazed me. Who were these superhumans?
I could not fathom how anyone could run 26.2 miles.
I have learned that it is not that hard. You can run a marathon! If you can do that, you can run an ultramarathon!
Follow these 10 tips to help you get started to train and run your first ultramarathon, and crossing the finish line. It’s not hard. Really.
1. Start With the Half-marathon
Run a few half-marathons (13.1 miles) first then work your running feet up to a few marathons.
This will help to build endurance.
I learned I was ready for a marathon when I still had energy after crossing the finish line of a half-marathon. At the end of a marathon, I felt I could run some more.
I had the endurance. This led me to train for my first 50-mile ultra.
2. Read, Watch, and Listen
Read about ultrarunning in magazines, books, blogs, and articles on the Internet.
There are plenty of ultrarunning memoirs by elite and ordinary ultrarunners to read and learn from. They are full of great tips and inspiration.
Read, watch, and listen to everything ultrarunning.
There are plenty of books, documentaries, and podcasts to help inspire you.
3. Follow a Training Plan
A training plan is key. Here’s a training plan to get you excited about logging in the training miles for your first 50-mile ultra. Use it as a guide.
I record my time, pace, and distance in paper calendars and save them. They remind me of the hard but rewarding work that is required to run an ultra.
You can also record your running stats and progress on a variety of gadgets and running watches.
A training plan will also teach you the importance of discipline.
4. Be Disciplined
You have to put in the training miles. Training for any distance requires discipline and focus.
Run in the morning, afternoon, or evening. You will know when it’s best for you to train and run.
I log my miles in the evenings after work on weekdays and my long training miles on weekends. Morning, afternoon, or evening, I always make time to train.
Sometimes you might feel too tired to run. Shake it off and lace those running shoes. You will be glad you did!
And rest days are good, too.
5. Slow and Steady Finishes the Distance
In your training and on race day, begin with 3 minutes of brisk walking, followed by 15 minutes of running at your pace. Repeat through out the distance.
6. Wear and Carry Appropriate Gear
Get fitted for the right running shoe.
Wear light clothing to keep you cool on hot days and layers to keep you warm on cold days.
Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect you from the sun.
Carry one of the many gadgets available to record your time, distance, pace, and much more.
7. Stay Hydrated and Replenish Calories
Carry a hydration bottle with water or a sport drink. Have money to buy and replenish liquids and calories at the nearest convenience store on your training route.
8. Train in All Weather and Terrain
Ultras take place in all kinds of weather and terrain. I have run ultras in temperatures as low as 23°F and as high as 101°F in 100% humidity.
I have run in torrential rain, thunder and lightening, and alongside beautiful rainbows.
I have been pelted by hale and forced by heavy winds to run sideways. Train on different terrain such as flat roads, trails, hills, and track.
9. Prep Your Mind and Body
I still have no idea how I complete my ultras. But keeping my mind focused helps.
I meditate and pray as I run.
Sometimes I listen to music or podcasts. Completing every mile brings me closer to the finish line and that always keeps me going.
An exhausted but focused mind will guide your weary and beaten body. Body chafing and blisters are very common.
To minimize toe and feet blisters, and chafing on the area underneath my sport bra, I apply both petroleum jelly and zinc oxide before every long training run and on race day.
Apply both on all body parts that will chafe.
Losing toenails after any ultra event, is not uncommon. I have lost all of my toes nails many times. The good news is that they grow back!
10. Include Family and Friends in Your Training
Ultrarunning is a solitary sport. I would not be able to train and cross the finish line without the patient love and unconditional support of my children and my husband.
He keeps me company on my long training runs on his bike or ElliptiGo. He runs with me on short training runs.
Join a running club. Invite a friend or family member to run with you. It’s great training for them, too. They will be ready to be pacers and to crew you at your first 50-mile ultra.
Be Superhuman and Run an Ultramarathon!
Go ahead, lace up your running shoes and start training for your first 50K or 50-mile ultra.
Be patient, disciplined, and focused. You, too, can be a superhuman!
Miriam Diaz-Gilbert (aka Miriam Gilbert) has been running over 30 years. I have been running ultras since 2005. I am training for my 27th ultra — Across the Years 48-hour ultra. I review books about endurance and ultrarunning, and interviews elite ultrarunners. I invite you to visit my website: ULTRAMIRIAM