The ultra running world is limitless. Any distance longer than the traditional marathon of 26.2 miles is considered an ultra marathon with the 50k distance being the bare minimum. Beyond the 50k is 50 miles, 100k, 100 miles, and even longer! There are also staged and timed events, not to mention all the other distances that fall somewhere in between them all. So, pick your poison, push yourself to the starting line, and relentlessly move forward to that finish line. Here you will learn of the 7 different ultra marathons available within the industry and gain a basic understanding of each.
The 50k distance, 31 miles, is a great way to enter safely into the ultra world as a marathon runner. You still feel at home with the fast pace nature but you also get a real taste of what pushing the envelope both physically and mentally feels like. In addition, fueling can be somewhat similar to a marathon as you will most likely still apply the traditional gel and sport drink approach. Another great point is that there is a relatively abundant amount of 50ks so it’s likely to catch one close to home. Tired of the same old marathon? Well, take a plunge into the introduction race of the ultra world and try your hand at a 50k ultra marathon.
The 50 mile ultra marathon to most ultra runners is the off the record real minimum ultra marathon distance. Almost two full marathons combined, the 50 mile distance is both demanding and time consuming. It will push your athletic abilities to an entirely new level and adjust your mental caliber to a point of breaking down barriers providing a new perspective on what you’re truly capable of. Most of the 50 mile events will be found on trails, although, there are some available for that road runner in you. Personally, my first ultra marathon was 50 miles in length spread out along steep hilly roads. During the 50 mile ultra marathon you will find yourself running at a slower pace and working the aid stations a bit more. Unlike the 50k distance, expect to forcefully change your entire running dynamic to adapt to the adversities presented on race day, welcome to ultra running, try to be resourceful and whether it’s on two feet, two hands, or on all fours, if you keep moving forward then the finish line is yours.
The 100k distance, or 62 miles, is an option when attempting to break away from the 50 mile distance. Surprisingly the 100k ultra marathon is the least popular among the rest. The majority of ultra runners tend to run 50k, 50 mile, and 100 mile distances. Additionally, there’s not many 100ks offered by race directors in general. At any rate, it provides you a sneak peak of what it would be like to enter a 100 mile ultra as it pushes you closer to the late hours of the day. In my opinion, the end of a 100k ultra is where the heart of the 100 mile ultra begins.
The 100 mile ultra marathon is where dreams come true. It’s an impossible feat for some, a lifetime accomplishment for others, and just another notch on the belt for the mental giants. I’ve ran a hand full of 100 mile ultra marathons and they never get any easier. The distance is unfathomable, the sleep deprivation is unbearable, and the pounding on the legs is devastating. Next, throw in the stomach issues and mental exhaustion and you set yourself up for one tough bout of human endurance. On the flip side, to finish a 100 mile ultra marathon is unbelievable. To run a distance that was once thought of as impossible is absolutely mind blowing. Cross the finish line of a marathon and change your life, cross the finish line of a 100 mile ultra marathon and rewire your brain. Every hundred I’ve ran brought something new out of me that I never knew I had. Completing something you once rationalized as unrealistic changes your state of mind permanently.
6 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, oh my! Timed events are popular in the ultra world where even 48 hour and 72 hour events exist. One of my most favorite ultra marathons I’ve ran was 24 hours. It was motivating to crank out as many miles as possible within a days time. Furthermore, the benefit of such an event is the fact that your supplies and fuel are always somewhat within reach; however, this can be a gift and a curse. Sure, you have supplies to your immediate disposal but become too comfortable and you may find a chair grabbing your attention more than the trail. Running in a small circle for the entire day can be both physically and mentally draining. Either way, the loops range in size normally between 1-3 miles in length although some races have longer loops. So, enjoy a day of chasing the clock and see how many laps you can run before the clock ticks down to zero.
Each multi-staged ultra marathon is extraordinarily diverse and uniquely built compared to one another. This type of race takes multiple days to complete typically lasting 6 or more days in a row. They are overly demanding as you can’t just pack up and go home after a days’ worth of running. In addition, most events are found in unique destinations like deserts, high in the mountain tops, and even across the country. Not a bad way to tour the U.S. then by running across it. Now that’s the real definition of “cross country”. If preparing for a multi-staged event be sure to have extra time aside for both the race and the recovery. Practice those back to back long runs, increase your training volume, and prepare for the endurance excursion of a lifetime.
Everything In Between
In addition to everything we discussed thus far, let’s not forget about the ultra marathons that consist of 135 miles, 200 miles, and every other odd distance in between the most popular distances. There are many uncommon distances with no rhyme or reason. Ultra marathons are unique in their course layout, elevation, climate, temperatures, and distances. Find your distance, step up to the challenge, and put in those ultra miles.
There you have it. 7 types of ultra marathons that are available for your choosing. Each new race will be so much different from the last and it may bring out something within yourself that you’ve never knew you had in you before. It won’t be easy, no not at all, but it will be worth it. So, when race day comes and it’s time to leave the starting line, run as far as humanly possible, then … run some more!