During this season of over-indulgence, JOE is guiding you through races to get you back to a healthy life-style. Today is the ultra-marathon.
By Declan Whooley
With the marathon done and dusted, it’s now time to up the ante. Seriously up the ante.
Ultra-marathon. Two words that in their own right can strike fear into the heart of any individual. Placed together and there is a 50/50 chance there will be skid marks in your jocks.
If you thought that gearing yourself up for a marathon was a hurdle, then this is another step-up. And a large one at that.
Technically an ultra is anything more than the marathon itself, so anything past the 26 mile mark and can be a road race or off-road. For a first timer, off-road may be easier – ever so slightly – as the monotony is broken up by different terrain, walking, hiking etc.
This year I undertook my first ultra-marathon, 52 miles and 2,300 metre ascent during the Mourne Way ultra. I could wax lyrical about the immense satisfaction of completing the distance and the wonderful sense of achievement, but I’ll spare you that. It’s obvious that you will be happy with yourself, it’s not obvious how you will get to the finish. Here are some pointers.
First and foremeost, it is possible to complete an ultra with no training. But it won't be pretty.
I know this as I only signed up the week before because two of my mates were doing it. I had only ever run one marathon and other than that, 25km was the furthest I had gone.
I didn’t really do anything before it but hoped my determination would see me through. It did, but only just about. If you take my lax approach prepared to be in a world of pain. My feet swelled like balloons and I could hardly put shoes on the following day. Indeed I was hobbling for two days until I took anti-inflammatories, but it was still worth it.
Pace yourself. It may seem obvious, but short term gains can have long-lasting effects. I completed the first 26 miles in four and a half hours, meaning in I was in the top ten. For someone without training that may seem impressive, but it is simply too fast. The proof was in the fact it took over eight hours to cover the same distance back.
It’s not all running. While in a marathon you feel you need to keep running, with a cross country ultra, you will spend time walking, hiking and wading, so this can be a welcome mental/physical relief.
Have the right foods on board. I didn’t even take a bag, so needless to say I could have done with more than the potatoes and oranges on offer at the food stations for the return leg.
It is a long-distance, so be prepared for thoughts of defeat right the ways through, but do your best to keep motivated. Saying you attempted an ultra is not nearly as impressive as completing one.