by Heba Hosny in Start Running, image by Josh Janssen

Going beserk: Ultra Marathons!

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If you are a seriously passionate runner, the sky is your limit! In fact, there is no limit to how far you can go.
So, if you haven’t been stimulated lately and want to spice things up a notch and get into ultra marathons, this article is for you. Enjoy!

So what’s an Ultra Marathon?

As the name implies, an ultra marathon is any running event that exceeds the standard marathon distance of 42.195 kilometres/26.2188 miles.

There are two types

  • Distance-based Ultra marathons with a predefined distance, the most common of which are the 50 and 100 kilometres races
  • Time-based Ultra marathons where the winner is the one who runs the longest distance within the specified time frame. The time range varies a great deal starting from 6, 12, and 24 hours to the “multi-day events” of 3 and even 6 days!

Some ultra marathons are particularly challenging as they involve severe obstacles including unpaved roads, hilly terrains, inclement weather, to name just a few!
The International ultra marathon championships are organized by I.A.U. – The International Association of Ultra Runners.

Famous ultra marathons

The Badwater Ultra marathon, presently managed by AdventureCORPS, is known as “the world’s toughest foot race”. It is a 135 mile/215 kilometer race that starts at 282 feet/85 meters below sea level in the Badwater Basin located in the Death Valley of California. Guess what, the race ends at 8360 feet /2548 meters elevation at Whitney Portal, Mount Whitney trailhead. To make it even more challenging, it’s held in July when the weather is most extreme! We are talking about 120° Fahrenheit/49° Celsius in the shade!

On top of that, each runner is responsible for arranging his/her own vehicle and support crew. Those who magically complete the race in 60 hours receive a commemorative medal. As for the supernatural ones who finish off within 48 hours, these are rewarded with a belt buckle. No money is involved! Still, every year the number of applicants far exceeds the race capacity. It only proves that the human quest for self-challenging is priceless!

Valmir Nunes is the Badwater Ultra marathon men’s record holder for scoring 22 hours, 51 minutes, and 29 seconds. As for women, the 26 hours, 51 minutes, and 33 seconds record was set by Jamie Donaldson.

Ultra marathons are spread throughout the 5 continents. Interestingly, Australia and New Zealand alone host nearly 100 ultra marathons every year! One of the most prominent Australian ultra Marathons was the Westfield Ultra Marathon, a race between Sydney and Melbourne that was held between 1983 and 1991. Yiannis Kouros, a Greek runner, won this event 5 times!!

The Cliff Young Australian 6-day race, one of the oldest of its kind worldwide, is held on a 400-meter circuit at Colac, Victoria.

Why do people run ultra- marathons?

The following inspirational quotes from Dean Karnazes’ book ‘The Ultra marathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner’ say it all:

  • Runners are real people. They don’t run for money or recognition, they do it out of passion. Most have day job that pay the bills, and running is a labor of love
  • Without discipline to rise before dawn and pound out the miles, you’ll never make it. If the fire in your heart isn’t strong, there’s no point trying
  • How to run an ultra marathon ? Puff out your chest, put one foot in front of the other, and don’t stop till you cross the finish line.
  • This one is my favorite: The human body is capable of amazing physical deeds. If we could just free ourselves from our perceived limitations and tap into our internal fire, the possibilities are endless!

Ultra Runners in the Spot Light

Dean Karnazes is a seasoned ultra endurance runner. The following are some of his accomplishments:

  • Completing 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 states!
  • The Relay (199+ miles) 9 times only finisher
  • Western State 100-mile Endurance Run winner of silver buckles 11 times
  • Winning the Badwater Ultra marathon (mentioned above) in 2004 and completing it 7 times
  • Winning the South Pole Marathon in 2002. He was the only contestant who managed to complete the race in running shoes!
  • & more, but the list is too lengthy!

In spite of Dean’s undeniable accomplishments, he was defeated by the one of the most pioneer ultra marathon female runners: Pam Reed . She defeated Dean by 25 minutes in BadWater Ultra marathon in 2003! Pam is a wife, a mother, an author of a book titled “The Extra Mile”, and above all a runner! Long before Dean earned “the Ultra marathon Man” title, Pam Reed was already making her mark in ultra marathons when she won the Badwater Ultra marathon two times in a row in 2002 and 2003.

Tips for ultra marathon runners wannabes

Excited to give ultra marathons a shout after all? Here are some tips to help you out:

Choose the right event for YOU

Well, as you see ultra marathons vary a great deal. So, you need to take your time and check the ones available in order to make a sound choice. You may check out your local listings or look online.
Try to choose an event that it is not in the near future to give yourself enough time to train and make sure that the event of your choice is in line with your overall running goals.
A sincere word of advice here: Keep it simple in the beginning. In other words, the Badwater Ultra marathon shouldn’t be your first-ever ultra marathon choice!

Create a realistic training plan

For some ultra marathons, you may find an established training plan which takes away all the effort. Other ones are rather new to have a ready-made training plan. In this case, you might tailor an existing plan and adjust it to fit the event of your interest.
It is very important to connect with previous contestants and some of the coaches and gather as much information as you can about the race. Also try to take advantage of their experience. Ask them for tips to help you out.

Know what you are up for… Be smart

I don’t need to tell you that Ultra marathons are tough! That’s why; it is crucial to train smart and give yourself enough time. Allow yourself to rest adequately, while ensuring that you get a proper diet and that your calorie intake is in line with your level of physical activity.
If you train smart, your ultra marathon will be a smashing success.

Good luck!




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