You’ve read all about them, maybe a few people you know have done one and like the majority of us you’re horrified and intrigued in equal measure. We’re talking about ultras and we’ve asked ‘couch to Kalahari’ heroine Lucja Leonard to tell us more ...
I hadn’t heard of ultra running as I started my first ever marathon on the streets of my city of birth Amsterdam in 2010. Slowly churning out the miles, I got chatting to a fellow runner who mentioned that he ran 100k races for fun. 18 miles into the marathon this seemed impossible to contemplate, but a seed had been planted. Fast forward to 2013 and with only a handful of half and full marathons under my now decreasing belt size I was nervously toeing the line of the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series 33 mile race at Whitby/Ravenscar.
The event was a revelation, gone were the crowds of the big city half/full marathons I had become accustomed to, replaced with a small group of about 40 runners who all just seemed to be there for a good chat and to enjoy running on the stunning coastal trails. Trail running allows you to access the special and spectacular natural landscapes that you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to experience on foot. Your runs are an adventure every time so why not go that little bit further and experience even more. Although I went out too quick on my first venture into ultra running and paid the price in the latter part, I finished! And enjoyed it!
Make Your Own Epic
I’ve never been sporty or fit, so how does an average girl with no running experience come to be running such distances, crazy distances as some of my friends call them? It’s all down to wanting to test yourself and pushing to find out where are your limits. Remember the feeling after you’d run your first 5k and you started wondering could you run further? Then you do!
That 5k turns into 10k, half marathon and then into a marathon. Your long run becomes your short run and you find yourself agreeing with others that ‘yes, you are a runner’. With the size of the world decreasing through social media and the internet, we are surrounded by other people’s inspiring stories of different challenges they have undertaken. Ultra running is accessible to most people, so why not make that your personal inspirational story. You can choose to do some amazing races and events in the most untouched parts of the world but remember you will be amazed at what is on all of our doorsteps to truly challenge. Whether it’s a long training run on your own or with friends or an organised event, the options are myriad. Beyond single stage events, there is the opportunity to create a real adventure holiday and take on a multi-day event.
Getting Motivated, Being Practical
What keeps drawing me to run ultra distances is a mixture of the amazing and inspirational people I meet from all walks of life, the absolute stunning landscapes you are privileged to run through experiencing the magical feeling of being immersed in your surroundings and the sheer sense of achievement you get when you finish such a challenge.
What do I need to do? That all sounds wonderful and even idyllic you may be thinking, but how do you train for such a distance? We all have day-to-day commitments of families, jobs and can’t spend all day training but if you plan smartly you don’t need to. Stepping up to your first ultra is similar to training for a marathon but may require a few additional tweaks.
Training should always be quality over quantity and designed to be specific to the type of event you will be running, if it’s a hilly route, incorporate some hill reps; if it’s a flat route you may focus more on speed sessions. If you’re planning on running a 100 miles, longer back to back runs will need to come into play. Don’t just train by running though, look to incorporate cross training or yoga to help strengthen your body and prevent injury.
Eating on the run becomes imperative, you might get away with running a half marathon without taking on any food but you will need something to get you through the longer distance. I like to practice on training runs by making them fun and stopping for tea and cake along the way. Or mix it up with your social life by running to a pub to meet friends for lunch and then running back!
Talk to people! There are so many fantastic people out there involved in the sport that are more than happy to chat things through with you to share ideas and help you along. Twitter is a great source of information, hook up with some of my fave ultra runners to hear more.
Learn To Recover
Learn to recover. These distances can take a lot out of your body and rest/recovery days are just as important as training and events. I love nothing better than drinking a chocolate For Goodness Shake as soon as I’m finished. Then a hot bath, slipping into my stylish compression tights and enjoying a tasty and nutritious meal before getting a good night sleep. I always give it a couple of days before I treat myself to a sports massage and find this makes all the difference.
The key is you need to try out and test everything from your individual training style and plans, clothing, kit, nutrition and recovery to find out what works best for you.
Recover mentally too and … have fun! Life is too short to be doing things you don’t enjoy so mix up your running, run with friends or use your run to explore and sightsee in a new place and take lots of photos to keep it light and fun.