Most runners see the marathon as the ultimate in endurance running. Some see it as attainable. Others find it intimidating. But the deeper one delves into the running world, the more one might start hearing about these “ultra-marathons”. These races make marathons seem short and if 26.2 is intimidating, imagine what 100 would be.
In 2016, there were about 17 million running race finishers in the US. The most popular distances, in order from biggest to smallest were 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, 8K, Marathon and then “other”. We can assume that ultra-marathons fall into “other” and comprise a very small percentage of total running race finishes per year.
The truth is that most runners will never have an interest in running a marathon, let alone an ultra-marathon. However, for the crazy few, the idea of transitioning from running traditional distances such as 10Ks and half marathons, to running 50Ks, 50 Milers, 100Ks or beyond, is enticing, albeit daunting. Many people think that it takes physical fitness beyond what normal people can achieve to run those kinds of distances.
In almost 2 decades of coaching, we have seen many average runners cross over to the ultra-marathon distances. In all cases, the transitions were successful (just as in all training, staying healthy and injury free is crucial to having this success). Sure, the training is more difficult, with high mileage and back-to-back long runs, but it is more attainable than most think. The difference in physical fitness between running a marathon and running a 50K or even a 50 miler is not very drastic. In fact, the gap between a marathon finisher and an ultra-marathon finisher is much more psychological, than it is physical.
So what is the biggest requirement in transitioning from marathon to ultra-marathon? It is simply the desire to run an ultra-marathon. It isn’t perfect fitness or a genetic gift. You just need to want to do it. If you want to do it, you’ll train. If you want to do it, you’ll keep going when you’re tired and when it’s difficult. So if you’ve ever been intrigued by the idea of running an ultra-marathon, ask yourself: what is holding you back?