blog What Is Ultra Running?

What Is Ultra Running?

Sean Lake

5 months ago

Running is all-in. Whether on the treadmill, on the road, or on a trail, running pushes your mind and body beyond its limits. Running is a visible part of American exercise culture, with about 18.1 million Americans participating in races each year. Many people associate the marathon, or 26.2 miles, as the pinnacle of running achievement. In many cases, from San Francisco to Boston, marathons are a hallmark of endurance and athletic skill. However, if you take this a step further you land in ultra running territory. This is a zone that goes beyond the marathon, and encourages runners to in some cases far surpass the 26.2 miles. What is ultra running? Want to get involved? Read below to find out how ultra running extends beyond the usual race.

What is Ultra Marathon Running?

Ultra running is a discipline where runners complete distances over the marathon length. While technically anything above 26.2 miles is ultra running, a typical ultra marathon run, or ultra run, starts at 50k (about 31 miles) to 50 miles, to 100k, to even 100 miles. Unlike marathons, which are typically completed on pavement, ultra running typically occurs on various other terrains such as woods, mountains, and even the desert. Ultramarathon running pushes the human body to the absolute test, oftentimes requiring runners to pull themselves along boulders or sludge through hot desert sand. Ultra running that extends 100 miles or more is typically performed in stages. These stages may mean a person sets up camp after their prescribed daily distance, or if performing in a multi-day race, may even be put up in nicer accommodations, depending on the race. However the runner chooses to participate, ultra running is not for the faint of heart, and pushes the mind and body to their threshold.

Where did it begin?

There are many different origins of ultra marathon running. There are accounts of ultra marathon running occurring in Ancient Greece, along with in South Africa. The year 1876 is the year associated with a rise in six-day races across America for the first time. In the following two years, a man by the name of John Astley began to promote ultra marathons in England. The first ultra marathon in England was known by the name of “The First Astley Belt.” This further legitimized the sport as an official athletic pursuit.

Who participates?

According to Runner’s Insight, as of 2020, ultra running has grown in popularity as an event. The average age of an ultra runner is about 42.5 years old, which is two years older than the average for marathons. Along with this, approximately 13% of all ultra runners worldwide hail from the United States, even though it is a slim percentage of the total population. As running became more popular during the pandemic as an accessible outdoor activity, interest in ultra running has also peaked, as more and more attempted to shoulder the distance.

How do I get into Ultra Running?

As with every form of race, the first step is to commit to the ultra marathon. In doing so, you are not only joining an elite group of athletes, but participating in a unique celebration of the heart and soul of running. Ultra running is not something you can participate in haphazardly, but rather requires a game plan. This requires proper nutrition, training, a support group, and a road map to where and when you will train. Learning from other ultra runners, or doing research with articles such as this one, can help you decide what is best for you to achieve your ultra goals. On the other hand - ultra trail running is an incredibly mental game. You are with yourself, facing some of the hardest obstacles imaginable, after sacrificing time and effort to train for the race. Finding your ‘why’ to running, and running an ultra marathon in particular, is crucial to deciding how you will approach your race. While running it, practice mindfulness, be in the moment, take in the scenery, and enjoy the ride of a lifetime where pacing does not matter. Your why and your how are the two focal points for diving into the sport - one which will leave you feeling more accomplished than ever.

What kind of trails do ultra runners run?

The sky is the literal limit when it comes to ultra running. Ultras can take place in the mountains, at sea level, through the desert, or pretty much any terrain that boasts enough support for runners. When picking out trails to run on in preparation for an ultra, it is important to mimic the trail as much as possible. For example, if you are running a mountainy course, making sure to incorporate tons of hill work can best prepare you to conquer the elevation. In the same way, think about the climate you will be working in - will it be hot and humid, or will you be in snow? These are also factors to consider when choosing a race. When signing up for an ultra marathon, there are many to choose from, and each one has a different feel. For example, if you are looking for a party atmosphere, choosing one of the bigger, more well-known ultras such as California’s Tahoe Rim Trail or Wyoming’s Big Horn will provide you with that type of experience. Going local is great too, you can easily tap into a wonderful community of runners and encouragers as you begin your ultra pursuits.

Do Ultra Runners Run on Roads?

Bottom line, not as much. Most ultra marathons occur in different terrain besides pavement, which can help promote mobility and protect joint health. While training on roads is fine, it is also critically important to make sure that terrain practice is guaranteed as well.

Going the distance

Ultra runners go the distance, and need fuel that will get them there. For those seeking natural sources of energy, infused with protection for joints and an increase in mobility, BUBS Naturals Collagen is a sure way to help. Collagen peptides include large amounts of protein, which ultimately help runners build strong muscles. For venturing into unknown terrain, BUBS is the perfect running partner for every trail you may face.