Thursday, January 6, 2011

Running Beyond 26.2

For as long as I can remember, I've always wanted to be a versatile runner. In my mind, the mark of a great runner was someone who was as equally proficient in short distance races as he or she is in the long ones. (Think Haile and Kara, who both excelled on the track before becoming world class marathoners). Indeed, one of the crowning achievements of the past year for me was getting PRs in the shortest of road races (5K, 4M) as well as in the longest, the marathon, in the same calendar year. To see some measure of success in both arenas in 2010 was thrilling and motivating and gave me hope that with some degree of dedication, passion, hard work, and luck, I may achieve even better results in the short and long distances in 2011.

Then December came, and with it, some rest and recovery, and slower long runs with friends and family and a laid-back trailish 10K on Christmas morning until suddenly I woke up one day a couple of weeks ago and found myself registering for a 50K...on trails no less! I'm not exactly sure why I decided to register for my first ultra that day. Maybe I was desperate for adventure. Maybe I was getting bored with base building and maintenance running. Maybe I just wanted to prove something to myself in a way that even a sub-3 marathon can't. Whatever the reason, I am scheduled to run the longest race of my life in the 50K version of the New Jersey Ultra Festival in mid-March. Holy crap, did I just admit to myself that I am crossing beyond the 26.2 threshold in hopes of becoming an ultramarathoner?

To many, what I call a "baby ultra" is nothing more than five miles beyond 26.2. To me though, it's a huge mental challenge as well as a physical one just to learn how to train properly for one of these. From what little I know so far, drawn from the knowledge and experience of those who've done a plethora of these and longer, I can already say that preparing for an ultra will be nothing like preparing for a marathon. For example,

In marathons, we eat gels and shot blocks.
In ultras, they eat chicken soup and PB&J sandwiches.
In marathons, we run on pavement and roads with thousands.
In ultras, they run on trails, mostly alone and cross rivers/streams.
In marathons, we run according to pace & measure training in miles.
In ultras, there is no set pace and training is measured in hours.

As you can see, I've got a lot to learn and practice in the next two months if I want to do well in this race. Biggest problem for me will be finding some longer distance trails to practice on. I see a lot of visits to the Central Park Bridle Path and Van Cortlandt Trails in my future!

I find it funny that a friend/teammate of mine thought I would be in danger of underestimating the distance when I first mentioned this race on a facebook post. In actuality, I'm been freaked out and scared and stressed beyond belief for the past week about this March trail run. I was so preoccupied with my race prep that I even had a vivid dream about it in my sleep a few nights back. In it, I was taking a PB&J break at an aid station during the race when Scott Jurek comes flying by from out of nowhere, whispers in my ear that "50Ks are A LOT of Ks" and takes off again. With the help of several friends, I was able to decipher the hidden dream message: Ditch the PB&J and go with Special K for the race!

Finally, I want to leave you all with this excerpt of a typical conversation between an ultramarathoner and his wife. Let's just say I'm glad I'm not married as I train for this 50K =)

Are you an ultramarathoner? If so, what are your secrets? Any good tips to share with a newbie like me? If not, why not? Has it enter piqued your interest? Is it a no for life or no just for now? As always, thanks in advance for all your tips, advice and suggestions.


Clara said...

Love the video. I seriously think that anyone can run an ultra- you just have to change your perspective and that will come with time. First you think that running 5 miles is a big deal and then you've done it so much that it seems so small. Then you think 13 miles is a big deal, then 26, then 31, then 50 seems easy...

I ran my first 100 mile race last year and the course consisted of 6 loops. I don't have a lot of places to get in distance so I ran a 6 mile loop 5x one day and looked at it as preparation for the 100 miler.

Other tip: Trail runs make ultras wayyyy better because they keep you interested. You have to pay attention to what you're doing otherwise you'll fall off a cliff or something. I love the DWD ultras b/c they're like big obstacle courses so they're just a lot of fun. I can't do the plain, boring paths.

TK42ONE said...

I went into my first 50k last year as a totally under-trained and unprepared noob (I'd only run one half marathon before then). My advice for your first ultra is to have fun. Focus on finishing the race instead of your time or your pace. I ran a trail this week and my pace was 11:30 for one mile and 14:00 for the next. So don't rely on your pace. And learn as much as you can while you watch others run. Pick up on their good habits and come away from the race with great memories and good lessons you can apply to the next ultra.

Carlee said...

Very exciting. I have not yet run an ultra, but I think I definitely will someday. For now I'm still working on improving speed and since I'm still seeing results, pretty steadily, with that, I want to get my marathon time down.

Anonymous said...

Hey Lam, I'm training for my first ultra (in March) too. I've wanted to do this to push my limits. The trail scenery keeps the run interesting, is often times beautiful and take a lot of focus. In fact trail races take a lot more out of me than road races do. Training for time is key, since your pace can change drastically between miles due to terrain or elevation. Good luck!

sisterbison said...

I look forward to following your journey toward your first ultra!! I definitly want to do ultras eventually. Probably once I move away from Chicago so can get on some trails! Best of luck!

Check out my blog at:

Running and living said...

Good luck with the new adventure. And I love the video:)

Laura said...

My first ultra was the Rhode Island 6 Hour, and I went into it woefully unprepared. I made the mistake of not changing my fueling strategy despite the fact that I was running further than 26.2, and as a result, I ended up nearly passing out around mile 27. However, in the end, it turned out to be one of my proudest moments in racing. I crossed the finish line at 5:51 and nearly collapsed. As medical started heading over to me, I suddenly straightened up and started running again. "What are you doing?" people yelled, and I responded, "I have 9 minutes... I can do another 0.9 mile loop!" It ended up being one of my fastest of the whole race, and I was SO proud of myself from summoning the strength I didn't know I had to push myself past my limits. Hopefully your first ultra will be just as rewarding :)

The Laminator said...

Thanks all for your thoughts!

@Clara - I hope you're right. I intend to do a 5 mile trail 4-5 times just to practice. I've never been a big trail person so I'm hoping the new terrain will keep me focused and interested :)

@TK42ONE - Yes, I intend to run my first one solely to have fun. I will not be focused on pace, and use time only as a measure of when I should consume my nutrition. Thanks for chiming in.

@Carlee - Sounds like a good plan.

@Rio - It's so cool that you're running an ultra around the same time as me. Motivation loves company =) Good luck in your preparation too!

@sisterbison - Thanks. I'll be sure to dispense what I learn from my experience along the way.

@Running and living - Thanks. The video always makes me chuckle as far as what I have to look forward to as an ultraunner =)

@Laura - Wow, that's quite a story. I'm not even sure I know what it feels like to run for 4 hours...much less 6! I guess I'll find out soon enough. Thanks for sharing your story =)

Nelly said...

those videos are seriously hilarious! I saw another one about a runner explaining to a non runner about why we run marathons, haha simply awesome =)

You seem to be a natural runner, I think you will do great at an ultra marathon.

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