ultra marathons

You may be considering running a 50K because your friends have promised you that you’ll get to eat M&Ms at each aid station with abandon. Or because you like the idea of an ultra marathoner sticker or magnet on your car. You may have even run a bunch of half and full marathons, and think it can’t possibly be much more difficult.

It is. Really. But so, so worth it.

I’ve only one 50K but I am in the middle of training for my second this September. I can tell you it’s incredibly difficult, but also more rewarding than any other type of running I’ve ever done.

Whatever your reason, here’s the skinny on what it really takes to train for an ultra marathon:

  1. An indomitable spirit with a sprinkle of insanity. In a word: grit. There is no way you’re going to get through five runs each week plus cross training plus making sure you get enough sleep if you’re not dead-set on reaching your goal. Our Saturday morning long runs start as early as 5:30 a.m. Who wants to get up at 4:30 on a Saturday? Crazy people, that’s who. And only those of us who are not-quite-normal will get to the start line.

    An especially crazy 18-mile run, made better by great company.

  2. A lot of time. The training plan my friends and I are using calls for four time-based runs, from an hour to an-hour-and-a-half each, plus a long run on Saturday mornings. When you’re slow like us, a long run can take from three to five hours at a time. And — get this — you have to run for at least an hour the day after your longest run of the week. It helps to have a familia who is OK with all of this, or at least one that likes to sleep in a lot.
  3. Patience (a.k.a., a sense of humor). Tell someone you’re running a 50K (or longer) ultra marathon and be prepared for lots of questions about your sanity. Even non-runners understand that some people sign up for — and run — marathons. “Run a bunch of miles to prove to yourself that you can? Got it.” But an ultra pushes you right into freak (or unbalanced) category. “What, a marathon wasn’t long enough for you?” I actually had a 15-minute conversation with a nice man at work. A former runner, he wanted to chat about why I run longer distances instead of concentrating on shorter races, but trying to get faster. Bless his heart. (See #1 above).
  4. Friends who are just as crazy as you are. Bonus points if they’re experienced and can share awesome tips like what to pack for your ultra, including the need for a drop bag. Most importantly, friends who may think you’re crazy, but who nonetheless support your insanity by meeting you for runs at 5:15 a.m. a couple of weekdays before going to work.

    Some of my crazy runner friends.

  5. Gear. Sure, you can train for a half or full marathon wearing a tech shirt and shorts, plus nice running shoes. An ultra requires an extensive list of must-have items, ranging from a water/hydration vest so you don’t die from dehydration during your long runs, fuel (like Gu or SportBeans or, in my case, even cheese sticks) so you don’t die from hunger, and salt/electrolyte tablets so you don’t die from dehydration. I’m not exaggerating about that whole dehydration thing; training for a fall race means long runs in July and August when it’s just plain hot. Another must-have: A nice running watch that not only tracks your mileage and pace, but one that can last whatever time you think it’ll take you to run 31-plus miles.
  6. Access to trails. A lot of ultras are run on trails. To run 31 miles on trails, you need to train on trails. There’s just no way around that. Trail shoes are optional, but well worth the investment. (See #5 above).
  7. Accepting that you will be hungry. All. The. Time. There’s a reason why people training for 26.2 gain the “marathon many.” I tend to eat every two or three hours anyway, but the extra running has be starving an hour after my last meal. It’s easy to put on a few pounds during training.

I may weigh 600 lbs. by the goal 50K, Run Woodstock in September.

Bonus: I am very fortunate to be surrounded by a tribe of experienced runners, so I asked them to share their best tips on what it really takes to run your first ultra. Here’s what they had to say:

Vicki: “It takes friends to run with and motivate you.”

Melissa: “Don’t skip mid-week runs. That will come back to haunt you mile 28…”

Emily: “Loss of sanity. Other insane friends cheering you on and assuring you you can do it.”

There you have it. If after all that, you still decide to take on your first ultra, I hope you succeed. It’s a fun, crazy, insane, exhausting, time-consuming, expensive endeavor. But I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

What’s on your race schedule this year? Have you ever done an ultra? What are some of your favorite tips? (Click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

A year ago today, I listened to my running mentors, took a leap of faith, and signed up for my first ultra marathon. The idea of running for 50 kilometers (31 miles) seemed nearly impossible, but I figured I could always walk my way through the course and still spend some quality time with my runner friends … once I met up with them after the race.

I not only survived the Run Woodstock 50K and had plenty of company, but it was one of the most fun events I’ve experienced since I started running in 2012. Aid stations stocked with cheese sandwiches, potato chips, M&Ms and regular Coke aside, the event showed me that I could reach an insane goal just by doing a few very basic things. Basic, yes, but not always easy.

Six months later, I find myself perusing the Run Woodstock website and pulling out my credit card. Again. Perhaps running ultras is like childbirth: If we remembered the pain, we’d all just have one kid (or run just one).

I learned a bunch of things (8 lessons, in fact) from that first ultra that I plan to follow. I’m adding a few more now that I’ve had the benefit of a few months to think back:

  • It’s all about the base. Running in the Michigan tundra in the winter is plain hard. As with all things running, it’s all of those miles leading up to race day that really count. So I’m making sure that I put in the time now. To do so, I’m following the Hal Higdon Half Marathon Intermediate training plan so that I’m ready for my first half of the year: the Gazelle Girl Half in Grand Rapids. Starting early means I will have a strong base before full-blown ultra training begins.
  • It’s also about the experience. Sure, the race was a fun event. But what made it memorable — and worth repeating — was the time I got to spend with my runner friends. A bunch of us made a weekend of it, including camping at a local park, a Friday night dinner at a local restaurant and a potluck dinner after the race.
  • Think about the time immediately after the race. I spent months and months plotting out just about every detail of my race, including packing my drop bag, buying the perfect hydration pack and breaking in a second pair of trail shoes (in my case, the Brooks Cascadia). But I never planned for the time immediately after we got done. I now know to pack a small bag so I can take a HOT shower immediately. I would have given up a kidney for a lukewarm shower after all that time on my feet. Because we (gladly) waited for our friends to finish, I had to wait a couple of hours before showering. Not bueno.
  • A trail race requires that you train on trails. A lot. A group of us run on local trails most Sunday mornings and I certainly ran on trails whenever we were on one of our camping trips. Both truly helped. But I need to increase my trail running significantly this year, plus do a lot more hill work. While I finished upright after 10-plus hours on my feet, working on endurance will make for a more-pleasant experience.
  • Don’t expect anyone to understand. Why spend that much time training for such a long race? Are you crazy? Who does that? All questions I’ve been asked and, frankly, can’t really answer to the asker’s satisfaction. I no longer expect them to understand.

This all said, I haven’t actually signed up for the Woodstock 50K yet. I certainly want to and am hopeful that my friends will be by my side. What do y’all say Ultra Sole Sisters? (Click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

There is very little time to do anything but run when training for a long race. Four or five runs per week, including a three or four hour long run on Saturdays means less time for … (insert just about any activity here). Now that I’m not running quite as much, I finally feel like I have a bit more time.

So after listening to my running friends’ advice, I’ve decided to do a few things:

Cross training. Yoga’s not my favorite thing, but it is a necessary one. I’ve spent some time on my Gaiam mat with Rebecca Pacheco’s videos on the Runner’s World magazine site. I like that she focuses on moves specifically for runners. I also rode my bike with el husbando last week and we plan to do so again more often. Mental note: Need to buy a more-comfortable bike seat. (Yup, old-lady seat, here I come!)

Someone thought yoga looked like fun.

Someone thought yoga looked like fun.

Core work. I keep telling myself that I would dust off the Jillian Michaels DVDs I already have, but I haven’t quite yet. I did find a 30-day plank challenge you can do in your PJs. If the personal trainer who developed the videos can do them in her pajamas, then I figured I could give the thing a try. A thunderstorm kept me inside on the treadmill for a couple of miles tonight, so I did day one on the yoga mat and didn’t die. We’ll see what my bum shoulder thinks of this tomorrow.

Plan. I’ve been poking around one of my favorite Michigan runner blogger’s sites, looking for race reviews. So far, I know I want to do the Gazelle Girl Half, Grand Island Half, Two Hearted Trail Half and the Detroit International Half. I haven’t decided whether I’ll be doing another long race, but there’s talk among my runner friends of heading back to do another Run Woodstock event. (Translation: If they jump off a cliff … I’ll be signing up for the 50K with them again.)

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I need a goal (or 12) to keep putting in the work. It’s been fun to have more time to do things like watch the Rome series with our favorite teenager, or to support my friends on their long runs because they needed company.

But I do know that I need to start signing up for some events to keep myself running through the winter months, even if I do look like the Michelin Man.

To that end, I’m considering doing at least a half marathon each month next year, including several on trails. What do y’all think? Do you have any Michigan races you think I should consider? Have you signed up for any 2017 races already?

tuesdays-on-the-run-1

You’ve spent a season training for your big race. You’ve put in hours and hours on the road or trail, you’ve run your race, gotten your medal and posted your accomplishment on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Now what?

First, it’s normal to have a bit of a letdown after achieving a big-deal-whoopie running goal. So much of your time and energy has been focused on getting to the start line that few of us spend much — if any — time thinking about what comes next.

What’s a runner chico or chica to do? That’s why I’m writing about the most challenging aspect of running right now for the Tuesdays on the Run link-up hosted by runner bloggers MCM Mama Runs, My No Guilt Life and Marcia’s Healthy Slice.

For me, it’s figuring out what to do after meeting a big audacious running goal, so I turned to my runner friends. Here’s what they said:

Kari: I’m new to running as of last October so I have some hefty goals ahead of me. With that being said, I started small and my race distances just keep growing. Is there really a limit? I truly don’t think so. Only thing that is limiting is our imagination and belief in ourselves. If a new runner sees a 100 miler in their future, I’d say “you got this” and encourage. Setting a new goal (signing up) is what has kept me motivated to succeed.

Erinn: Set another goal. A smaller goal — but still a challenge goal. Like best 5k (work on speedwork) or another fitness goal like pull ups, more paddle boarding for core strength, and all the while looking at other options. Word of mouth is the best way to ultra. If another runner tells you that “you’ll like this race,” heed their advice.

Shannon: I’ve both taken time off and just ran for health. I’ve also gone bigger and longer. Currently, I’m racing a lot, and I look forward to late November when I don’t have any more planned races. But the reality is that in November I’ll feel like I have no direction and I’ll feel lost, just like the last time I didn’t have any goal race scheduled.

Emily: I kind of just keep training for the next thing, even if it’s smaller than the big goal race, it helps keep me moving. Though, in autumn I don’t really need to extra motivation. The perfect weather is usually enough to get me moving because it’s just so beautiful.

Barb: I make a new goal after a big race. I already know what my next goal is, speed. I now know I can do the distance but now I want to get faster.

Janet: After the big goal, relax, enjoy the time and then get back to running. I run because I’ve experienced life when I couldn’t run and that sucks! So run because you can.

Corey: I’m typically depressed and irritable and eat non-stop until I sign up for the next big race. Running Grand Rapids marathon Oct. 23 which will qualify me for marathon maniacs, a goal I set for 2016. I’m looking now for my next big goal after that though, otherwise I’ll fall into winter holiday hibernation and gain 10 lbs.

Samantha: Bringing down the miles and giving our bodies a break is healthy. But … I’m scouring the Internet for upcoming races because I’m feeling crazy.

As for me, I haven’t yet decided what I’ll do next, whether I’ll be focusing on distance or speed, for example. But what I do know is that I’ll take a cue from my mentors Brandess, Janet and Shannon: I’ll be focusing on helping my friends reach their goals. Because that’s what I love the best about running: other runners.

What’s the most difficult aspect of running for you right now? Feel free to share your own blog posts below. (Click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

Running advice roundup

by lachicaruns on

totr-running-advice-roundup

I’ve been very fortunate that running has brought many gifts, including a plethora of runner friends. In particular, I’ve been blessed with very experienced runner friends who’ve mentored and encouraged me.

Thanks to them, I’ve learned a bunch of lessons, often without going through the pain of making too many mistakes. As part of today’s Tuesdays on the Run link-up hosted by runner bloggers MCM Mama Runs, My No Guilt Life and Marcia’s Healthy Slice, I am sharing some of the best running advice I’ve gathered. Be sure to click on the hyperlink to read more:

I can no longer say I’m a newbie, but I continue to need my runner tribe as I continue on this journey. Hopefully, you can learn a thing or two as I do.

What’s been some of the best running advice you’ve gotten? Feel free to share your post here if you’ve written about this topic before. (Click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)