10 Things They Don’t Tell You When You Go From Road Running To Ultra Marathons
Are you a marathoner thinking about stepping up to ultra marathons? Here are a few things that they don’t tell you before you get into that racket. I’ve found out about these things first hand the hard way, mainly because I’m a clumsy, stubborn, ignorant bastard who can’t really read or run that well.
- It’s difficult to get lost in a city marathon – Unless you’re deliberately trying to cheat, you can’t get lost in a marathon. This is not the case in ultramarathons. Route markings are optional. You often need to bring your own maps and navigate through the course. That 50k can quickly become a 60k if you’re an absent minded retard like me.
- A mile on a road is not the same as a mile on a trail – I went into my first 100k thinking I had the chance to finish it if I just bit my lip and pushed on. How hard could it be to make the miles pass by if I was jogging even at a slow pace? Very fucking hard. The course for the London 2 Brighton Challenge in 2014 was notoriously muddy and hellish in parts and I almost lost my shoe altogether somewhere in East Sussex. It took me 2 hours to go 2 miles. 2 fucking hours. When I walk slowly outside I can do 3 miles an hour.
- The people who cheer you on in a road marathon are the spectators – The people that do it in an ultra are your competitors. Everyone wants you to get to the finish. It’s mind blowing when you’re a cynical fucker like me and the goodwill is quite contagious.
- You’ll find it easier to talk to people in ultras – Especially towards the end of a race. You’ll naturally reach out more to people when you’re suffering. If your tits are flaking off bit by bit then you’ll need to have a few words with someone. In marathons generally people run with their headphones in and stay within themselves. Ultramarathoners look a bit more intimidating with their high tech running gear and their camelbaks and cameltoes but once you look past the crazy facade, you’ll meet a friendly fucker.
- You’d better get used to running off weird shit as fuel – With road marathons you’re given digestable isotonic shit and gels for fuel. In ultramarathons you’re given pies, pastries, dead cats, crows, figs and anything else that people from the country eat. You know that old marathon adage about never eating anything new on the day of a race? It doesn’t apply in ultramarathons. You’ll eat what’s there at the checkpoints unless you bring your own supply. Eventually your digestive tract will harden up and you’ll only shit yourself twice a week if you’re lucky.
- Running during the night is not the same as running in the day – I’m from the town. I always run in towns with street lights. I only started running in the night in pure darkness in my first 100k race. I did not bring a head torch with me and couldn’t see at all for the last 30k of the race. It felt like I was trying to run the last 20 miles with Stevie Wonder’s eyes inside Stephen Hawking’s body.
- You have to learn how to shit again – Road races have toilets every 2 to 3 miles so unless you’re a mad exhibitionist like that runner who looks like Timmy from South Park, you never have to worry about shitting yourself. As an ultra runner, you will at some point have to shit outdoors and if you’re a dirty little town-boy like me, then you won’t have the necessary skills to do this. Pro tip – pull your shorts down somewhere private, push hard and don’t wipe your arse with anything alive or spiky.
- You have to obey the kit list – In marathons you probably don’t even need to bring shoes with you. As long as you’re at the start line with some clothes on then you’ll be able to run. Most ultra races will require shit like a head lamp so that idiot white boys like me won’t go out into the countryside on their first run and die of exposure.
- The unexpected weight gain after an ultramarathon – Every time I’ve ran an ultramarathon I’ve gained weight in the days following it. This weight will typically go within 2 to 3 days as I start pissing like a fucking racehorse. It seems to be related to water retention and/or stress in my body. When I first experienced this I was truly fucking angry as I’d just ran 62 miles only to gain weight. The weight gain is only temporary so it’s nothing to worry about. After a few days my weight is lower than ever if I haven’t eaten all of the fucking food.
- Ultramarathons can fly by if you find your flow and the impossible becomes achievable – When making the transition to ultra running it’s easy to be intimidated by the distance and the time you will need to spend running. As your endurance improves the rate of perceived exertion will decrease to the point where running becomes easier and the time passes by more quickly. My 50 mile run on Saturday did not feel like a 50 mile run, as for large parts I was running at a really easy pace. It’s exciting what your body can achieve if you put the training in and it’s largely restricted by what your mind perceives as possible.