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Monday, March 20, 2017

How to Get Started in Ultra-Running

So you want to get into ultra running?

First, look up the definition of an ultra and realise that to enter this category the shortest distance to conquer is a 50 km. Then reflect on how most marathoners train for a whole year, if not years to be able to accomplish that feat alone. And then realise that a marathon is just the beginning when it comes to ultras. If you are not phased by that, you are the right kind of crazy for distance running. There is no absolute right way…perhaps you will read 50 different blogs, a dozen race reports, try a few different nutritional products, buy two, three, or four different pairs of shoes…one for muddy runs, one for dry runs, one with cushion, and one for rocks and mountain climbing. Then find yourself a very supportive partner, and/or a great babysitter and it’s time to hit the trails!

But in all honesty, learning to run distances that are considered ultra will be just as hard and individual a journey as likely the race will feel when you finally toe the line. But know that there are so many resources out there, and eventually you will find what works for you.

To run an ultra, I personally have found it easier than running a marathon. However, I’ve never actually completed an official marathon, so that’s to be tested. But most ultras (at least the fun ones) are in remote places with challenging terrain, new scents, indescribable views and experiences that last a lifetime. It also helps if you are a glutton for punishment. Ultras are meant to test you in ways you’ve never imagined; physically, mentally, and emotionally. You grow through learning to run these distances, and each race you grow more through the experience.

Here’s what I recommend: Listen to your body, always. Going gung-ho and overtraining is going to get you nowhere. Choose quality over quantity. It’s one thing to be able to run long distance of flat terrain, and the complete opposite to be running the hardest terrain you can find over the same distance. Challenge yourself and you’ll be more prepared for whatever gets thrown at you. But you must listen to your body’s needs. Rest is required, and not merely recommended. You will burn out and that can drain all desire, or lead to slow or worsening results which further aggravate. Your body has needs, so take care of it. Fuel your body accordingly and with nutrition that sustains. If you had asked me three years ago if I would have ever considered chiropractic services to be beneficial I probably would’ve shrugged. But now, I use chiropractic, acupuncture and massage services to have a proactive approach rather than a reactive approach to my body’s care, not just for running but for everyday activities. I have found a great provider for my nutrition needs in Infinit Nutrition, which has allowed me to customize the blend for my high metabolism and dietary needs; but also that is flexible to adapt with me as I progress.

The simplest advice though, that I could give, is don’t underestimate yourself. If you’re going to do this, do it right. Don’t fear failure. Aim high with your goals. I went from a 21km Spartan race to a 100km race with the mentality “What’s the worst that could happen?” I made it 66km before I pulled the plug on my first try at an ultra. I did another 100km race less than 3 weeks later and I finished and won. Yet I learned more from the race I failed to finish than any book or blog I’ve ever read, and any training run I’d done to date. You will never know what your body can endure or what you may come up against until you try and face it head on. So dream big, don’t sell yourself short, and work on believing that you can do it. It means putting in the work, having dedication, taking care of yourself, and allowing yourself to grow. You can read about others’ success and listen to advice and take what you can from it, but in the end it is you who will toe that line and ultimately, you are the only one who can make your body keep going all the way to the finish.

I hope you find what works for you, and I wish you luck on your individual journeys. Now strap on those shoes and get out there!

- Jason Kinsella