5 Reasons to Run Beyond the Marathon

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Christine. After coaching her for over three years, this is the inspiring story of her 12-hour ultramarathon.

Christine_Ultramarathon

Someone is WAY too happy while running for 12 hours…

Christine started training with me in the summer of 2011. Her goals were simple: get a coach for the Philadelphia Marathon and if she gets into Boston the following year, continue to see how fast she can run.

Her training went really well leading into Philly and she was able to cut over two minutes from her personal best, finishing in 3:31. Success!

She also got into the 2012 Boston Marathon, but the record-breaking heat crushed any hopes of running a personal best.

Still, Christine continued with the coaching program, ultimately running her PR at the 2013 Boston Marathon in 3:29.

Next, she had an itch to test herself in an ultramarathon. She ran a successful 50k in the fall of 2013… but it wasn’t enough.

This is Christine’s story of her first “long” ultra – a 12-hour race.

Take it away, Christine.

How Christine Got the Ultra Bug

I was less than 8 miles in to what I hoped would become my first 50-miler when I started to panic:

  • How many miles were still ahead of me?
  • How much more time would I spend on my feet?
  • What on earth had I signed myself up for?

Nearly 4 months prior to that day I had willingly registered for a 12-hour race called the “Sloppy Cuckoo.”  Sloppy is an understatement for what I would feel like after 12 hours of running.

The course was a 6.55-mile loop and you had 12 hours to complete as many loops as you wanted.  My goal was 50 miles.

I had completed three 50ks in the past two years, but this was 19 miles further than I had ever run before.  The reality of that set in hard and fast on my second loop, and I had to come to terms with it quickly or else be swallowed up and spit out by the enormity of it all.

But let’s back up – I got here by choice, after all.  No one strong-armed me into anything – signing up for this race was entirely my own doing.

So, why run an ultramarathon in the first place?

If anything, my decision to run a 12-hour race went against the advice of friends and family.  They had supported me during numerous marathons.

But a 12-hour race was less defined and much rougher around the edges than anything I had ever signed up for.  Which is exactly why I wanted to do it.

Anyone who has been smitten by running knows all the life lessons it can teach you if you’re willing to learn:

  • Patience
  • Persistence
  • Fortitude
  • Mindfulness
  • Strength you never knew you had

A commitment to running also comes with a side of blistered feet, blackened toenails, all varieties of GI discomfort, a voracious appetite, and the uncanny ability to fall asleep mid-conversation.

But even though running and I have our days where we don’t quite see eye to eye, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  And taking my first baby steps into ultra-running has further cemented that commitment.

5 Lessons About Running Beyond the Marathon

Christine Ultra Running

Christine running her first 50km Ultramarathon

You might be asking (rightfully so) why on earth should I try ultra running?

What is there to be gained from pushing beyond the marathon?

I’ve found that there is an enormous amount to be gained by training for and tackling longer distances.

Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned that have benefited all aspects of my running.

1. Change Your Perspective

Running 5ks, 10ks and even marathons can get you pretty focused on pace and mile splits and PRs.  And there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those.

But once in a while it’s nice to make a shift – change your outlook on your running and gain a new perspective.  And who knows, those PRs may come even more readily once you stop trying so hard.

Most importantly, you have to make peace with a slower pace during ultras.  Leave your ego at the door.  Since the majority of ultras are run on trails, you’ll encounter a whole new set of obstacles if most of your previous running has been on the road.

Trying to run a pre-determined pace on trails, especially with any sort of serious elevation gain, is simply setting yourself up for failure.  It’s essential to learn to run by effort rather than time, a skill that will help you become much more in tune with your internal sense of pacing.

The beauty of slowing down is that you get to appreciate your surroundings, which will be more varied and full of natural beauty than many road races.

For your first ultra, simply finishing (hopefully with a smile on your face!) is a perfect goal.

I’ll admit, with my history of road running and racing I initially felt a little deflated by my mile splits on the trails.  But learning to let that go is a wonderful thing.  It’s enabled me to enjoy all my runs more fully now that I am focused on running by feel.

2. Improve Your Focus

With road running, it’s easy to zone out (particularly on routes I run frequently).  And sometimes that’s exactly what I want to do after a stressful day at home or work.

But learning to stay focused is equally essential, and ultra running provides ample opportunity.

Training for an ultra allows you to become a master of both single-minded focus and multi-tasking all at once.

Running on trails is often as much about the mental training as the physical training, especially when fatigue starts to set in.  That’s when the roots and rocks that looked so innocent several hours ago can suddenly become your worst nightmare if you aren’t paying attention.

But ultramarathons often require you to juggle a zillion things that you never thought about with shorter races:

It’s even more essential to stay tuned in to your body.  Be attentive and find solutions to small problems before they turn ugly.

Take a few minutes to tape a blister, deal with uncomfortable chafing, or change your wet socks. You’ll prevent even worse problems later and will make your ultramarathon much more enjoyable.

3. Food is Fuel

I’ll confess that I haven’t always had a perfect relationship with food or my body.  Who has?  We all have imperfections we’d like to improve upon.

But the longer I run and the further I push myself, the more I appreciate what my body is capable of accomplishing.

Distance running has helped me get better at seeing food as essential nutrition and fuel, rather than something to battle.

Learning what fuels you best is an incredibly individual process and there’s no one “correct” diet out there for all of us.  But the more whole-foods oriented your diet is the better you’ll feel.

Running for hours on end in an ultra can wreak havoc on your stomach if you haven’t taken the time in training to figure out what you can tolerate.

Whether you’re just eating breakfast before a short weekday run or getting ready to head out on the trails for the day, experiment with your diet and see what makes you feel best.

You’re sure to gain a better appreciation of how much you can benefit from the right types of fuel.

4. Develop Mental Tenacity

I’m a firm believer that pretty much any type of running increases your mental fortitude.

But ultra running takes this to an entirely new level.  Facing 6 or 12 or even 24+ hours of running is incredibly daunting.  Just having the guts to set out on this type of journey warrants an enormous amount of respect.

I’ve learned a few lessons on how to “get out of your comfort zone,” as Jason would say:

1. Don’t be afraid of choosing a challenging race that scares you silly!

If you put in training and time on your feet, there’s no reason you can’t accomplish just about anything you set your sights on.

Passion and excitement will get you started, persistence gets you to the finish line. Click here to tweet that line!

2. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

After countless hours on your feet, it’s easy to let the small stuff drag you down.  The longer you’re out there, the more essential it becomes to appreciate the little things.  Focus on the small wins.

3. Mental toughness carries over to life.

The mental strength you build from training and racing long distances will pay off in all that you do. Ultra running becomes a microcosm of life, in this respect.

5. Trust in the Unknown

When it comes to ultra running, trust in the unknown.  I know that may sound entirely counter-intuitive to some of the other lessons I’ve described here, but that’s not necessarily the case.

I can be a little too Girl Scout like at times – to say that I like to be well prepared is an understatement.

This is usually a very useful quality.  But when you’re tackling something as big as 50 or 100 miles, there is no way to know exactly how it’s going to play out.  Even the best plans can go to hell at a moment’s notice.

Yes – sometimes things can change for the worse, but just as often (if not more so) they change for the better.

A sudden surge of energy may come 40 miles into your 50-miler.

Or maybe you reach the summit of a challenging climb and are greeted by an inspiring view.

Ultra running helps us remember always to have a little faith when things get tough.

Hard Work Pays Off

Christine_Sarah Boston Marathon

Christine and Sarah (you might remember her from this post!)

Last September, after 11 hours and 23 minutes, I reached my 50-mile goal.

It was exhausting, fulfilling, affirming, and challenged me on so many different levels.

Discovering my strength over those 50 miles was an incredible learning experience, and I feel like my running has changed for the better ever since.

If you have been considering trying an ultra, take the plunge!

You’ll learn a tremendous amount about yourself from both training and racing, and you may be surprised to discover strengths you never knew you had.

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