Professor Shawn Bearden on the Science of Ultramarathons

Do ultramarathons seem to be reserved for ultra athletes? If you’ve ever wondered, dabbled in, or been curious about ultras – you’ll be inspired by episode 157 of the Strength Running Podcast.

Shawn Bearden ultra

Let’s break down ultramarathon basics first: an ultra is any race that is longer than the marathon. So if you run over 26.2 miles (42.2 km), you’re an ultra runner!

If you are anything like me, you’ve admired the incredible accomplishment of completing an ultra.

Ultras are a special type of race, typically done off roads and commonly through challenging mountainous terrain. Additionally, there are other factors to consider, including:

  • limited hours of daylight
  • digestion of real food while running
  • mental toughness aspects
  • lack of sleep

While we can all train for and complete an ultra, it certainly isn’t trivial. I failed at my first attempt, so the ultra distance is still elusive for me – making this topic that much more fascinating.

To help us understand the science of endurance races, I’ve invited Professor Shawn Bearden who is an expert in this field.

    Shawn Bearden on the Science of Ultras

    Shawn Bearden is a professor of exercise physiology at Idaho State University where he focuses on ultra endurance performance. He has published research in the American Journal of Physiology and the Journal of Applied Physiology, he’s studied at Yale, UVA, and George Mason.

    Shawn hosts a podcast of his own called the Science of Ultra, where he interviews the smartest scientists in the world about the physiology of ultra endurance.

    If you want to understand the intricate details of how our bodies are able to perform at extremes, Shawn is your guy. He studies and lectures on the physiology, all while putting himself through the rigor of ultra running.

    An Ultra is not Just a Longer Marathon

    Every race distance offers different challenges. The longer you go, the more considerations there are for your fuel sources and nutrition.

    In this conversation, we talk specifically about running ultramarathons and what that does to your body. You’ll hear what occurs in the body during a 100-mile race that doesn’t happen during a marathon, optimal fueling strategies for ultra-endurance, the most prevalent myth surrounding ultras, and a lot more.

    Need a little extra motivation? Here, Shawn shares that we can all run an ultra:

    I hope this conversation with Shawn gives you a new perspective on ultra marathons.

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    Thank You Gatorade Endurance!

    gatorade endurance

    This episode is made possible by support from Gatorade Endurance. Use code Strength20 for 20% off at

    Reformulated in 2017 to be even more effective, Gatorade Endurance Formula is a specialized sports drink. That means it has higher amounts of sodium and potassium to help sustain hydration, maintain proper fluid balance, and replace key electrolytes that you lose when you’re running.

    Plus, it has no artificial sweeteners or flavors and has a lighter flavor designed for athletes training longer. I know the last thing I want when I’m two hours into a long run is a strong flavor that might turn my stomach.

    Gatorade Endurance Formula also now offers a multi-carbohydrate blend to help you dial it in and maintain performance over much longer runs. Different carbs are utilized at different rates, so this advancement helps you both run longer and lower any risk of stomach distress because it won’t be working so hard all at once.

    You can check out all of their flavors, including caffeinated and non-caffeinated options, at and don’t forget to use code Strength20 for your 20% discount.

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