Some like to go fast and others prefer a slow and steady pace. We are obsessed with length …….Long is good isn’t it? But longer can hurt especially if you try to take on too much too soon without giving the body time to adjust and become accustomed to it. Men will boast about length but women can be fearful of their ability to manage it. Men measure and re-measure, in need of reassurance, they may even want to compare. Whereas women are less transparent and will save their thoughts for only their closest friends. Some will even invest heavily in equipment and gear to achieve greater length, with others even going as far as to seek drug enhancement. But it’s worth it if it allows runners achieve their goal of running greater distances than they have ever run before!
The increasing number of races and events that let people test their stamina over courses of 30 plus miles is testament to the growing popularity of ultra-running. Any running race longer than a marathon (42 km, 26.2 miles) is considered an ultra-marathon (Knechtle, 2012). In North America alone, 15,500 people finished ultra-races in 1998 growing to more than 63,500 runners in 2012 (van der Wall, 2014). There are many runners for whom the marathon is not enough. Ultra-running is nothing new, the annual London to Brighton run started in the 1950s. The Marathon des Sables, a 156-mile event over six days in the Sahara, started in 1986, while California’s Western States 100 miles dates back to 1974.
Ultra-runners have discovered something very special, if you slow down just a bit, and keep eating and drinking, you can go on … and on … and on. When you’re new to running , a 5km can seem like a long way and a marathon is the impossible dream. But with patience, the right training, and by progressively building the weekly “long run” any runner can complete ultra-distances. Most ultra-runners aren’t super men or wonder women, and this was evident at the national 50km ultra marathon in Donadea Forest on Saturday February 10th. A couple hundred, mostly ordinary runners lined up to complete 10 laps of 5km all to be completed within 5 hours. So myself and my two friends decided to join them, just to see what it was like to go beyond the marathon.
Running these gruelling distances surely is unsafe, it must increase the risks of injury in runners ……. No it doesn’t! In fact it may be safer than running shorter faster distances (Hoffman & Krishnan, 2014; van der Wall, 2014). Many believe that the definitive act of self–denial and the road to enlightenment is through physical exertion and pain. The main difference between marathons and ultramarathons is the time spent on the feet – it hurts, the suffering and fatigue is much worse and has to be tolerated for far longer. Fatigue during running is the feeling of pain that makes you want to stop and give up. The causes of this exhaustion are multifaceted, both burning muscles and the mind contribute. Poor willpower leads to the perception of fatigue and failure follows. The brain convinces the body that it is no longer possible to put one foot in front of the other. Personal bests are broken and people push the edges of their ability, disregarding their perceived physiological limits So, it no surprise that the time gaps between women and men narrow as races get longer (Zingg et al., 2015). Women perceive similar levels of exercise as less traumatic than do men, basically they are just tougher and are better able to deal with the pain (Koltyn et al., 1991). In ultra-marathons for the ordinary runner the tortoise beats the hare. The key to covering 30 plus miles without crumpling in a heap is taking your time, clock-watching and PBs are largely forgotten. Though people race hard at the front, most just relax, enjoy the moment, socialise, and eat a lot of cake. It’s an incredible experience, discovering just how far you can go, both physically and mentally. The finish line is passed with a massive sense of achievement mixed with disappointment because it’s the end………. We’ll have to go longer next time!
Hoffman MD & Krishnan E. (2014). Health and exercise-related medical issues among 1,212 ultramarathon runners: baseline findings from the Ultrarunners Longitudinal TRAcking (ULTRA) Study. PLoS One 9, e83867.
Knechtle B. (2012). Ultramarathon runners: nature or nurture? Int J Sports Physiol Perform 7, 310-312.
Koltyn KF, O’Connor PJ & Morgan WP. (1991). Perception of effort in female and male competitive swimmers. Int J Sports Med 12, 427-429.
van der Wall EE. (2014). Long-distance running: running for a long life? Neth Heart J 22, 89-90.
Zingg MA, Knechtle B, Rosemann T & Rust CA. (2015). Performance differences between sexes in 50-mile to 3,100-mile ultramarathons. Open Access J Sports Med 6, 7-21.