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Running an ultra is one of the most rewarding and life-changing challenges that almost anyone – with some drive, commitment and time – can complete. But how do you know if you’re ready to run one?
How did we decide we were ready to run our first ultra? Well, we knew we wanted to have a baby eventually, and we knew we wanted to run that first ultra together, hence we knew we had to do it now – or it might be a long long time until we could train for and run an ultramarathon together. We had previously run a few trail half marathons, and with 6 months to go, we trained our butts off to complete our first ultra, together. (We ended up waiting a few more years to have that baby, but that’s another story.)
This is by no means a complete list of the prerequisites, but if you check any one of these boxes, it’s indication that you might be ready to take a step into the ultra world (and boy, will you love it!).
You’ve got time and energy.
Training for an ultra not only requires that you have the time each week to put in the training, but also that you’ll have the energy to do it. If your life stresses – whether that be for example work or family life – are such that you can’t recover properly from your runs, it might not be the best time to embark on an ultra journey.
You’ve run a marathon before.
Running a marathon is not a prerequisite to running an ultra. Not at all. We both ran 90K as our first ultra without ever running a marathon (race) previously. With that said, if you’ve run a marathon at any point, you do know what it feels like to be out there pushing yourself for a long time, and you know the commitment required to train for it. While it’s still 8 km from that marathon to 50K (the first “official” ultra distance), it’s not that big of a jump – and the often varied terrain and much more relaxed and friendly community you’ll find at ultra events might even make it easier to finish than a road marathon.
You can run a 3 hour long run and it’s not a big deal.
Long run consistency is one of the most important aspects of your training for an ultra. If you’re already doing a weekly long run, and especially if you can get out there and run for 3 hours every week and it’s not that big of a deal, you’re ready for an ultra. So ready.
You’re cool with taking breaks during your runs.
Whether you’re stopping to have a snack and hydrate, snap a picture of a view, or just walk because there’s a hill, you’re cool with it and know that it’s not going to ruin the training effects of your run. In a road running world, many think that if you stop at all during your run, it doesn’t count for as much. Moving past this mindset, you know that this is absolutely ridiculous and that time on your feet and overall volume are by far the most important aspects of training for an ultra.
You can eat and run.
In order to complete an ultra, you’ll need to take in a lot of calories. While some can get by a marathon without fueling at all, this is not something you want to attempt during an ultra. For some, it can take a while for your stomach to get used to taking in calories during a run (for example through sports beverage, gels, bars or real food). Others might not have any problems at all. Being able to properly fuel, knowing how to take in calories and having a stomach that can handle it is a key to being able to run an ultra. (Eating and running at the same time is not required – snack stops are totally allowed.)
You’re injury free.
Yes, you can set an ultra goal while dealing with some injuries, but if you have had any serious injuries or health issues in the past year, make sure those are dealt with before you commit to an ultra. For major injuries – you know, the ones that put you out for 6 months or more – try to have at least 6 months to a year of consistent problem free running before setting your mind on an ultra.
In the end, you’re always ready to run an ultra.
Maybe not this minute, or this week, or even this month. But as long as you have some running under your belt, you can get enough training in to complete a 50K in less than six months. Now is as good of a time as any to sign up for an ultra – and you sure won’t regret it.
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