Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Does It Take to Be an Ultra Runner?

I know a lot of you runners out there want to be an ultra runner.  Right?  What does it take?  It's actually very easy...just run an ultramarathon.  The minimum requirement to be considered an ultra runner is to finish an ultra race.  That means any race distance over 26.2 miles. The most common ultra distance is 50K (31 miles), but you can find shorter ones at non-traditional distances like 28 or 30 miles. Remember that it needs to be a race, not just a training run.  Don't go for a long hike thinking it'll count. You need an advertised race with at least a couple finishers.  Complete that event and you are now a member of a special running club...ultramarathoner!

Of course, finishing a race of over 26.2 miles is the MINIMUM requirement to join the club. If you really want to be an ultra runner, you should satisfy a few more criteria:

1. Go longer. Finish at least a 50km race, preferably on trails. Roads and track are fine, but a tough trail run really shows your ultra abilities. Step up to 50 miles or 100K for extra bragging rights.  100 miles?  Sweet.

2. Lose a toenail. Blisters are cool, but you need to lose a toenail or two before you're really a certified ultra runner. Save the toenail to show your friends.  Make a necklace out of them and you're a running god.

3. Get lost during an ultra race. Running the full race distance is great, but getting lost and tacking on a few extra miles is awesome.  The race director won't even bill you for the extra mileage.

4. Eat or drink something odd during your race. Chia seeds? Sushi?  Home-made sports drink? Nice.  Chips, pretzels, and cookies are fine, but Mt Dew and a veggie burger are super-duper.

5. Do a training run longer than a marathon. Run it by yourself for extra street cred. Make sure your friends and co-workers know you completed such a freaking long run.

6. Volunteer at an ultra. Help with runner check-in, staff an aid station, pace or crew a fellow runner. Earn extra points if you volunteer through the night at a 100 mile event.

7. Have a designated "ultra shoe." Don't we all have multiple running shoes? If you have one reserved for ultra races then you are a real ultra runner. If you run ultras barefoot, I bow before you.

8. Carpool to a distant ultra with friends. Pack a car full of running gear, snacks, crazy runners, and a map. Hit the road, grab some grub, sleep on a hotel floor, wake up early and run, run, run. Cheapest vacation you'll ever experience.

9. Run a local "fat ass" ultra race. These are low-key, no-fee, fun runs that happen to be really long. Don't have one in your area?  Start one!

10. Start a blog and post about your running adventures.

11. Bonus criteria...have a DNF at an ultra event. We need to strive for the impossible and that means occasionally failing..."did not finish" is a badge of honor.

I've done all of the above, except one.  Ten out of eleven ain't bad!  See, it's easy to be an ultra runner. What are you waiting for...get going!


Jess said...

Inspiring and terrifying! I have my first 50K this coming Saturday and out of your list I can say I've accomplished only #5 and partly #10. #11 is something I'm terrified of occurring Saturday.

Chris said...


Good luck at your first ultra! It'll be great! Take it easy, walk the hills, and use the aid stations.