Brooke Danielson ultra-running

So, You Want to Run an Ultra Marathon?

Hey there, Wanderists! I’m here to talk to you about ultra running — a sport that seems intimidating and daunting, but one that has an incredible community and rewarding races. Have you ever considered running an ultra, pushing your body’s limits and farther than 26.2 miles? If so, I’m here to help you dip your toe in this sport of lengthy mileage. First, I’ll share a bit about my experience.

A few years ago, 2019 to be exact, I was itching to push my mind and body beyond the limits I had tested them. I had been marathoning for several years at this point and most times I crossed those finish lines I knew I had more in me. So what next? Night after night I mulled over ultra running websites, carefully studying races all over the US. There were so many races to choose from with all terrain choices and vertical feet variations that I certainly took into account. Then, one day in central park running with my friend Mel, I told her about my ultra idea. Mel’s ears perked up and she blurted out “I want to run one too!”. Right then and there, jogging around Central Park, we decided to run our first ultra together.

After some continuous mulling, the two of us landed on running The North Face 50K at Bear Mountain State Park in New York. To break it down, 50K translates to 31 miles which is roughly 5 miles longer than the traditional marathon length.

We trained for months on end following a guide we found online. The main difference, I found, was that the mileage on my training plan was incrementally higher than a marathon plan, but nothing too difficult to comprehend or achieve. Many of my weekends were spent running, then eating and sleeping. Social plans were few and far between, other than my morning coffee runs with Mel along the Hudson River. I ran a lot, then some more, for many many months. I weight trained, did yoga, cycled and got in touch with my strong spiritual side in Taryn Toomey classes. I felt it was important to diversify my workouts and activate other muscles.

Race day came and went in the blink of an eye. Hard to believe because we ran for ten hours and forty-six minutes. We ran through mud, streams, forest, on road, past snakes, dodged ticks and wolfed down potato chips, PB and J’s and guzzled coconut water. When we crossed the finish line tears streamed down my face and Mel’s. It was an accomplishment and feeling that none of us had experienced before. It was different than a marathon, a feeling so hard to put into words that I want to encourage any of you Wandersists to get out and try a 50K or beyond.

Brooke Danielson and Mel Gibson ultra marathon

Here are a few tricks to get you started:

1. Running

Maybe your roadracing days are well underway. If you have participated in a 10K, half marathon or marathon, that’s a great start. Work your way up to 26.2 if you haven’t run that distance before. Train through a full marathon plan if you haven’t already and see how you feel. If you feel healthy and excited to try adding a few miles, then the natural next step is the ultra distance.

2. Race Selection

Race selection is key. Take the time to do your research. Here are some things to look for:

  1. Distance
  2. Location
  3. Time of year
  4. Elevation gain or loss
  5. Type of terrain
  6. Difficulty level

To get you started, check out this helpful guide.

3. Gear

  1. Sneakers

    Now that you have chosen your race it’s time to gear up. Visit your local running shop and work with the sneaker rep on what shoes would be best for your race. Researching ahead of time can help you have base knowledge of what brands and shoe models may be best. Running trail, then you’ll need a sturdy trail shoe. Running road, look for a supportive and comfortable road running shoe. Remember to size up at least half to a full size in your shoes. This is so that when your feet swell they can expand within the shoe.

  2. Water Vest or Waist Belt

    Hydration is key. I like to run with a hydration vest that carries water and an electrolyte drink. They come in various sizes, and it doesn’t hurt to have two. One with a larger bladder and one with a smaller bladder, so that you can accommodate all distances. Another option is a hydration belt, but I do prefer these for more hiking than running. It comes down to personal preference, and what is most comfortable.

  3. Hat

    40% of runners will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. When ultra training you are spending a lot of time outside running. It’s important to have a great running hat in addition to wearing SPF. Look for a 4 inch brim if you can––baseball caps only cover so much.

  4. Socks

    An ankle sock goes a long way. You’ll thank me later for this tip! From dusty and muddy trails to rocky roads, covering your ankles is a smart idea.

4. Mindfulness

Running is hard. There are good days and bad days. Throughout the training process try to remain present and grounded, enjoying all aspects including the discomfort. Incorporate meditation into your daily routine and take the time, daily, to recover and listen to your body––it’s incredibly important to recover properly.

On race day take it all in. Take deep breaths, repeat your mantra, stay positive even when things get hard. And, above all, smile!

Contact Us

Have ultra questions or running questions? Send me a message on instagram @saltandsnow or @brookeely

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