I find Ultra-running fascinating right now - it’s progressed a long way since I ran my first BIG running race back in 1995. It seemed a lot more serious back then and a sub 3:30 marathon was a pre-requisite for running the long gone 55 mile London to Brighton Road Race. The runners on that day were marathon runners who had trained to run a double-marathon and a bit FAST… very fast in fact running sub 7’s to finish in just 6 hours. I beat the 9hrs 30mins cut off by 6 minutes and enjoyed the occasion so much that I did the race many times finally getting to the dizzy heights of 8hrs 54mins finishing in the top third of what I considered to be the best ULTRA-runners at that time.
We had some great ULTRA-runners then - Stephen Moore, Greg Dell & Hilary Walker immediately come to mind all of whom ran great Marathon times as well as ULTRAS… That’s where I believe the difference is between now and then. It’s now all about how long and not about how fast. ULTRA-runners look now for a lifestyle experience it seems and at ULTRArace we do exactly that as we cater for all distances from 50km at our London Ultra to 858 miles at the JOGLE Ultra… and very popular they are too along with the plethora of ULTRA-marathon races out there. The shame is that the challenge for most is to finish, not to compete.
I wonder if there is anyone, right now, who could match the ULTRA-runners of the past. Would anyone get near Don Ritchie’s 3hrs 48mins in Barnet in 1982, which interestingly is still a World Record? I personally think they could with the right training combined with the leaps in nutrition and supplement technology and the right support.
In a sport where theoretically all you need is a pair of trainers, there are now a hundreds of gizmos and running aids that people are using to help them go the distance. Experience and knowledge passed from one runner to another has made times in the bigger races diminish – so much so that the 145 mile Grand Union Canal Race looks to be heading sub 24hrs very soon and the standard of GBR front runners at the Marathon des Sables continues to improve.
All of this made me think about my own running career at its peak and how I could project some of ‘my belief’ and some of the ‘old values’ of distance running into the ULTRA-runners that I now coach. It’s been a very interesting journey so far… with some great observations.
When you are quick at 100km, you are also quick at a marathon, half-marathon and even a 5km it’s just one’s brain that tells you otherwise… believe me, when you are race fit, any distance is fair-game and a fast run out with the local running club works wonders for lifting your pace. However, there’s no substitute for miles and proper gym conditioning too as this works the core and mentally toughens the mind to coping with increased lactate levels.
To be honest, I believe that there are some incredibly gifted runners out there who run ULTRA-marathons. They simply don’t know it, or are running so many races that they have no structure to their training hence they are running slower and slower over any distance they run. EVERYONE on their first coaching session admits to running in a comfort zone and when pushed delivers far more than any expectation they had. The best results have come from just having a structured 12 week plan where all athletes have to do is tick off their daily fitness task giving them the freedom to perform and enjoy their session rather than worry about whether they are doing the right thing. Using this training platform, Marathon PB’s are regularly smashed sometimes by 30 minutes or more. It’s great to see an athlete perform to their full potential.
So, the BIG Question is: ‘When was the last time you ran an ULTRA like you meant it?’… I did a couple of times last year as well as a fast marathon and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It didn’t just happen, I had to work at it and get fast… as fast as I could and give it my best as it really mattered. Does it matter to you how you do…? I’m sure it does if you’re reading this article. At our ULTRArace events I see some amazing athletes, (yes athletes not ULTRA-runners) who could be miles better with some proper Coaching and Training behind them… if you are looking for a new PB or want to crack 3hrs 48mins for 40 miles, I’d love to hear from you.