My Journey to Running Ultramarathons
[This is how smile after running for 13 hour looks like]
If you would tell me 10 years ago I would be running ultra, I would unlikely believe you. In my 30s I was a “stereotypical” computer geek, who did not invest much time in keeping the body fit and healthy. I was lucky enough with my genes so I did not grow obese or but as I was nearing my 40s I started to observe more of the effects of not taking good care about myself. My belly started to grow, I started to get regular headaches and back pains as well as get mildly sick several times a year.
I also found a level of exercise which was previously easy would make me run out of breath. Back in 2019 a friend of mine encouraged me to go Trekking in Nepal and even though I thought I trained reasonably well – it kicked my ass. I was much slower and miserable on the trail than I wanted to be.
I loved the trip and was sure that while it is my first trip to big mountains it is not the last one, and if I want to enjoy the views I better get myself in shape with focus on cardio endurance.
I picked running as this is something you can do anywhere. I travel a fair amount and among other things running is a great way to explore places from very different angles – as a “Normal Tourist” you rarely get to explore places so early in the morning.
I also found early morning runs a great way to wake up, have some “thinking time” before the mad rush of the day or catch up on educational podcasts, which otherwise it was always hard for me to make time for.
It is amazing how much progress you can make in running in a few short months. I remember some of my early runs were some 2km or so. When I gradually increased it to 5K. I remember once I went to run for 10K and was so proud of myself for completing it… and I can barely walk for the next couple of days with my hips so sore.
I do not state any of this is a best practice – I did not follow any particular “couch to 5k” but rather explored things as they interested me. It took time for me to start being interested in the science of running, learn about typical training programs, nutrition etc.
While I enjoyed running I am not someone who commits to a single sport, I enjoy variety. Specifically I also like Climbing and Obstacle Course Running (OCR) – In particular I think OCR is a great discipline which requires endurance, cardio, coordination but also decent upper body strength.
Once Covid-19 Pandemic Started in 2020, for a time, there were no OCR races or Travel, so I could get into a pretty good running training cadence. As lockdown eased I also joined local Climbing (Triangle Rock Club) and OCR focused Gym (WarriorTech OCR) as well as a Run Club. (Fleet Feet)
Joining such communities was wonderful – especially the run club and OCR Gym have a relatively small group of people training together, going to some races together which makes it great to compete, and support people you know.
While I previously looked at Marathon as perhaps once in a lifetime achievement in my Run club I saw folks with real jobs and older than me doing a few Marathons a year as well as “Ultra folks” participating in 100 Mile, 36 Hour races etc. When you see what people “like you” can achieve it is much more motivating than results of Professional Athletes.
It is my Running Group that motivated and supported me doing 50K run in local trail ultra race and also doing 50 mile races in the last two years.
Unlike road races where you often have thousands of people running and always have someone to chase, Ultra Trail Runs tend to have a smaller number of runners over long distance so you can spend a lot of time running alone which makes it harder for me to push myself. On the last 50Mile race by lucky chance I started a conversation with Olga Douglas who turned out to be an experienced trail runner running a recovery race. We ended up running together which made quite a difference.
Where am I now with my Running ?
As Running goes, my best results so far are the medium length distance – My Best Results on Half Marathon are around 1:34, which means with some focused training I can get to my goal of 1:30. I need to continue working on my Endurance for Full Marathons – both Road Marathons I suffered “bonking” and took more than 4 hours to complete them. Getting body to burn more fat while running at Marathon speed and figuring out race feeding is something I still need to figure out (Half Marathon is short enough you can run it on stored energy)
My 50K on Mountain to Sea trail was 5h 15min which is not bad for that terrain, I could also run all the time. 50M however took me more than 13 hours this year (and more than 14 hours) last year with way too much walking, so there is more endurance which needs to be built out for this distance.
What are my future Running plans ?
I will continue participating in the local Mountains to See Race so I can track my improvement. My goal would be to finish it in 10h at some point. This can take a couple of years though. If I finish it within 12h next year it would already be a good improvement.
I also want to do a 100K race sometime – it is a nice round figure and great sounding achievement (for us Metric folks). This is the distance I can complete in a reasonable amount of time. For now I do not plan to run 100M races as I like my beauty sleep so much.
I also find with my love of the mountains Running on Technical Terrain is what I love the most – last year I did a 25K run on the slopes of St Helens Volcano and it was great! If time permits I plan to do full 50K this year. I also signed up for a 50K Run the Rut in Montana.
I’d like to do some destination ultra and Marathon runs as well, for example Everest Marathon looks like something to do one of those years
I am also looking to do some destination OCR races, though these are less common so might be harder to fit in the schedule.
If you know some other cool races which I should consider – let me know!