Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ultrarunner / Ultrarunning

I've recently been thinking a lot about these two terms . . . plus the relationship of speed vs distance.  At some point my ponderings will make some sense to you.  But now just prepare yourself to be bored.

One Facebook post last week really got me thinking.  Basically it said something like "Anybody can run a marathon, but how may can run a 5k in sub-20?"  Interesting comments and basically true.  I worked quite hard for years but never was able to run a sub-20 5k.  My best was a 20:01 . . . close but no cigar.  I really worked hard trying . . . hill training, intervals, strong tempo runs, long runs.  But was never able to close the deal.  I'm thinking that part of the answer is genetics . . . some folks can just run faster.  And some folks can bust their ass in focused training and NEVER do it.

I agree that anyone CAN run a marathon.  It may take awhile, but anyone can finish one.  But most folks are intimidated and simply never try.  Or when they look at a training program, the long runs simply scare them off.

There is no comparison of the pain involved either.  A 5k hurts . . . bad for a few minutes.  But then it's over and recovery happens in 5 minutes.  Any marathon is significantly more painful!  The pain starts in the last third of the race and may not fully leave for a couple of weeks for some folks trying their first marathon.  In my mind finishing a marathon is a much more meaningful accomplishment . . . even if I had finally gone sub-20 I am certain I would still feel this way.

So in my mind, distance is more significant than speed.  But that's just me.  And likely I feel this way in part due to my lack of speed!  Let's face it . . . I'm not fast!  20:01 5k and a 3:58 marathon best.  Middle of the pack at best!  So maybe my infatuation with distance is understandable and if I were a faster runner I would be more interested in speed.

One other reason too I believe.  Once I finally quit focusing on my time . . . my enjoyment in running increased SIGNIFICANTLY!  I simple started have way more fun!  I started taking pictures during my marathons and ultras and I love looking back at the pictures and re-living the run!  And remembering all the people I met and things I saw.  And recovery takes only a day or two.

So I became an ultra runner.  For the uninformed, an ultramarathon is any run that exceeds the distance of a marathon . . . 26.2 miles.  So if you run 26.3 miles you have officially met the criteria of being an ultra runner.  But most ultramarathons are at least 31 miles (50 k) or longer.  Popular distances are 50k, 50 miles, 100k, and 100 miles.  I've completed all these distances in races with the exception of the 100 miler.  That one has evaded me.  Three attempts and three failures.  (How many 5k races are there where anyone fails to complete the full 5k?)

In my mind if you have completed any ultramarathon within the cut-off time allowed you are an ultrarunner . . . forever!  Even if you never do another ultra . . . you have qualifed as an ultrarunner.  Period.

But I've recently become conflicted about the speed thing.  See . . . I've had to slow down even further.  Walk way more and run way less.  Earlier this year I completed 50 miles during a 24 hour race.  And honestly I felt like a second-class citizen.  None of the other runner made me feel this way . . . my feelings were totally self-imposed.  I didn't run . . . at all.  I just walked.

Honestly, it was still hard.  Very hard.  I hurt.  Bad.  It was a painful effort, but I did it . . . and I was proud.  I know that many people would not have gone through that much pain just to finish a measly 50 miles at a 24 hour event.

But I was still bummed that I didn't run.

So here is the question.  Let's say this my only ultra event, would I be an ultra runner after completing this?  Part of me says absolutely yes.  But another part of me says no.

And if walking it all doesn't qualify me as an ultra runner in that case, how much of it would I have had to run for it to qualify?  Do you have to run 100% of the distance?  (I don't think so!)  How about 75%?  50%  How about 10%?  Folks that practice a walk / run approach in my mind are definitely ultra runners.  And how many folks that have completed a 100 mile event have run it all?  Almost none!!!  Virtually everybody walks at least some.

I guess it really only matters what I think.  But somehow other peoples opinions matter to me too.


  1. Heavy stuff Frank! Run on my friend!

  2. I think you have to run some to be considered a "runner". I bet there are many long distance hikers who can hike 50 miles in 24 hours.

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  4. I think the statement "anyone can run a marathon" is incorrect. Anyone can complete a marathon, running the whole way is a whole different story. I never ran a 20 minute 5k either (20:20) but a 3:36 marathon ain't too shabby...

    1. I almost completely agree....up to the marathon distance. I'm firmly in the camp of not saying that you "ran" a marathon unless you actually RAN the marathon. Nearly anyone (I don't believe that ANYONE can even complete a marathon inside common cutoff times, but a large percentage of people probably can) can complete one, but running is different.

      Once you cross over into the ultra distances, several factors take over. For one, much fewer of them are held on pavement..they are often held on significantly more technical terrain, through trails, on mountains, with roots, rocks, and all manner of challenges that road runners simply never face. VERY few of the hills that a road runner will ever face are as steep or long as they are in many ultras. Those factors tend to introduce power-hiking those portions as the only viable options.

      All that being said, I would personally say that one should (at the very least) run 50% or more of a course in order to say that one RAN an ultra distance. I have yet to do one though, so I'm road-biased. I'm considering my first "ultra" this coming winter, and it will be a road ultra (50K). We'll see if my opinion changes. :-)

  5. You completed an ultramarathon. You can always just define yourself as an "ultramarathoner".

  6. Wow...lots of interesting thoughts to ponder, Frank. I have yet another aspect to add to the mix. What about those folks who have amazingly fast walking speeds and can literally walk a specified distance faster than I could ever hope to run it?

    I don't think that there's any one right answer to all these musings. I think much of it depends upon how the participant views themselves.

    In my mind, if I consider myself a "runner" and enter an event (of whatever length) with the intention of running as much of it as I can, then that makes it a running event. Whether I walk the uphills, use some predefined run:walk ratio or just end up walking some miles during a super long event, I still view it as a "running" event.

    Labels are hard to wrestle with at times and often quite limiting. Just cover the distance (whatever that distance might be) with joy in your heart. The speed or gait you use to get you there is secondary.

  7. You must run at least 42% of the distance to get credit for "running". You must average at least 13 min/mi pace to qualify as a runner. You must run to "win". You must not run for weight loss. You must have proper equipment and clothing. You must...etc...etc.

    I've heard something like all of that at one time or another. And I think it's all complete crap. But it IS fun to talk about. :-)

  8. Guess you answered this one today Frank. You, my friend, are an untra runner.


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Littleton, North Carolina
World's Slowest Runner . . . well, at least in contention for the honor. Just your average "below average" runner.