My inbox is typically filled with questions about marathon training but I traded them off for 'WTF is an ultra marathon and who would want to do such a terrible thing' -- I do but maybe I'm nuts.
How many of you found yourself sucked into the world of marathon training because someone said something like "if you can do XX, you can be a marathoner?" Yep -- that's definitely how I got sucked into this vortex called marathon training. I have to admit that I cannot blame anyone for engulfing into ultra marathons. While training for my first NYC Marathon in 2015 - second marathon to the Rock n Roll DC - I started going taper crazy and signed up for the New York Road Runners' 60K that took place two weeks later. In hindsight, I realized I must've lost my fucking mind and purged all of my happy pill after mile 29 inside of a port-a-potty somewhere around loop 6. You have no idea how much you hate life, happy spectators enabling your neurotic addiction to medals and how broth tastes like unicorn tears after experiencing sodium deficiency until you do one of these things. Long story short, I made it across that finish line that day. I came in at 9 hours, 47 minutes and 22 seconds and vowed to never touch one of these things again in life. Like all endurance runners, we're full of shit when we're not letting it off into the wilderness or some random café. Most people know about marathons but what the hell is an ultra marathon -- and why would I even want to do it?
Marathons vs Ultra Marathons
A marathon is equivalent to 26.2 miles (or 42.195K for my overseas friends). An ultra marathon is literally anything that's above that. Before I continue, I must say thank you to all of you who learned about me through my latest HuffPost story and how I'm taking on these crazy marathon adventures but I cannot neglect a special group of people who learned about me during the Javelina Jundred 100K -- a literal running party in the desert for over 62 miles.
Perhaps a few hundreds of you are like "Well, what the hell makes a person sign up for something so absurd?" Frankly my dear, we're nuts and if you're an ultra marathoner who is reading this shaking your head in disagreement, you just haven't came to this level of truth just yet. And please know that I'm jokingly saying this but we're a special kind of cat piss crazy.
Ultra marathons typically start around the 50K distance - around 32 miles or so - and can push up pretty high in distance like the Vol State 500K at 314 or so miles. This sounds like a daunting distance -- because it is. Realistically nobody could've laced any of my Kit Kats or salmon dinners into believing that I'd show an ounce of interest in signing up for ANY of these things but I fell in love with ultra running.
Sign up for this big ball of crazy if you dare. I'll be embarking on a six day journey totaling 120 miles over the course of 6 days and up 20K feet. I would love to see you there. And hey, use LSS2019 to score a huge discount.
Training for Marathons vs Ultra Marathons
I'm expecting a bit of side eye from some of you when I say this:
I find marathon training harder than ultra marathon training some days of the week. Here's the thing: Most marathon training plans that I run across relies on that extra day of the week for training. And please don't nail me to the cross on this. There are plenty of programs out there like the Galloway method for run/walk warriors like me. For the record, you are still a runner if you explore this option and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I recently learned about the Jack Daniels V-Dot method -- not the drink - through a conversation with certified RRCA Martinus Evans, my co-host of 300 Pounds and Running. As a personal preference, I'd rather do slower, longer runs than shorter easy paced runs. I have a feeling that I'm going to lose some of you rather quickly so here's my breakdown:
Pacing & Distance
Depending upon the person, some people are fixated on being 'fast' -- whatever that may mean for you. During ultra races, while a certain speed matters to make it across the finish line in time, ultra runners place more emphasis on time on your feet. What does this mean?
For starters, marathoners typically do one long run a week but ultra runners aim for two (or sometimes more). Whether you're following a timed or distance based plan, you need to get your feet acclimated to knowing how to work through a great deal of fatigue. Think of it as torture training that you signed up for but it's really really fun. The purpose of getting comfortable with the uncomfortable serves a greater purpose:
Nutrition & Conversations About Shit (In the Literal Sense)
I've heard some marathoners ask how the hell do you learn how to eat and run. As an ultra runner, you kinda have no choice. I learned a lot of my basic tricks on how to drink a cup of water while running by flexing the cup by creating a spout and taking in a bit. I tend to slow down my pace but never stop moving. Remember to tell that person at the aid station thank you for volunteering. As we move into becoming more eco-friendly, holding onto a sports bottle or a hydration pack where it's allowed is great. On some road races, hydration packs aren't allowed due to incidents like 9/11 or even the Boston Marathon attack years ago. On ultra runs, it's frowned upon to NOT have a hydration pack. You will be running for hours and it is helpful to mix up your electrolytes in a handheld if you can -- whichever works best for your madness.
Personal Recommendation: Try out Skratch Labs Anytime or Sports formula. I love them because they use real ingredients. My stomach is super sensitive with most things and this is something to figure out with any form of endurance running.
If you are a sub 3 to 5 marathoner, you might live your best life on energy gels, chews and all that jazz -- not me honey. I'm more like a sub 6:30 and on flare ups, closer to 7. Although I am making it a point to work on my speed this year, I don't desire to aim for a sub 3 nor 4 at marathon pace. Perhaps I have too much fun in the back or this lack or care to be in the front/mid level pack. Nevertheless, it means that I have to be extra mindful on my nutrition. Personally, I like to carry a few packs of chews, pureed food that I picked up at a store or something that I made myself that won't make me have projectile shit.
And speaking of fecal matter, the conversations tend to get a bit TMI as you increase the distance. Some people manage to have accidents while training or even on race day. In fact, my first blurb here on Running Fat Chef is about the 'gingerbread man.' Forgive me in advance for finding humor about having an accident -- I'm really juvenile at times. Most ultra races are on the trails, which means you shit like a bear in the woods. Don't blush on me now -- we all gotta go at some point and bathroom techniques get exceptionally interesting. Unlike the convenience of road races - which I will say spoiled me in a sense - there's rarely any port-a-potties on ultras. If you are doing a looped course, bless your spoiled little heart. But if you're doing a single track course, potties are spread out and rare. This means that you need to carry around biodegradable wipes and learn proper courtesy of squatting slightly off the trail. While your fellow runners might be accustomed to see a midnight moon crack here and there, at least TRY to pretend you give a damn about their eyes.
To share my own TMI adventures, I met a fellow runner at the Javelina Jundred while he was in the middle of dropping a deuce. I feel really bad because he thought I was a coyote and he was trying to scramble. This is where it's important to have a light at night to not scare people on the trails. He apologized to me for being so out in the open. I told him no worries. A minute later, he caught up to me as I found a more discreet but still barren spot peeing by a cactus. What does this mean? Shit happens guys -- and tinkling too. If you don't use the bathroom, I'm frankly worried about you and you should contact your doctor asap. Just saying...
Packing Light, Heavy or Not at All
If you are a road marathoner, you will probably pack the essentials:
Every person figures out their own strategy. I am a worry wort so I carry almost everything like I'm a goddamn Girl Scout who hung out with all of the Boy Scouts when I hated knitting. If you are anything like me, hold onto an 'in case of emergency break glass' item when the terrain starts to wear on your body and mind. When you sign up for any distance, miles feel like a really long time.
"You're gonna hike and walk sometimes" says the Ultra Runner.
Oh dear -- some of my fellow runners are allergic to walking and hiking during a race. Tough shit honey. Even the 'elites' and faster runners do it during ultra races. I want to really find a whole bunch of people at the UTMB claiming that they RAN the entire 106 miles of that course. I'll make you an eggless omelet, bread less toast and aioli from your neighbor's tears.
There's no shame in hiking up a steady incline of 2,000 feet at altitude or reducing your walk in the middle of the NYC Marathon because the bridges are super disrespectful. Taking a walk break doesn't stop you from being a runner.
I'm going to vent super quick: When I read these ridiculous statements in the comment section - a place where your hopes and dreams do the Carlton dance with the electric chair - I scoff at the arrogance laced in these critiques of other runners (especially the ones who like to analyze my time after completing the NYC Marathon a week away from Javelina Jundred 100K and using my experience to help motivate other runners who wanted to quit). I find it quite disturbing that these comments are not coming from people who are actually paid to compete but from our fellow everyday running community or ones who would never consider doing this at all. As athletes and human beings from all walks of life, we have to do better with uplifting each other. At the very least, buy yourself a nice salad and keep your shitty dialogue to yourself or with a therapist to sort out.
In the beginning of my running journey, I was terrified of walking because clearly the world ends when you walk. Realistically, when you tap into longer distances, that possibility is very real. I can attest to this on a brutal Finger Lakes 50K last year that the heat was super oppressive and after realizing that I was hallucinating, I scaled back my 14 - 15 minute pace through muddy pits to a walk. My blisters severely didn't help. Sometimes shit, blister and life will happen. Forgive yourself and continue enjoying the journey.
Medals, Belt Buckles & Glasses
You ran 50, 70 or even 100 miles and they hand you a belt buckle or a hurricane glass -- WHAT THE FUCK?! Welcome to ultra running. Wanna hear a somewhat fucked up story? I'm kinda not asking so here it goes: After finishing off my first 60K and super delirious, I had no idea that a belt buckle was the actual medal AND they ran out. I cringed on race day to find out I wouldn't be hanging it on the wall and was Telletubby Super-de-dooper Barney mad when I didn't have one. Insert your favorite curse word because I used it in my mind. I was respectful because I kinda like NYRR and there's no sense in cursing out some half frozen volunteer who stuck it out for 16 hours to watch you run in a loop. I received it about a month later but that was a serious reality check.
Yeah guys -- your 'medal' for an ultra race can be a belt buckle, a pint glass or like some races across the board, nothing at all. Don't be a salty ass bowl of soup like me: Do your research before impulsively signing up for these events. If the medal means a lot to you, then look for one that offers those perks. Personally, as much as I love those things, I'm more impressed with actually completing the events at whatever godforsaken deathly hour it may be. I'm actually a huge fan of belt buckles now. Takes me back into days of watching WWF on television with my grandmother.
I'm Not Sure If I'm About Either One of Those Lives
Personally, I think that if you're moving your body to any sort of degree on a consistent basis, you're an athlete. No fine print. No funny stipulations. You're an athlete. And if ultra marathons or marathons aren't your thing, train for a shorter distance.
Come run, speed walk or roll with me at the Cleveland Marathon this May. Save yourself some dollars by using code LS2019. I'll be there for the two day challenge. No distance is too short or too long. I would love to see you shine.
Sometimes we feel pressured from whatever elements that tell us we're not a runner if we don't do this or that. Toss all of that logic out of the window. And if running is not your thing, I've met the dopest powerlifters, cyclists, skateboarders and gym bros through Instagram to real life. Whatever you do, ENJOY what you do. If you desire to be a little mini psycho like me, I'd welcome you to the party. Some days I question what the hell made me sign up for any distance and when I put on my sneakers, lace up and hit the pavement, I'm reminded of the beauty that the world has to offer. Seize the day my friends. I'll be at the Humana Rock n Roll New Orleans Marathon this weekend. If you're out there, give a girl a shout while I go chase beignets.
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Latoya Shauntay Snell
For my pretentious ass bio, check out the about me page but for anyone interested in who I really am, make me a good meal at your house and I'll tell you a dope ass story.
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