Things I Learned About Training For An UltraMarathon

Things I Learned About Training For An UltraMarathon

Let’s get a couple of things straight. I am not a superhuman athlete, just a regular girl who grew up playing golf in Texas. I ran occasionally but never was serious about it. Back in November 2016, I agreed to run my very first ultramarathon. An ultramarathon is defined as any distance over a marathon, so more than 26.2 miles.  I agreed to do this knowing that I had never run more than 6 miles at any one time. I agreed to do this with my mentor who, himself was already a super accomplished athlete. Did I mention this ultra is in Nepal, in the foothills of the Himalayas? Here I am 9 months later, stronger & wiser. I thought I would jot down some thoughts I had during this journey. You may be thinking, that you have no desire to run a race like this and you may be right, but it’s not because your body can’t do it, given enough time to train, it can. It’s interesting what happens to our minds and bodies in these types of situations when they are pushed to the limit. Once you have committed to something and there is no possible way to back out of it (I can’t because I am taking 5 other people with me to Nepal to run this ultra, so quitting isn’t an option), it’s amazing how everything rises to the challenge.
Training near Aspen, Co in July

Sounds harder than it is

Don’t get me wrong, an ultra is going to hard. But after 9 months of mentally & physically training, I am not stressed by how hard it is. The mental anguish of saying I am going to run 30 miles is manageable. Given enough time for something like this to sink it, you stop fighting it and embrace it.

Your body is stronger than you think

When I started, running more than 3 miles was a challenge. But guess what? It got easier. I have never been a fast runner nor do I want to break the land speed record, I just want to finish. That is all most people want when training for a run like this, is to finish. Once I started training and estimating how long 30 miles would take me, I was able to start stressing my body just enough each week to grow a little stronger. Soon, 5 miles became easy to do and doing a 10-mile train run became doable, not easy, but manageable.

You will get hurt, so what?

I have fallen at least 20 times during trail runs, sometimes drawing blood. I have gotten plantar fasciitis and have banged up my feet so much after a run I could barely walk afterward. So what? I got up and kept going. As long as your spirit stays strong, what you do to your body doesn’t matter (within reason). Also, it pays to see a good massage therapist.

If you get tired, walk

This is my favorite lesson. Ultras aren’t about speed but endurance. I don’t have to run a 9-minute mile (gasp!) for 3 hours, I just have to finish. So, while I have built up to a 3-hour run, I still walk. I walk up hills, I walk down hills, I walk when it’s flat and I walk when I am calorie loading i.e.eating. But I also run.
Training in Nepal in March

You can eat whatever you want (almost)

Another great lesson. Training has become like a part-time job for me. I work my traditional job in the morning and take a couple of hours in the afternoon for my ultra training. Because I have committed 8-12 hours a week to this, I am a calorie-burning machine. I realized I can eat a lot more than I can when I am not training. I just learn to be smart about my meals (most of the time) and moderate my wine intake.

The mind wants to say no

Just consider the possibility of doing something just barely outside your current fitness level. It could be a 5k or a marathon. If you have not mentally prepared for it, naturally, your mind will say NO!!!! But give your mind a couple of weeks to warm up to the idea. Start thinking about how you could exercise to reach this goal. Think about how your diet could change to accommodate the training. Consider how you will fit these changes into your schedule. Do you have friends or family who might want to do this with you? After you let this new (and initially scary) idea marinate for a week, is it still as scary? Once you formulate a plan and have support, the mind wants to say yes. So, I still have a couple of months to go and a lot of running to do before October 28 but given the support, the plan, the diet, the willpower and mental strength I can do it.

4 Comments

  1. Agness of Fit Travelling

    Wow! Your post was a great read and a very motivating lesson for me. How long do you usually prepare for an ultramarathon, Megan?

    • Megan Riley

      Ive been preparing for 10 months but I started at a base of only doing 3 miles. Thanks for reading.

  2. Brandon

    Thanks for this blog post.

    I tore my ACL and had it reconstructed last year. It has been exactly 8 months since I have been cleared to go back into the gym – minus cyclical loading exercises – and 5 months of full speed.
    I never was a runner – but running has got me back on my feet (I really hated running). Previously, the max distance I’ve ran was 3 miles. But here I am, training for my first 1/2 marathon (March) and I’m super excited.

    Everything you wrote is spot on.
    The first mile I ran since my reconstruction was 20 minutes – and the whole time my head was saying no. Now I’m down to sub 8-minute miles, with a max distance of 5 miles. It gets better. It gets easier – and I’m taking it slow. I still don’t 100% trust my knee yet – it’s a growing relationship. But what you wrote is true – the body is stronger than you think.

    Good luck on your ultramarathon.

    • Megan Riley

      Wow, thanks very much for your sincere comment. I have since done 2 ultras, the 1st I finished, the 2nd, I did not and have a 3rd in 2 weeks. I love training for these things..I know the idea of doing anything physical for 8+ hours is beyond most people but I really enjoy the challenge.

      Good luck on your 1/2!

      Megan

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