An ultra-marathon is a running race that is any distance greater than the standard marathon 42.2km or 26.2 miles so if someone says they are running an ultra, make sure you ask them what distance and regardless what they answer, be impressed because it’s a bloody long way.
I started running ultras in 2012 after entering the Oxfam Trailwalker charity walk (100km) a couple of years before and getting a taste for long distance/duration events. My first ultramarathon run was the North Face 100 (now called Ultra Trail Australia) and after that race I realized a had found my niche. The combination of endurance, location, community and mind/ body challenge was right up my alley. Since then I have run an additional 7 official ultra races and 1 self supported ultra distance.
I love it.
This weekend I competed in my 7th 100km race on the surf coast near Melbourne with my dear friend Julie. I wanted to run an ultra near my 40th and Julie was brave enough to say she would join me. The longest race Julie had completed prior to this run was 44km in May this year.
We lined up on Anglesea beach at 7.30am and ran the first 21km along the beach to Torquay. The first leg was a combination of sand, slippery rocks, breaking waves and thigh deep water over the iconic Bells Beach and underneath the towering cliffs that line the Great Ocean road. Eliot and the kids were waiting for us at checkpoint 2 at point danger and cheered us on as we changed footwear. The second major leg saw us head back up on to the cliff tops and through Ironbark Nature basin and the mountain biking trails near Eumeralla Scout Camp. This is where we got our first taste of the mud to come. The wind had really whipped up and the rain was coming in waves. I was constantly second guessing whether I should put my jacket on or not. The first half was a real mental battle for me. I was planning all the excuses I could make to pull out. This is pretty typical for me in these races. The key is not to give in to those thoughts because I knew they would pass and I also know how crappy it feels to DNF (did not finish) having been through that in the Tarawera Ultra in NZ when I pulled out at 80km due to injury. It also helped bumping in to my family en route for some words of encouragement. After checkpoint 4, halfway, my mood shifted well and truly. I was heading in to my favorite leg and also we were over the hump. There was some serious red clay mud on this leg. It felt like my feet were a kilo heavier and it was so slippery. The ultra shuffle kicked in and we started chewing up the kilometers. Eliot, Grace & Monty meet us at the 70km checkpoint and it was such a boost to see them. Grace ran with me for a little bit and my heart was full. It definitely got me through the final 30km. The sun set as we were arriving at Moggs Creek (77km). I quickly changed my shoes (the others were feeling too tight), grabbed my headlamp and some coke and headed out. Julie and I were both struggling to run downhill. Her because she’d had a fall and hurt her knees. Mine because my right quad and hip flexor were giving up on me. At this point I was really regretting doing the F45 playoffs and 2 F45 sessions the week leading in. Not the best taper plan. We headed back up the hills, over the top and back down to the coast. The final beach section felt like took an age to get through but the rolling walking track up on the cliff tops was gorgeous. We finally made it back down to Anglesea, and ran through our last muddy section and down the finishing chute. Crossed the line, arms held high and big hugs all around. We finished in 14hrs47min and received our beer steins for making it sub 16hrs. Julie even had two cans of Guinness waiting for us to drink out of them.
Such relief to stop but did I say I love it?
That was my last race in the open age group, I’ll be a veteran next time. And who knows, next time it might be 100 miles.
Here are a few questions I typically get asked about running an ultra marathon.
- Over how many days do you run it? Just the one
- How long does it usually take? Depends on the race. My fastest was 14hrs, longest 18.5hrs
- Do you stop? Only to refill drinks and food, go to the bathroom and occasionally to adjust gear, change shoes etc. The mantra is to keep moving.
- What do you eat? Vegemite or peanut butter sandwiches, bliss balls, clif bars, clif bar shot bloks, red bull and coca cola.
- How do you train for something like? Run lots. Long, slow back to back runs. No, I don’t run anywhere near that distance in training. I just don’t have the time!