A Beginner’s Guide to Ultra Marathons

Ultra Running: A Beginner’s Guide
Ultra running is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States, but do you know your Badwater from your Hardrock or your Jurek from your Markle?

What is an Ultra Marathon?
Ultra marathon’s used to be an endeavor preserved only for the most hardcore and to many ‘foolhardy’. However, this once revered pursuit has now been bought to the masses through popular running apps, improvements to equipment and techniques and a mildly controversial softening of the definition of what an ‘ultra marathon’ is.

In its infancy, ultra marathons were considered to be marathons that eclipsed the traditional distance of 26.2 miles. Today an ultra marathon (or ultra distance/ultra running) has been re-defined as any footrace longer than 26.2 miles.

The relaxation of the definition has helped elevate the concept of ultra running and the number of people participating in the sport has grown rapidly. “Short course” (31 mile) ultra events are now popping up all over the U.S., while extreme races such as the Grand to Grand, Badwater and Hardrock ultra marathons, continue to thrive.

Extreme Ultra Marathons in the United States:

Grand Canyon Ultra
Distance: 147 Miles
Duration: 7 Days

The Grand Canyon provides the backdrop for one of the most grueling ultra marathons on the planet. The Grand to Grand Ultra takes runners over coral-colored sand dunes and through slot canyons as the runners devour 147-miles of rugged terrain, climbing 19,000 feet, over seven-days.

Badwater Ultra Marathon
Distance: 135 Miles
Duration: Non Stop – Fastest to Finish

The Badwater Ultra is considered to be one of the pinnacles of the ultra marathon circuit. Its origins date back to the 1970s and despite its age, the race is still renowned for being one of the toughest and most revered footraces anywhere on earth.

Not only does the 135-mile course wind through Death Valley, the hottest spot in the U.S., it takes place during July, the hottest month. From its origin at Badwater Basin to the slopes of Mount Whitney, the course gains 13,000 feet of elevation and crosses two mountain ranges. This is most definitely not for the faint of heart.

Hardrock Ultra Marathon
Distance: 100 Miles
Duration: 48 Hours

Aside from its 100 mile distance, this is a race full of danger including altitude sickness, headaches, and rough terrain. The Hardrock, which takes place in the San Juans near Silverton, Colorado, has been run every July since 1992.

The race takes place over 48 hours and includes an astonishing 33,992 feet of ascent and descent – the most of almost any ultra marathon in the world.  Competitors deal with temperatures of 90 degrees during the day and elevations at night where the temps can drop below freezing. The success rate of this extreme ultra is low and only the most prolific runners should apply.

Leading the Field: Two of the Best

Pamela Chapman Markle:
Pam is 61 years old and a true ‘tour de force’. As a mother of three and full time nurse, Pam has battled the odds in more ways than one to be recognized as one of the most celebrated ultra runners of all time.

At age 19, Pam was given only months to live after being diagnosed with cancer. In spite of the prognosis Pam went on to make a full recovery and has made fitness and nutrition a way of life.  Although she ran by herself after work for many years, she had never run a race – not even a 5K.  Then at age 55 she decided to run her first race and selected the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile Ultra Marathon in Huntsville, Texas.  Battling severe electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, hypothermia, and a fractured tibia, she willed herself to finish in 28 hours, 45 minutes and 7 seconds.

Since this performance Pam has gone on to become not only the best ultra marathon runner for her age group, bet a renowned competitor in the entire field. Pam’s story and dedication to the sport is incredible. Find out more here.

Scott Jurek:
Many people will not have heard of Scott Jurek, but amongst the running world he is widely believed to be one of the greatest runners of all time. Throughout a prolific career, Scott has has claimed victories in nearly all of ultrarunning’s elite trail and road events including the Hardrock 100 and Badwater Ultramarathons while setting unrivaled records. He set the Appalachian Trail speed record of nearly 50 miles a day over 46 days—and the United States all-surface record in the 24-Hour Run with 165.7 miles: 6.5 marathons in one day.

Scott is at the top the endurance running tree and a true inspiration to the other mere ultra running mortals. He is an award winning author and his book born to run is a must read! Find out more here.

So there you have it – a beginners guide to ultra running! If you want to learn more about this incredible endeavor, please visit https://ultrarunning.com and if you decide to compete in a race, be sure to let us know!  Remember to wrap up well – In compression we trust!

photo via @scottjurek