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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Diaz-Gilbert

You Can Run an Ultramarathon: 10 Tips From an Ordinary Ultrarunner

Updated: Feb 11

At mile 30 of the 2006 Vermont 50 - my first grueling trail ultra.
Photo by Jonna Gilbert-Wahle

I Was Never a Runner

I never ran track or cross-country. I played field hockey, basketball, and softball in high school. In college, I didn’t play any sport but began running to mend a broken heart and to reduce stress. I ran my first road race — a 5K — when my daughter was fourteen months old. I ran my first half-marathon when my son was six months old. When he was two, I ran my first marathon. Five half-marathons and nine marathons later, I completed my first ultramarathon - the JFK 50 - in 2005. In the past eleven years I have logged in thousands of training miles and have completed 13 ultramarathons consisting of 50-mile, 100K (62 miles), 24-hour, and 100-mile ultramarathons, also called ultras or endurance runs.

Who Are These Superhumans?

As a young girl, I loved watching marathons on TV. The marathon was one of my favorite Olympic sports. I was in complete awe of the male runners who ran 26.2 miles. The female marathoners at the 1984 Olympics amazed me. Who were these superhumans? I could not fathom how anyone could run 26.2 miles. However, I have learned that it is not that hard. You can run a marathon! If you can do that, you can run an ultramarathon!

Tips for Running Your First Ultramarathon

1. Start With the Half-marathon

Run a few half-marathons (13.1 miles) first then work your running feet up to a few marathons. This will help to build endurance. I learned I was ready for a marathon when I still had energy after crossing the finish line of a half-marathon. At the end of a marathon, I felt I could run some more. This led me to train for my first 50-mile ultra.

2. Read and Watch

Read about ultrarunning in ultrarunning magazines, books, blogs, and articles on the Internet. There are plenty of ultrarunning memoirs by elite and ordinary ultrarunners to choose and learn from. They are full of great tips and inspirational stories. Watch ultrarunning documentary films and YouTube videos. Here you'll find some great books written by elite and ordinary ultrarunners to inspire you.

3. Follow a Training Plan

A training plan is key. There are many online to get you excited about logging in the training miles for your first 50-mile ultra. Use it as a guide. I record my time, pace, and distance in paper calendars and save them. They remind me of the hard but rewarding work that is required to run ultras. A training plan will also teach you the importance of discipline.

4. Be Disciplined

You have to put in the training miles. Training for any distance requires discipline and focus. You can run in the morning, afternoon, or evening. I log my miles in the evenings after work on weekdays and my long training miles on weekends from morning to however long it takes me to complete the distance. Sometimes you might feel too tired to run. Shake it off and lace those running shoes. You will be glad you did!

5. Slow and Steady Finishes the Race

Begin with 3 minutes of brisk walking, followed by 15 minutes of running at your pace. Repeat through out the distance.

Some of my running shoes that have been put to rest.

6. Wear and Carry Appropriate Gear

Get fitted for the right running shoe. Wear light clothing to keep you cool on hot days and layers to keep you warm on cold days. Carry one of the many gadgets available to record your time, distance, pace, and much more.

7. Stay Hydrated and Replenish Calories

Bring a hydration bottle with water or a sport drink. Have money to replenish liquids and calories at the nearest convenience store on your training route.

8. Train in All Weather and Terrain

Ultras take place in all kinds of weather and terrain. I have run ultras in temperatures as low as 23°F and as high as 101°F in 100% humidity, as well as in torrential rain, thunder and lightening, and alongside beautiful rainbows. I have been pelted by hale and forced by heavy winds to run sideways. Train on different terrain such as flat roads, trails, and hills.

9. Prep Your Mind and Body

I still have no idea how I complete my ultras. But keeping my mind focused helps. I meditate and pray as I run. Sometimes I listen to music. Completing every mile brings me closer to the finish line and that always keeps me going. An exhausted but focused mind will guide your weary and beaten body. Body chafing and blisters are very common. To minimize toe and feet blisters, and chafing on the area underneath my sport bra, I apply both petroleum jelly and zinc oxide before every long training run and on race day. Apply on all body parts that will chafe. Losing toenails, especially after any ultra event, is not uncommon. I have lost all of my toes nails many times. The good news is that they grow back!

10. Include Family and Friends in Your Training

Ultrarunning is a solitary sport. I would not be able to train and cross the finish line without the patient love and unconditional support of my children and my husband. He keeps me company on my long training runs riding his bike, or riding my ElliptiGo. He runs with me on short training runs. Invite a friend or family member to do the same. It’s great training for them, too. They will be ready to be pacers and to crew at your first 50-mile ultra.

You Can Run An Ultramarathon!

In the last three weeks I completed two 50-mile ultras. One took place on a chilly and windy day around a lake. I ran a personal best. The other was a trail ultra. I placed third in my age group. Incredibly, I suffered no blisters and lost no toenails. Go ahead, lace up your running shoes and start training for your first 50-mile ultra. Be patient, disciplined, and stay focused. You, too, can be a superhuman!

I am the author of Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times. Read excerpts, praise, and reviews, and order the book here from from the publisher, Amazon, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble.

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