What Is An Ultramarathon? (Ultimate Guide)

In ultramarathon running, the distance of a race can be any length from 50km to 100 miles or more. Ultramarathon running events and participation numbers have increased progressively over the past three decades, especially in ultramarathons like the Hardrock 100-mile ultramarathon race held annually in Colorado where ultramarathon runners can qualify for entry by completing another ultramarathon event during the qualifying period.

In this article, we will explore what ultramarathons are, how ultramarathons affect your body and mind during a race, how to train for an ultramarathon and ultramarathon nutrition tips. We’ll also cover some of the risks involved with ultramarathons so you know what is expected when you start training for one.

What is an ultramarathon?

Ultramarathons have been around since at least the 1800s. They were popular for many years, but ultramarathons didn’t gain substantial popularity until the 1980s and 1990s when ultramarathon races started to grow in number and frequency, especially in Europe and North America.

What are the types of ultramarathon events?

There are ultramarathon races of all types, from those that take place on a track to those held in the desert or jungle. Some ultramarathons have been around for decades and others were created as recently as 2015.

Some ultramarathons feature point-to-point courses where runners traverse long distances with little or no repetition, like the ultramarathon races held in New York and Vermont or trails runs like Leadville 100.

Others ultramarathons use looped courses with aid stations along the way where runners can stop for food, water and medical attention if needed. The Western States Endurance Run is one of many ultra-running events that use looped courses.   

 Ultramarathons with looped courses have a predetermined number of loops that runners must complete before finishing the race and others allow ultramarathoners to continue running as long as they want until they either drop out or reach the finish line. Ultras like The Barkley Fall Classic, The Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 24 Hour Track Race and the Marathon Des Sables are ultramarathon races that fall into this category.

Some ultramarathons have both point-to-point courses with predetermined distances as well as looped courses where runners can continue running until they drop out or reach their goal. The JFK 50-mile ultramarathon is an example of this type, as ultramarathon runners can choose to run either a point-to-point course or one that includes out and back sections along the way.

The great thing about ultramarathons is there are races for everyone regardless of their experience level or location to participate in an ultramarathon race. There’s even a popular ultramarathon in Antarctica.

What happens to your body when you ultramarathon?

Your ultramarathon experience will depend on the distance of the race and how long it takes you to complete it, but most ultramarathons take several hours at least — upwards of eight for some ultradistance events like The Barkley Fall Classic ultramarathon.

During an ultramarathon, you’ll be running all or most of the time so it’s important to know what to expect when training for one. Your muscles will fatigue as they work hard to propel your ultramarathon body forward for hours. You may experience muscle cramps as a result of lack of electrolytes and dehydration, but ultramarathons have aid stations that provide you with the nutrition and hydration you need to keep going.

You will also likely feel some mental fatigue during an ultramarathon because it can be difficult to maintain a positive ultramarathon mindset when you’re in pain and going at it for several hours.

What are the benefits of ultramarathon training?

The benefits of ultramarathon training include weight loss, improved mental strength and improved stamina. Ultrarunners are known for their determination to finish an ultramarathon.

Ultramarathons help runners become more patient and forces them to slow down and become more mindful of their body. It also helps runners learn how to overcome mental barriers, which can make ultramarathons some of the best races out there.

Training for an ultramarathon is no easy feat. It takes a lot of time, effort and energy. The benefits of ultramarathon training are worth it, though, when you consider the many health and mental benefits that accompany ultramarathons.

What are the risks of ultramarathon training?

An ultramarathon is a long distance running event, so it’s important to understand all the physical challenges that come with ultradistance events before training.

Ultramarathons can be dangerous if runners don’t take the proper precautions to keep themselves safe and healthy during an ultramarathon race, like not running ultramarathons for more than 100 miles in one stretch or drinking too much water leading up to the event that causes runners to develop ultramarathon bellies. Ultramarathon bellies are very common ultramarathon side effects, but they are preventable if runners listen to their body before and during an ultramarathon.

How do I train for an ultramarathon?
The ultramarathon training you choose will depend on how much time and effort you’re willing to put into your training plan, but the key is consistency. Ultrarunners run nearly all of their miles in advance so they can keep up momentum during race day.

Ultramarathon training plans are typically 16 weeks long to prepare you for your race day, with about four hours of running per week. Most people will need more than this unless they are ultramarathon runners.

An ultramarathon training plan should also include strength workouts like pushups to help you build upper body endurance and core exercises that will keep your muscles strong as they fatigue during the race day ultramarathon.

What are ultramarathon nutrition strategies?

When it comes to ultramarathons, nutrition during the race is just as important as your training because you need to eat well before and after an event in order to keep your body fueled.

You shouldn’t rely on ultramarathons for nutrition because they only provide aid stations with water and sports drinks, which don’t have enough nutrients your body needs to recover after an event.

Your ultramarathon training and fueling should be closely monitored by a physician or dietitian, especially if your body weight has been steadily dropping which can decrease your performance during racing sessions. Ultradistance running puts a lot of stress on your body, so it’s important to stay healthy by eating nutritious foods and engaging in physical activity.

What ultramarathons should I choose as a beginner?

If you’re new to ultramarathons, we recommend starting off with an ultramarathon distance that is shorter than 100 miles so your body can get used to the physical demands ultramarathons require.

When choosing your first ultramarathon, look for races that are easily accessible and affordable so you can stay focused on training rather than worrying about travel logistics to the race itself.

If money is an issue, check out local running clubs in your area or a trail near where you live because there are ultramarathons all over the country, even in your backyard.

Do ultramarathons require ultramarathon training?

The short answer is no, but don’t expect to win an ultramarathon without putting in hours of ultramarathon training. Ultramarathons are not for the faint-hearted because runners need more than just physical strength and stamina on ultramarathon race day.

The ultramarathon training required to prepare for an ultramarathon includes running long distances, ultramarathons strength training and finding the right ultramarathons shoes that are designed specifically for extreme distances.

Are ultra runners crazy?

If ultramarathon runners aren’t crazy, then why would they push themselves to run for hours on end?
There are many benefits of ultramarathons including stress relief from running long distances and the opportunity to travel throughout the world. Shorter ultramarathons can be a fun way to meet people with ultramarathon aspirations and ultramarathons are a great way to stay in shape.

But, ultramarathon running can be dangerous if it’s not properly monitored by a doctor or dietitian because ultramarathons require specific nutritional requirements that change as the race day goes on.

Well-known ultramarathoner David Goggins

David Goggins is a ultramarathoner and retired U.S Navy SEAL who has finished over 100 ultramarathons, setting several ultramarathon records including completing the most Ironman triathlon events in one year (75), finishing Ultraman Canada by bike and running for 80 continuous hours on an ultramarathon bike ride.

If you’re interested in learning more about Goggins’ life story, read I Buy I Review’s comprehensive article here.