Ultra marathons are gathering popularity for good reason, though there are still some myths and reservations around the sport. Here, we explain what’s involved in an ultra and expel the one common myth that often puts people off (Spoiler: you don’t need to be an elite athlete to run one). Plus, we explore how to train for an ultra marathon and one handy hack that makes signing up for one, a whole lot easier. Lace up, let’s go.
What’s the difference between a marathon and an ultra marathon?
A marathon spans a standard distance of 26.2 miles; an ultra marathon is considered to be anything longer than that. Technically speaking though, ultras tend to be around 31 miles. Another major difference is that marathon runners usually check their completion times, whereas with an ultra, you can run, jog or walk at your own pace and you won’t find anyone asking “What was your time?” at the finish line. Once you’ve completed an ultra, who cares about time? Nobody – you’re a legend.
Do you have to be an elite athlete to run an ultra marathon?
No, though phrases like “ultra marathon” and “extreme sport” sound pretty intense, anyone can go for it. You will of course need to train and prepare for an ultra, but we’ll cover that later. What makes ultra marathons accessible is that you’re encouraged to run at your own pace; even more so than if you were running a marathon. Even elite runners turn the dial down on their speed during an ultra marathon. This provides the perfect opportunity to chat and take in the sights and scenery along the way. It’s about enjoying the route to the finish line; not the time.
What’s so good about ultra marathons?
There are so many reasons why people love ultra marathons. Of course, there’s the health and fitness benefits, the fresh challenge, the endorphins, beautiful scenery, new destinations and the much-loved sense of camaraderie. Not forgetting the opportunity to make new friends. Though longer in distance than a marathon, ultras offer more time to slow down, catch your breath and chat to fellow participants.
Where do ultra marathons take place?
You’ll find them all over the world. If you’ve got wanderlust, taking on an ultra is the perfect excuse to explore far-flung destinations. From Africa to Australia and Barbados to Brazil, ultra marathons take place in some of the most beautiful locations across the globe. Of course, there are also plenty of UK-based events, from the Isle of Wight to the Lake District. Where would your dream ultra destination be? Take a look at Action Challenge for ultra inspiration.
How do you train for an ultra?
It’s a good idea to give yourself around six months to train for an ultra marathon, maybe more if you’re new to long distance running or walking. For your first two months of training, start by slowly building your distance and mileage. Avoid increasing your mileage by more than 10% each week because this can lead to injury. Around four months before the event, add one hill workout and one speedwork run per week into your routine. Two months before, add a trail run (or run on terrain that’s similar to the one at your event). Finally, two weeks before the big day, decrease your mileage by around 20% and focus on rest and nutrition. This will give your body time to recover, so you can give it your best.
How to prepare for an ultra marathon?
Once you’ve got your training plan pinned down, there are a few more key points to consider in your ultra prep.
- Prioritise nutrition. Make sure you have a strong nutrition plan for before, after and during the ultra, to keep your energy levels up.
- Wear your kit in. Don’t save your new gear – particularly not your running shoes – for the big day. Make sure you get plenty of wear out of your kit in advance, to reduce chafing, rubbing and blisters.
- Make time to rest. Your body needs to recover from training before taking on a challenge. Schedule plenty of time for rest and to get yourself in the right mindset before the big day.
- Take layers and waterproofs. Make sure you expect the unexpected when it comes to the weather. Pack plenty of layers that you can slip in and out of depending on the temperature, and don’t forget waterproofs for any surprise showers along the way.
What’s different about an Action Challenge ultra?
Action Challenge ultra events are different to anything we’ve seen before in the world of ultras. They’re popular because the team at Action Challenge creates a fully immersive, memorable experience. Rather than simply taking part in an ultra and going home, you’ll be whisked away to some of the most amazing locations and iconic sights across the globe. Action Challenge take care of the full end-to-end organisation for you, from the ultra itself, to unforgettable sight-seeing adventures and even your accommodation. You can leave it all in their hands whilst you focus on training and preparing. Plus, by signing up through Action Challenge, you’ll be fully supported on your ultra journey, every step of the way.
So, if you’ve been thinking about taking on an ultra marathon, this is your sign. Check out Action Challenge to find your next, fully-organised adventure. It’s really worth a look.
5 reasons why The ROC Trilogy is a must - for everyone
The beauty of THE ROC Trilogy? It’s a challenge like no other, but you don’t have to be an elite athlete to take part. We caught up with personal trainer and resilience coach Slav Josephson to find out what he thinks makes the ROC so special.
After a near-death experience with sepsis in 2021, the first endurance event that personal trainer Slav Josephson took on after leaving the ICU, was THE ROC Trilogy. He caught THE ROC bug and has since been encouraging his clients to take part, too. So, why do people of all backgrounds love THE ROC Trilogy so much? What makes it so unique? We caught up with Slav to find out.
1. It’s inclusive and beginner-friendly
The beauty of THE ROC Trilogy? It’s a challenge like no other, but you don’t have to be an elite athlete to take part. Slav believes it’s the idea of cut-off times that puts people off taking part in endurance events. With THE ROC Trilogy, you needn’t worry about that. “THE ROC is super good with stuff like this”, says Slav. “Even if you don’t make the cut-off time, the team still lets you finish the race. With THE ROC Wales for example, you have a time to meet at a certain point up Snowdon. If you don’t make that time, you can just turn back and finish the race, without running the full distance, you will still get your medal just with a different ribbon. If you want to encourage people to do events like this, that’s a massive part of it, because then they’re not scared about not completing it”.
2. The breathtaking views
THE ROC Trilogy offers views like no other. During THE ROC Wales, you’ll witness panoramic views from Snowdon. THE ROC England will see you biking past Coniston water. THE ROC Scotland promises tip-top views of Ben Nevis – to name just a few of the highlights. Slav’s favourite one to take part in is ROC Wales. “Wales in particular is just on a different level”, he says. “You start off at the sea on the beach, go through the forest, pass waterfalls and rivers. The 50k distance goes by just like ‘that’ because you’re just like ‘wow, wow, wow’. It’s like the whole world is condensed into one spot”. One thing that’s an absolute must on your packing list: a camera.
3. It’s a huge confidence boost
Speaking of THE ROC Scotland, Slav says it’s the toughest challenge he’s ever taken on but that the feeling of completing it has boosted his confidence. When he took part, it was during the peak of a bad storm. “People who were supporting me were like ‘we’re getting weather warnings and they’re shutting train stations – but Slav is doing THE ROC!”, he says. “I literally had cramps everywhere but when I crossed that finish line, the feeling was unexplainable. A massive chunk of people never turned up and a big chunk didn’t finish. Being part of those who finished, it makes you realise your strength and you can transfer this into everyday life. When something happens in your life – like my illness – you think ‘if I can do that, I can cope with tasks in everyday life, as well’”, says Slav. If that’s not a good reason to take part, we don’t know what is.
4. The warm welcome
THE ROC Trilogy welcomes you into an inclusive community. “It’s nothing like the other big brands of triathlons where you’re literally just a number”, Slav says. “THE ROC is very family oriented. Everyone knows your name and there’s lots of chat before the race. There’s no egos. If anything needs sorting out, the team will do their best to help. With other brands, if you need help with anything, they will just send you a link to the rules”. As well as the support from THE ROC’s event organisers, Slav notes a great sense of camaraderie amidst his fellow participants. He says: “This guy, Iain, he wins everything. I don’t know how he does it. People who win other events I’ve taken part in, they wouldn’t just stop and chat to you – because they’re winners. Iain [winner of THE ROC] stops and talks, we message on Instagram. That’s the great thing about THE ROC”.
5. It enhances your training regime
Training for THE ROC Trilogy involves strengthening all areas of your body through swimming, biking and running. This enhances your training regime and reduces your chance of injury in all disciplines. Taking part in an endurance event like THE ROC “will keep you in your training regime”, says Slav. “The fear factor makes you get out there and train, be nervous about it, and makes you feel alive. It’s the mental aspect, too”, he continues, “you finish the event and think ‘oh, maybe I’m better than I think”.
If Slav’s story has left you feeling inspired, why not sign up?
We thought so! Learn more about THE ROC events below:
To follow Slav and support him in his next endurance triathlon, click here.
5 endurance event prep tips, with coach Slav Josephson
So, you’ve signed up to an endurance event (good choice), but where do you start when it comes to preparing? There are a few points to consider, to make sure you get the most out of your event, whether you’re taking part as a newbie or an elite athlete.
So, you’ve signed up to an endurance event (good choice), but where do you start when it comes to preparing? There are a few points to consider, to make sure you get the most out of your event, whether you’re taking part as a newbie or an elite athlete. We caught up with personal trainer, fitness instructor and resilience coach Slav Josephson to get the lowdown on his top prep tips for endurance events. (To follow Slav or support him on his next challenge click here).
1. Consider the extras in your kit
When it comes to endurance events, the kit will take a little more consideration than a marathon, for example. Slav notes the importance of “proper trail shoes – like mid to high trainers”. You’ll be traversing rugged terrains in all weathers so specialist shoes will stand up to those demanding environments. Aside from the obvious gear and safety requirements, Slav recommends running sticks - they’ll help you to navigate tricky obstacles without breaking your stride. Finally, “a GoPro or phone camera”, says Slav, “you don’t wanna miss the views!” We couldn’t agree more.
2. Train in your gear
Once you’ve chosen the right gear – and all the extras you’ll need to embrace the adventure – Slav recommends training in your gear before the big day. Of course, when it comes to your running shoes, you need to wear them enough during training so they’re comfortable in time for your endurance event, with no rubbing or blisters. Slav also recommends training with your backpack and running sticks so you get used to having them with you when you hit the trails.
3. Adjust your training
Whether you’re taking on an endurance event to finish it, or you’re in it for the camaraderie and breathtaking views, you can’t go wrong in adjusting your training to meet the demands of endurance events. “I’d incorporate high elevation into one of my weekly runs”, says Slav, “as well as a brick session run – usually followed by a bike or mountain hike, or even a treadmill session or spin”. Brick training refers to training that features two different disciplines – usually a run followed by a biking session. Many athletes find it useful for getting their bodies used to moving from one sport to the next in a single session, without experiencing the dreaded “jelly legs”.
4. Train hard, but don’t stress over speed
The best part of an endurance event is the breathtaking views and sense of camaraderie amongst your fellow participants. Whilst Slav recommends preparing your body by gradually increasing your mileage and speed, he also notes the importance of not stressing over pace and speed. When training his clients in the past, he notes that they appreciated having “no stress over cut times. “If you don’t make a certain point, you can turn around and still finish the race. Just a little shorter”, he says. Reaching personal bests are great but with an endurance event, the very act of finishing it will give you a huge confidence boost. “Just go out there and do your best under the circumstances”, says Slav.
5. Master the endurance mindset
By their very nature, training for endurance events can take their toll as your body and mind push past boundaries you may not have come up against before. Whilst this will undoubtedly take willpower and determination at times, remember not to compare yourself to others. Your own progress is what counts. “Like with any other training, be prepared for bad days. Realise that it’s the bad days that create us”, says Slav. On the days that feel hard, remind yourself why you’re doing this, don’t take yourself too seriously and of course – think about those incredible views from the top.
We thought so! Learn more about THE ROC events below:
Fundraiser of the month - Ryan
“I’m raising money for the Meningitis Research Foundation and for me, raising awareness is equally as important.”
How did you first start fundraising? What was your motivation?
My brother, Graham, passed away from a rare strain of meningitis in 2019, aged 20. Since then, life hasn’t been the same for myself, my family, or his friends. This is something that will never make sense. Graham didn’t have any of the usual meningitis symptoms; he was fit, healthy and young. The illness took him within hours.
Why did you choose the Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF)?
Since Graham’s death, I’m committed to raising as much money as I can for the Meningitis Research Foundation and for me, raising awareness is equally as important. When you’re at university, you think you’ve got your whole life ahead of you, but meningitis can strike very quickly. I encourage everyone to look up the symptoms of meningitis. It can affect anyone at any time. Being knowledgeable about this killer disease could help save the lives of those close to you.
What support do you get from the Meningitis Research Foundation?
The MRF are very supportive. They offer regular fundraiser check-ins, training webinars, a Facebook group for fellow marathon runners and of course, massage and plenty of food and drinks at the end of the marathon!
What do you get from fundraising?
The key benefit for me personally is raising awareness, so I feel like I’m making a difference. There are also other benefits I’ve found such as meeting other people who have sadly suffered similar loss. I’ve made lots of friends through running and it’s given me the chance to spend time with like-minded people.
For people starting out, what are your top tips?
You don’t have to be a runner to run a marathon. Running events are about bringing people together and doing something positive. The main thing is to enjoy it. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone also gives you a great sense of achievement and is great for building resilience.
What are some of the most memorable ways you’ve raised money for MRF?
The Richmond Half Marathon was the first event I ran in Graham’s honour. Lots of Graham's friends and family ran it too. Most of us had never ran 5k prior to this, but everyone completed it. It was the first time I realised I could use running as a ‘force for good’, and since then I’ve ran in five events on behalf of MRF.
What are your goals for this year?
My personal running goal is aiming for a PB of sub 3hrs 25 in the 2024 TCS London Marathon . I’d better continue with the training!
My ongoing life goal is to raise both money and awareness for the Meningitis Research Foundation. So far we’ve raised over £36,000 in memory of Graham and I will continue to fundraise to defeat meningitis. If I can help raise awareness and it saves another family from going through what my family have been through, then I will have made a difference.
I think Graham would be really proud of us. My just giving link is https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/RyanW2024
Learn more about MRF and how you can get involved here.
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