How to Run An Ultra Marathon by Kim Collison – Part 1 – Why Run the Ultra Distance?

Why Would I Run An Ultra?


The feeling of ecstasy of crossing the finish line in an ultra can be amazingly powerful whether it’s your first or 43rd time. The moment of euphoria when you overcome the obstacles you have endured to reach your goal is an extremely addictive emotion. You may say never again but sooner or later you will be entering your next race to recreate those feelings.

I still replay the emotions I felt running down the lane to Coniston school at the end of the Lakeland 50. There was tears of joy, pride, happiness and excitement as I crossed the finish line to become British trail champion. The emotions were so strong not just because of the achievement but the culmination of years of hard work and the resilience needed on the day. The adversity I felt during the event included managing the stifling heat and maintaining form as my lead was challenged. An attraction of ultra running is the sense of journey whether this be across mountain, along a canal or around a track. They allow you time and opportunities to overcome personal battles of the mind with an increasing desire to give in. Challenges can range from Saharan heat at the Marathon des Sables, thousands of metres of ascent at the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, the monotony of laps of a track 24 hour race or blizzard conditions; like those experienced at the Hardmoors 55 2018. 

For me why I run ultras is not just the emotions I get from overcoming challenges. I love the connection I get by spending time in nature with dramatic mountain backdrops, sea views, heat of the sun, strength of the wind, sighting of a deer or the song of a lark. By running ultras I give myself more opportunity to experience these unique encounters with the natural environment.

I like to use ultras to explore places and travel to new environments. This month I have chosen to travel to the island of Madeira to race a 115km 7200m Ultra Trail World Tour event. I will be happy to experience a new island, journey across it’s unknown trails and compete against international competition all trying to do their best.

If you are a runner looking for the next challenge why not set your sights on an ultra? I always like to remember Henry Ford’s quote “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” With a solution focused mind, planning, hard work, perseverance and time, I like to imagine I can achieve my goals.

Start with setting a goal, this can generate desire, confidence and build a pathway to achieve your outcome. Start searching around race calendars for local ultra races which may capture your imagination, then think what do you want to achieve? Consider when is the race and have you realistically got enough time to prepare for it? Have a think what you will feel, hear and see if you succeed and is this outcome within your control?

The problem is once you learn you can overcome a bleak moor or 2000 metre pass in your path to the finish line, the emotions do not match the feelings you are trying to recreate. You find new ways to push your physical and mental limits further. This might be by running faster to beat a personal best, finish within the top 10 or to win a race. You can do this at any running race but this becomes ever more difficult to achieve especially as you get older. What you can still do is stretch your boundaries putting more hurdles in your way like running further, increasing altitude or including weather extremes.
I know a get a real sense of feeling alive when enduring the extremes of weather, as long as I am prepared with the correct equipment. A friend Alex and I raced in the first Dark Mountains mountain marathon where we were snowed on, had blizzards in our eyes and waded through ice cold knee deep melting snow. We kept moving to try to maintain some resemblance of body heat as hyperthermia was a real and dangerous threat. When the dawn broke and we had succeed in navigating our way around the course in the Black Coombe fells in the Lake District, Alex and I felt the warm inner glow of success soon followed by warm clothes and a hot drink.

I might set myself several targets for a race which vary from process focused to a measurable outcome result, this can help guarantee some form of success. My desired results for my next race in Madeira are keep smiling even in my darkest moments during the race, finish the race and top ten overall. The first is a process to help me overcome any barriers or bounce back when things do not quite work out to plan, enabling me to adapt with flexibility and gain some success.

The second keeps me focussed even when in those low points and the plan is just not working the way I imagined. I try and imagine what finishing will feel like; I take a look at the finish line before I start and imagine what I will hear if I get there. This is what could pick me back up off a support location chair and drive me back out on course. The final is what could I possibly achieve if I put in all the hard work and preparation in to get the best possible performance from myself in the time available. This relies heavily on the other competitors and with everything going well; it is realistic given past performances but not easy.

The question is what is going to be your first ultra? What is your goal?

Kim Collison – British International Ultra Runner and UK Athletics Level 2 Coach.
If you wish Kim to help you run faster or further then contact him through his website www.kimcollison.co.uk

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