The Difference Between A Marathon and An Ultra Marathon
Most of us would consider any marathon an ultra event, but there is a difference between a marathon and an ultra marathon. An ultra marathon is an event that is longer than the regulatory length of 26.219 miles, or 42.195 kilometers. They are designed for the marathon runner who has already conquered the traditional marathon and are looking for a new and exciting challenge.
If you have been doing marathons for a while, and are feeling a lack of accomplishment from them, the ultra marathon may set your goal for something more, higher, faster and longer. Like the ironman , which is a highly challenging race that incorporates swimming, running, and cycling, they are a new spin on an old tradition for runners.
Length of a traditional marathon
The reason why the traditional marathon is 26.219 miles is deeply routed in history and tradition. In the 1908 Olympic games that were held in London, the distance was charted to cover the distance from the Windsor Castle to White City Stadium. It was altered from its original length so that the marathon runners would finish in the view of the Royal family.
The first marathon was run to commemorate the run of a solider by the name of Pheidippides. The story goes that he ran from a battlefield close to the town of Marathon, Greece all the way to Athens in the year 490 B.C.. He ran the distance of 25 miles on foot to announce that the Persians had been defeated by the Athenians. The very first marathon was held in 1896 at the Olympics in Athens. That led to the first Boston marathon run in April 19,1897.
Ultra marathons - by distance or time
Ultra marathons can come in two different fashions. An ultra marathon can either cover a specific distance, or it can be an event that is specified by a specific amount of time, whereby the winner is the one who has gone the longest at the ending time. Most ultra marathons fall into three different lengths: 50 kilometers or 31.069 miles, 100 kilometers or 62.137 miles, or 100 miles or 160.9344 kilometers. They can, however, be any length and any specified time allotment. The world record, as assigned by the International Association of Athletics Federations, the body which governs track and field, is 100 kilometers.The longest recorded ultra marathon is 100 miles .
Other categories for ultra marathons are double marathons, multi-day runs of 1,000 miles or more and 24 hour races. They can vary in course range, be strewn across regions, trails, or multiple loops. They also have different challenges attached to running such as extreme weather conditions, elevation variations, or very rugged terrain. Most of the extreme marathons are held on uncharted paths and trails.
Pushing your limits
The most famous ultra marathons have people coming from worlds away to show off their almost inhuman abilities to withstand conditions that are legendary. The Marathon des Sables is one of the most difficult ultra marathons in the world. It is a 154-mile track that runs for six days through the Sahara of Southern Morocco. Not only is the distance grueling, the sand makes it that much more temperamental. There are times when it feels more like quicksand under the runner’s feet. Temperatures in the Sahara can reach over 100 degrees at certain times of the year, giving new meaning to the feeling of “standing on the sun”. Nothing to joke about, this marathon has claimed three lives since its inception.
7 days in Grand Canyon
The Grand to Grand Ultra is a race that runs through the Grand Canyon. As if watching over the Grand Canyon is not awe-inspiring enough, those who are brave enough to take on the challenge, trek through sandstone cliffs and long distances through the desert. Over sand dunes and through canyons, this 147-mile run is spayed out over 7 days. The highest pinnacle has runners climb over 19,000 feet in total. Held in the cooler air of October, this truly tests the human spirit.
Amazon jungle challenge
The Ultra Jungle has its claim to fame for the downhill 10,500 feet trek through the Amazon. The 142.6-mile route has runners go through everything from ultra temperatures at 90 degrees or more, humidity that will curl even the most poker-straight hair, and insects that are more than just a nuisance. Bring your water shoes, because you have to go through 70 tropical streams and rivers. To help out, there are zip lines to give you a bit of a boost. This one is only for those runners who truly have “jungle fever”.
Boiling hot in Death Valley
The Badwater Ultra marathon began in the 70s and is still considered one of the toughest foot races out there. Racing through Death Valley, this 135-mile is held in the dead heat of the summer. Going from the Badwater Basin of Mount Whitney, the 13,000 foot elevations mean that marathoners have to train for extreme respiratory conditions. It holds its prominence as being the race that runs from the lowest peak of the United States to the highest. Talk about peaks and valleys?
Going back to the roots – the ultra way
Taking from the history of the very first marathon’s origins, the Spartathalon is held in Athens Sparta to commemorate the run of Pheidippides. This race does not have the runners going from mountains to jungles. In fact, the course itself is pretty benign. The biggest hurdle to running this marathon is that it is all about speed. The runners have 36 hours to try to complete the course. There are checkpoints along the way, and if the runner doesn’t meet them all, they are disqualified. Considered extreme for other reasons, it takes a special kind of training to be the fastest, not the one with the most endurance.
Find the right race for you
For those who are looking for new challenges and feats to train for, the ultra marathon is an excellent way to create new goals for yourself and to push yourself farther. They not only give you higher goals to shoot for, they can breathe new life into your training efforts. If you are going to train for an ultra marathon, choose the type that you want to run. Knowing what type of conditions you are going to encounter will give you the guide to what you should include in your training routine. Ultra marathons require more overall training, and strengthening, especially for situations such as hills, or climatic changes. Although planning ahead for things that you will encounter is near impossible when running a marathon, there are those things that will help you to run faster, conquer bigger hurdles and keep you on track to finish the race in record time.
If you are looking for an ultra marathon, you may have to travel to find one. Being that they are for a very small segment of experienced and advanced runners, they are not held as frequently as your traditional marathon. That can be both good and bad. It means that you will get to see things you may not have before, travel to far away places and commence with people from around the world. It also means that it can be costly, and something that you may have to really plan ahead for. Since training will take some time, make sure to map out the ultra marathon you want to train for well in advance.