What is ultrarunning?
An ultrarunning race is defined as a footrace of any distance greater than the 26.2 mile (m) distance of the marathon. Popular distances for ultramarathons are 50 kilometers (50k), 50m, 100k and 100m, but any race distance greater than 26.2m is considered an ultra. The majority of ultra races are held off road; on dirt trails, sand, snow or some combination of natural footing. Courses offer a variety of vertical ascent and descent: from the relatively tame Rio del Lago 100m in Northern California with nearly 11,000 of vertical gain, to the monumental UTMB, a 104.2m ultramarathon that travels through three European countries and gains 31,500 feet.
Why do people run ultras?
That’s a complex topic more suitable for psychology journals than a blog post. Personally, I have run more than a dozen ultramarathons. I run them both for the personal challenge and to be part of the ultrarunning community. I have found that ultrarunners naturally exhibit positive can-do attitudes and I enjoy being around their energy and spirit.
Now that you know a bit about the ultrarunning sport and the community, here are four reasons why you should consider ultrarunning a desirable skill for job candidates and business partners.
4. Problem Solvers
In an ultra, the tiniest grain of sand can lead to monumental race-ending problems (blisters!) A frayed shoe lace, upset stomach, electrolyte depletion and a variety of other problems can all lead to difficult situations. Ultrarunners must be able to identify, troubleshoot, and repair their body and psyche under often extreme and isolated conditions.
Ann Trason is one of the greatest ultrarunners ever. You might think the 14-time winner of the prestigious Western States 100 mile endurance race would credit her legs or lungs as her greatest race-day attribute. It was her mind that made her a legend in the sport.
“I think problem solving was my biggest strength,” she told the Trail Runner Nation podcast in May 2015. “I never thought I was the most talented runner out there, I really didn’t… But I could problem solve and I loved it.”
3. Time Management
Ultrarunning requires specific time management both on race day and during the weeks and months of training. Runners have to monitor pace and effort in relation to their physical capabilities compared to the terrain and temperatures ahead. Most races have mandatory cutoff times on course and at the finish. Western States awards coveted silver belt buckles to finishers under 24 hours. The race ends after 30 hours and any runners left on course after the 30 hour mark are recorded as non-finishers of the event.
Training for an ultra takes a significant time commitment; time that must be carved out of everyday responsibilities like family, house work, hobbies and jobs. In a 16-week ultramarathon training program published by Runner’s World, week one requires 4.5 hours of running between Saturday and Sunday. The program builds up to 9 hours of weekend running at week 14 before starting a taper leading to race weekend. Ultrarunners are great planners who routinely exist within training schedules, similar to project timelines, with identified scope, resources, milestones and contingencies.
2. Selfless Team Players
First, let’s recognize a necessary difference exists between an ultrarunner’s personality in “real life” and an ultrarunner’s personality on race day. Race day is an absolutely selfish endeavor. To be successful on race day, whether that means chasing the win or just beating the cutoff times, an ultrarunner benefits from being internally tuned as it allows them to troubleshoot, course correct and conserve energy. And let’s recognize that running ultras is most often a solitary endeavor, although relay and team events do exist.
How are ultrarunners selfless, team players? Ultrarunners do not succeed alone. It takes support from family, friends, race organizers, volunteers and competitors to make an ultrarunner successful. Training and racing ultras often requires runners to travel remote trails without cell service or sources of water or fuel. In part, that’s why they practice the golden rule and treat others on the trail as they would like to be treated. When I prepare for a long training effort, I try to pack enough fuel for my time on the trail plus extra energy gels and/or an extra nutrition bar. That extra fuel is in case I happen upon another runner in need of nourishment during their long solo effort.
1. Strategically Goal Focused
The goal is the finish line which can be 50k, 100m or some other distance away. Pursuit of the finish line begins many months or even years prior to toeing the starting line. On race day, when times get tough – which they always do – it’s the goal that propels ultrarunners further.
“If you want to hit a goal, you not only need to specify the great things that are going to happen when you hit that goal, but also the work that is required along the way,” said Travis Macy, professional ultra-endurance athlete, in a Trail Runner Nation podcast in August 2015. “A key piece when you’re setting that goal is to imagine, and really layout, the steps that are going to be required to really make that happen.”
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