How To Select a First Ultramarathon

iRunFar.comFirst off, with a few exceptions there are no bad first ultras. A flat road course would more closely resemble the races most runners are most familiar with while a more arduous mountain race would provide more walking breaks and the scenery would lift your flagging spirit from time to time.

One could consider many factors in choosing a first ultra. If I were to suggest one as most useful it would be familiarity. This familiarity can be either preexisting or learned. If you are fortunate enough to live where that are mountain trails out your back door and there’s a race on those trails, run it! If, like me, you live within an hour or two of trails that are home to ultras, consider one of those races. You don’t need to run the race course every day to know it well. Rather, consider making the course the site of some of your long training runs.

If you don’t live near or can’t get to any ultra locations, consider talking to others who have run ultras. Find out as much as you can about a particular race. (In fact, this is a good idea even if you can run some or all of the course before race day.) Even if you’ve run for years, it’s great to know strategies for approaching the course on race day, to know where to be prepared for the heat or the cold, or to know how much water you should carry between particular aid stations. Before my first 100 miler (Western States 2004), I went to a briefing three of my clubmates put on. Before ever arriving in Squaw Valley, I felt like I was veteran of the race. I knew the course and how to approach it. Learn from those who have gone before you.

Now that you’ve chosen a first ultramarathon, read our guide on Ultramarathon Training.

There are 9 comments

  1. KC

    Great post. I look forward to reading more in the "series." It's always heartening to hear that you faster runners do some of the same things we slower runners do, although on a smaller scale. I always thought the front-runners ran EVERYTHING, so it's eye-opening to read that you too take a walk break here and there.Glad to hear your fast-packing adventure is coming along.

  2. Trail Goat

    KC, Glad you've found my blog and found it useful as well. :-) Please let me know if there's anything else you'd find helpful whether it be related to what I've already posted or something else entirely.Well, if I'm a "faster runner," then, yup, we walk. Based on first hand knowledge, I can assure you that even record setting efforts at mountain hundreds see their fair share of walking. I certainly enjoy walking breaks in my ultras and it's one reason that I generally prefer mountain racing over flat ultras.

  3. Chris

    Bryon, any comments on good ultra's in the VA area to begin with? I'm targeting Holiday Lake 50K++ as my first foray past 26.2. Also, any information on fuel management during the race would be most helpful! Keep up the great work.Mark and I are getting together to try and get a Spring 24 HR race in Richmond, so I'll let you know how the planning goes!

  4. Trail Goat

    Chris, As always, Horton puts on a good race with Holiday Lake. Just know that it's a ton of running! The HAT Run 50k in northern Maryland at the end of March is another good ultra for first timers. I like HAT enough that it's the only race I've run every year since I started ultrarunning. I've already entered HAT for 2008, which will be my 6th running.As I mentioned in the post, I don't think there are many bad first ultras. I think this is especially true with 50ks. My first ultra was Horton's Promise Land 50k. While I counted the climb up Apple Orchard Falls late in the race as the most humbling athletic experience in my life until being crushed by the final 25 miles at Wasatch four years later, I appreciated the opportunity all the hills gave me to walk.As for fueling, I certainly plan on posting on the subject. It'll be one of the entries in the iRunFar Ultramarathon Guide.Good luck with the spring 24 hour race. I'd be careful not to conflict with the Athletic Equation 24 hour race held in Prince William Forest in late April.… . I think there is interest out there for 24 hours runs, but not so much that having multiple events on the same or consecutive ideas would be good for either race. Please let me know how the planning goes!

  5. See Zanne Run

    love this site – i'll be coming back often. i just ran my third marathon and am ready for a change – i've never done any trail running but am dying to try (as soon as i get over a minor but nagging post-marathon ITB issue!) and have been trolling the internet looking for fall 2008 ultras. i can't wait to find the race, put in on my calendar & start training. after my last very hilly marathon (and a BQ attempt) – i am looking forward to running the sort of race where walking the uphills is actually encouraged, yes?

  6. Julianne

    Hi ByronI just signed up for my first AR 50, on April 4th. I am trying to find as many blogs about it as possible to prepare. I can't find anything using your search feature on irunfar. Do you have an entry written about the race?Thanks!JW

  7. Bryon Powell

    Hi Julianne,The reason you can't find another on iRF about the AR50 is because there's nothing here on the race. While I've been on part of the course, I've never run the race.Best of luck,Bryon

  8. Julianne

    Ha ha. Good reason. Fair enough. It might be one you should ask a contributor to do for you, since it is so well known as a "first 50".

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