Why everyone should run an ultramarathon

If you’d asked me a year ago, perhaps two, whether I thought I could realistically run an ultramarathon, I would have laughed in your face and probably said something like ‘no, and I don’t really want to either’.

The root of this belief was:

1) That I found (and still find) running 15km very difficult so could never imagine how I was supposed to run over 3x that amount and not die…

2) If I believed I could, I knew that I would have to give it a go. ‘Giving something a go’ means months of hard training, anxiety, doubt and the possibility of ‘failure’, which many of us aren’t inclined to experience, let alone seek out.

Last month I ran my first ever ultramarathon, 50km across the gorgeous Peak District hills. I signed up 3 weeks in advance of the race with no expectations, no ‘goals’ per se, just a desire to race at least once in 2020 and spend time outside. The race went better than I ever could have expected, and I truly loved every minute.

Image by Benedict Tufnell

4 weeks later I took part in my second ultra (depending on your definition) – 48km along the Jurassic Coast – simply because it was close to home and I know how beautiful the route is. I signed up one week before, and the whole experience was a delight.

Image by Jake Baggaley

From what I’ve seen of ultramarathons, they are friendlier, prettier and far more forgiving than your average road marathon. People rarely run the whole thing, you have support the entire route (in the form of checkpoints with water, foot, medical aid etc every 10k or so) and everyone is so friendly! Walking isn’t frowned upon and you see people of all shapes and sizes signing up – there is far less judgement than I think people expect from these events. Because it’s a small community too, you tend to get to know people pretty fast!

Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, people stop believing in trying out new experiences in favour of keeping to the known and the predictable. In short, people stop believing in themselves.

With this comes the knowledge that you’ll probably always be OK, but equally, probably never have the best time of your life, never find a new hobby and never experience all that life has to offer. Fear of the unknown, combined with mental images of elite athletes laughing at you for hobbling around a 50k course is enough to put anyone off… but I’m here to say that it shouldn’t!

Reasons to run an ultra:

  • Without pushing your body, you will never see what your body is capable of. It’s a lot more than you think.
  • Humans like to see progress. There is almost nothing more satisfying than seeing physical progress in running, whether that’s running to the end of your road, doing a faster 5k, or simply enjoying your run for the first time!
  • Trail ultras are far more forgiving on the joints than road marathons and similar, which means you’re less likely to experience running related injuries.
  • People (women especially) tend to improve or maintain endurance long into their 40s, meaning it’s the sort of hobby that you can take with you through your life, or pick up late! Runners (contrary to popular belief) actually have better functioning joints in older age than the average person.
  • It’s essentially an eating competition – the longer the run, the more you need to eat. If eating is one of your favourite pastimes (I know it is for me), you’ll probably do pretty well in an ultra!
  • The views! Maybe you think running is boring. Ultra running is NEVER boring. Choose one in a place you want to explore and enjoy the views!
  • You can’t pressure yourself to get a particular time on an ultra. Unless you’re an international champ, there’s no ‘doing well’ or ‘not doing well’ on an ultra. You signed up and showed up – that’s pretty epic! If you finish, you get a medal. Everyone is a winner here.
  • Training is about time on feet rather than pace or even distance. One of the hardest things about an ultra is being out on your feet all day, but if you have a busy job and spend a lot of time standing up, or enjoy walking a lot, you’ll probably be really good in an ultra. Of course, running training is important, but you have a head start if you are used to spending hours on your feet, even if you’re just standing still!
  • You get space. You might enjoy running with thousands of people around you – in which case I’d suggest doing a road marathon or something like the Great North Run. For ultras the chances are you’ll meet plenty of people along the way, but will never be penned in or surrounded by people.
  • It’s an adventure. While many road races feel quite similar, ultras are all different. They’re a great excuse to travel and explore somewhere new.
  • It’s a life experience. Ultras, especially multi-day ultras, can take over your life for up to a year, but the chances are they’ll also become one of the best things you’ve ever done. I’d say that’s reason enough to sign up!

If this blog post makes you keen to sign up, check out my vlog ‘10 things I learned from my first ultramarathon‘ and vlog of the ultra itself – I hope it’ll inspire you to get out there and give it a go!

Image by Jake Baggaley

How to care for your sports kit sustainably

Mud splatters, soggy shoes, dirt EVERYWHERE. As we move into the wetter months, one of the inevitabilities of spending lots of time training outdoors is the need to wash your clothes all the time. However, washing clothes is energy and water intensive, and 40% of clothes that we throw into the wash could be worn again.

Here are some tips to make the most of your workout wardrobe and ensure your clothes last as long as possible, as sustainably as possible.

Only wash your clothes when dirty

You might be tempted to throw your kit in the wash after every trip outdoors, but there’s a chance they don’t actually need washing each time, especially items such as leggings and outer layers. Over washing clothes can shorten their lifespan and release microfibres into waterways, damaging aquatic ecosystems. For clothes somewhere between clean and dirty, consider using an antibacterial spray such as Day 2 to reduce odours and make your clothes last an extra day.

Use a guppy bag

The washing of synthetic fibres is assumed to be the primary source of microplastics in the oceans, with 640,000 – 1,500,000 released in each wash. Guppy bags trap microfibres released by synthetic fabrics, which activewear is full of!

Don’t use fabric softener or tumble dry

Fabric softener can ruin activewear and reduce their sweat-wicking ability. Tumble-dryers can also damage activewear and use large amounts of energy, so air dry your clothes where possible, or dry on a low-heat setting.

Pre-treat stains and wash cool

One of the main reasons that ‘hot washes’ (40 – 60 degrees) are recommended is to remove stains. By pre-treating your clothes (I have found this Ecover stain remover to work well), you reduce the temperature it needs to be washed at, and ensure the worst stains still get removed. Washing clothes in a 30 degree cycle rather than 40 degrees uses 40% less energy and is less likely to damage clothes or fade colours. This saves money in the long run, both in bills and also having to buy new clothes. Always use liquid detergent for cooler washes and don’t add more than the recommended amount, or it’ll build up. Liquid detergent cleans better than powder and goes further. Check out sustainable products you can use for your laundry.

Add vinegar

If you’re worried about odours, add half a cup of white vinegar to the wash load and this will neutralise odours.

How to clean your trainers

Trainers and trail running shoes can generally take a pretty good battering, but avoid damage by removing excess mud when returning from a mucky run. I tent to wait until they’re dry and then hit them together outside to remove the worst of it.

To wash: If you have coloured trainers, remove white laces before putting them in the wash, or the colours may leach. Remove insoles and then place the trainers and insoles (if washable) into a pillowcase and into the wash. Wash on a cool wash with a towel or similar to stop them flying around the washing machine. Dry them in an airing cupboard or somewhere warm, but not on the radiator or tumble dryer – excessive heat will ruin them.

Images by Caylee Hankins

What are your top tips for taking care of your activewear sustainably? Any secret tricks? If you enjoy my posts regularly, please consider contributing so I can keep this page up and running (no pun intended).