Running an Ultramarathon

By Guest Blogger Jacob Bergmeier
I recently completed my first ultramarathon at the Jack Bristol’s Lake Waramaug Ultramarathon on April 21. For those who are unaware of “ultras”, they are the any distance beyond a traditional marathon (26.2 miles). I decided to do the race before the New Year as a way to memorialize my mother who passed away 15 years ago on April 11 and by raising money for breast cancer. When I told my friends and family that I was going to do a 50 mile race, most of them looked at me like I had three heads. It’s an unfathomable distance for anyone who isn’t a runner. I get that. Though those strange looks may also have had something to with the fact that despite all of the miles I have logged over the years, I have never run a marathon… or even a half marathon. In fact the longest race I have ever run was 10 kilometers 11 years ago while I was running cross country in college.

Over the course of my 4 month training plan, most days I woke up around 4 am to begin running. Sundays were my long days; my five week peek distance runs being 25, 25, 27, 31, 30 miles. My total weekly miles hovered between 55-70 miles. Until I began to taper, I only took five individual days off (all were 3 mile recovery runs) for family reasons and ran all but 5 times by myself. I stayed injury free for the whole time by stretching and foam rolling, eating right (I am not vegan or a paleo), giving myself enough sleep, and being cautious of my footing. I took my iPhone on every run to capture an image (or 10) and I used the Runkeeper App to document my miles through the phone’s GPS and so my wife and family could check in to see where I was on my journey.

About a week before the race on the memorial of my mother’s death I wrote on my blog about my experience and how it affected me. Here is what I wrote : Nearly 4 months ago I began a journey to run a 50 mile ultramarathon in memory of my mother who died 15 years ago from Breast Cancer. I wanted to mark the anniversary by doing something really special and I thought to myself, “I know if I can just make it to the starting line, I can do this”. I am a firm believer in the importance of doing great things around the time of the death of a loved one. For me it has helped take the sting out of the memories that surround the death of a loved one. Over the years I have written meaningful blog posts about my mother, celebrated Mass (a friend even offered to go to Mass with me to support me), traveled through Europe (twice), gone hiking, played with Lillian, and now this… the ultramarathon. Sure, I have moments, but not like I used to. They tend to be brief and then I move on. Because of those happy memories that I make year after year, I am able to focus more on the memories I want to cherish about my mother.
Like the Christmases we spent as a family with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. I enjoy recounting the trips to museums, botanical gardens, and musicals and plays. I think about the homemade food we would prepare together, the crafts we would make, and the plans to travel we talked about.
This year has given me something even more special around the time of my mother’s death. I have seen and experienced some incredible things that I never want to forget. From the countless sunrises as the cool black of night transitions to warm daylight, state line markers from more than a hundred years ago and stone foundations of homes that no longer exist, the friendly horseback riders in the woods who give me advice on where I should run, and most of all, peace of mind. I have begun to live in the here and now and worry so much less about the future and past. I am less addicted to being connected virtually and more connected with my family (admittedly still a work in progress). I have reignited my thirst for adventure and being in the environment. My diet has changed and opened my eyes to what goes into my body for fuel and pleasure. I am more focused, generally happier, and I have so much more energy to get me through the day. Those are just a few of the many things that I have been able to do – those are just a few of the things that have made my life happier.

Endurance races are nothing new, but the number of participants at these distances are growing at an exponential pace. I am so happy to be a part of this trend and the ultra community and I look forward to many more races in the future. I’m hooked!

If you have never run an ultramarthon and are thinking of completing one, here is some advice.

1. Seek out a coach who knows. A good coach will cost you between $100-200 depending on the access you want. I know it sounds like a lot, but this is something that you want to take seriously. Coaches will tell you what shoes you should really buy, what you should be doing in training and how to make it work with your lifestyle, what to eat, and so much more. Bonus: Some of the coaches out there can get you serious discounts on things like shoes, recovery products, and other necessities potentially saving you more money than you spend on the coaching in the first place.
2. Talk it over with your significant other before you commit. I spent between 3-5 hours running every Sunday. While most of the running I did was before the rooster crows, there were a quite a few day time runs that occured. That’s a lot of family time I missed.
3. Don’t get hung up on what the pros (or even good runners) are doing. You are your own keeper. More on this Risk Addiction by Sherpa John.
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