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VERIFIED CONTENTAuthor: Maciej Szukała

Ultra running is a unique and still relatively poorly known sport discipline. For most runners, the crowning achievement of a rigorous diet and exercise effort is the marathon distance. However, ultra-distance runs are slowly gaining in popularity in Poland. We explain what ultramarathons are, how to train for them and where to start this fascinating adventure.

Ultra racesare held at distances longer than a marathon. Theoretically, it can be said that a 43-kilometer run is already an ultra (the marathon is 42,195 meters). In practice, however, most ultra runs range from 50-60 km upwards (even up to 5000 km as part of the International Ultramarathon Festival in Athens).

What is ultra running?

The division into regular and ultra runs is debatable as there is no organization that draws a clear line. A characteristic feature of ultra runs is that the vast majority of them take place in attractive tourist areas and take the form of running in the field. The most popular formulas include:

  • skyrunning - the route runs at an altitude of 2000 m above sea level or more (in this case, we can distinguish Sky runs - up to 50 km, Ultra - over 50 km and Vertical - on a very sloping terrain),
  • fell running - the route runs off the beaten track and paths,
  • ultra mountain races - the competition takes place in mountainous terrain (not necessarily at high altitude).

In addition to the typical division, there is also a universal term "trail running", i.e. simply trail running. The issue is even more complicated as some of the races operate in the 24-hour and 48-hour formula, but not on the trail, but on the track. There are also stage runs, lasting even several days in a row.

Due to the specific nature of the terrain, there are practically no competitions in the skyrunning fotrmule in Poland (there are no high mountain ranges such as the Dolomites or the Alps). Ultra mountain runs, which are held, among others, are very popular. in the Sudetes and Bieszczady Mountains.

The most popular ultra races in Poland

Hundreds of races take place in Poland every yearultra distances. They are organized all year round, also in winter. Very often, the main competition at maximum distance is accompanied by shorter runs designed for less advanced riders. The most popular events are:

  • Garmin Ultra Race,
  • Łemkowyna Ultra Trail,
  • Bieszczadzki ultramarathon and Bieszczadzki Winter Marathon,
  • Winter Karkonosze Ultramarathon,
  • Butcher's Run and Butchers,
  • Run Ultra Granią Tatr,
  • Chudy Wawrzyniec,
  • 7 Valleys Run,
  • The rebellious monk.

How to train for ultra distances?

Taking part in running competitions is usually associated with the implementation of a complicated training plan at distances up to the marathon. Indeed, with shorter runs, progress requires a variety of training measures, such as tempo runs, aprons, intervals, and other speed training.

In the case of ultra runs, the training looks a bit different, because the vast majority of units is dedicated to building a large oxygen base. Long (even several hours) long runs in the first or second zone allow the muscles to effectively switch to oxygen metabolism and force the development of more slow twitch (red) muscle fibers.

All this so that the runner's body utilizes fat during the run, and to a lesser extent uses the glycogen accumulated in the muscles and liver. It is worth remembering that even in a very slim, professional athlete, the amount of fat in the body may be enough for many hours of continuous, not very intense work. Of course, the price for such an energy management is lower effort intensity. That's why ultra-distances are run slowly, and sometimes they are more like walking than classic running.

Except for the world's top competitors, who in the last kilometers of routes accelerate practically to sprint, beginners and intermediate people avoid zones of effort intensity other than those from the first to the third.

In ultra races, 80-90% of the whole year's work consists in performing the so-called easy runs in the first intensity zone. However, this is not the only training accent you should use. Among the remaining 10-20% you will find:

  • trot,
  • running trip,
  • second range,
  • cross,
  • fartlek,
  • rhythms,
  • runs,
  • running strength,
  • run with increasing speed.

Such a division of running training measuresproposes, among others Marcin Świerc, a leading Polish ultra race competitor and author of the book “Czas na ultra. Mountain running using the method of Marcin Świerc ”. Skilful incorporation of individual measures into the plan will allow you to maintain a sense of progress.

Ultra race nutrition

Nutrition becomes a fundamental issue during many hours of exercise. It is not victory that depends on hydration and energy supply, but reaching the finish line itself. When it comes to hydration, water (usually carried in vests or backpacks with a hydration system) and isotonic drinks play a key role.

In turn, energy is provided by gels and bars. Ultra runs are also known for the fact that there are nutritional points on the routes and - unlike the marathon, where drinks dominate - they are well-equipped. Of course, the availability and variety of dishes depends on the creativity of the organizer and the amount of the entry fee, but sandwiches, tortillas, crisps, dried fruit and even soups are the order of the day.

It is reasonable because the body is able to absorb solid food at low intensity of exercise, and at the same time the digestive system does not tolerate another sweet gel after many hours.

Are ultra runners on a diet?

With such enormous effort, strict dietary regimes usually do not work. That's why ultra runners are just trying to rely on unprocessed food. A typical distribution of macronutrients in this discipline is:

  • fats - 20-30%,
  • proteins - 10-20%,
  • carbohydrates - up to 60%.

You should also not forget about the proper hydration of the body and the consumption of vegetables and fruit to supplement the diet with vitamins, macro- and microelements.

You have to remember that ultra running is not bodybuilding. It's not about building an impressive figure with a diet, but about programming your metabolism for maximum savings. The slower the depletion of glycogen, the better. It would be an unattainable ideal if the body used only the energy stored in the form of fat from the beginning to the end of the race.

What tests should be done before training for the ultra run?

There is no doubt that running at a distance, which often exceeds 100 km, is a huge burden for the body, especially for the skeletal and cardiovascular systems. Although research is currently being conducted on the long-term impact of such long distances on he alth, so far no clear results are available.

We will have to wait at least a few more years for them, because the time of observation is very long. FROMHowever, there is certainly no clear confirmation that ultra is harmful to he alth.

Does this mean that it is a good effort for everyone? It is difficult to give an unambiguous answer, because practically no competitor (even an amateur) starts training from such a distance right away. Most often, starts or trainings for ultramarathon runs are preceded by many years of contact with other endurance disciplines - cycling, climbing, rowing or at least long-distance street running.

You could say that ultra runs are safe as long as you check your body regularly. What kind of research is it?

It is certainly worth taking care of the EKG and blood tests. For this second test, remember:

  • morphology - the level of white and red cells and platelets,
  • Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC),
  • creatine kinase (CK) - one of the markers of damage to muscle fibers, its increased level may indicate overtraining of the body,
  • testing the level of electrolytes - allows you to determine the level of sodium, potassium and magnesium, the deficiency of which may lead to disturbances in muscle work and nerve conduction,
  • cardiac troponins (Zng. Cardiac troponins, cTn) - allow to determine microdamages in the structure of the heart muscle, their level will usually be increased during intense training or immediately after a competition.

When is the best time to do blood tests? It is best to see a doctor during the pre-training period, and if you are not planning one in the near future, do it after a few days' break from the day you did heavy training.

Of course, blood tests are important, but if you want to start ultra training, think about fitness testing. You can order them in any sports laboratory (there are several of them in Poland, similar services are also provided by some medical universities).

In practice, endurance testing is simply running on a treadmill with an oxygen mask on your face. As time goes on, the treadmill speeds up more and more, and the athlete continues to work until he is no longer able to follow. As a result of such a test, you can determine the starting level of your form. More precisely it will be:

  • running speed (starting, average and maximum),
  • VO2Max VO2 Max,
  • maximum heart rate HR Max,
  • lung ventilation VE,
  • respiratory rate,
  • maximum oxygen uptake for aerobic and anaerobic exercise,
  • maximum heart rate for the oxygen threshold,
  • physiological cost - a concept broader than costenergy, because it includes not only the need for "fuel" needed to work, but also to carry out physiological changes (the lower it is, the less effort the body has to work to achieve the same effect).

Blood tests and fitness tests should be performed at least once a year, but it won't hurt to have them twice - at the beginning and at the end of the season (if you separate it).

List of mandatory equipment

If you have ever spoken to an ultramarathon runner, you must have heard about the list of mandatory equipment, which the organizer mentions in the competition regulations. This list will vary depending on the difficulty of the race.

The shortest one will have several positions, but the longest stage run taking place in the mountainous terrain is associated with the need to take many items with you, which, in addition, are checked several times along the route. What will you most often need to take with you?

  • backpack,
  • mobile phone,
  • rain jacket, pants with long legs,
  • foldable cup,
  • supply of water and food (most often gels or bars),
  • headlamps with a certain power (e.g. for UTMB, the organizer requires 2 headlamps, including one with a minimum power of 200 lumens),
  • whistle,
  • elastic bandage and NRC foil.

There are also other requirements (e.g. hat or buff, sunglasses or gloves).

Contrary to appearances, compulsory equipment is not an unnecessary invention, but taking care of the safety of players. Shortages in equipment can be punished with time pen alties and even disqualification!

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