5 Things To Unlearn About Ultrarunning

by Jim P.

running, training tips, ultramarathons

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Ultrarunning has grown in popularity, and become mainstream and commercialized.

Perhaps there is something unfortunate about this. We have possibly wandered away from the roots of our sport, and in some cases lost the purity or essence of it.

In this article I want to recommend 5 ways to embrace the true spirit of ultrarunning. To do this, you’re going to have to unlearn a few things you’ve been told or picked up along the way from the commercialization of our sport.



# 1 Thing To Unlearn: “I have to be a fitness model.”

You don’t have to be a sexy fitness model to be an ultrarunner.

Have you seen some of the most successful ultrarunners? Some of the men are super skinny and look like they just wandered out of the woods or a Burning Man gathering. Same deal with many ultra ladies.

The mark of a successful ultrarunner is not landing a photo shoot with Fitness Magazine. Yes, some of those CrossFit folks are pretty dang buff, but this is not the sort of thing ultrarunners give a rat’s ass about.

This isn’t a beauty pageant; not even a fitness one – this is about how far a human being can run across the earth.

North America has a long, rich history in ultrarunning, one that stretches back thousands of years. For much of that time, walking and running were the only means of travel and communication to bridge the huge, open spaces of the American continent. Native Americans were conditioned to cover great distances on foot from an early age. An adult Apache could travel on foot over the roughest terrain from 50 to 75 miles a day, keeping this up for several days at a stretch.

As an ultrarunner, you should be thinking in those terms – Apache Indians; not buns of steel. Forget about that other stuff. This is not about having the perfect fitness body. You have bigger fish to fry like figuring out how to run 100 miles as efficiently as possible.


#2 Thing To Unlearn: “I must have the perfect running attire.”

The Tarahumara ultra runners of Mexico’s Copper Canyon run in tunics and sandals — all of which you could round up at Goodwill for about $8 total.

Military folk run in fatigues and boots. Come on, toughen up!

Who said you need the latest and greatest fashionable high-tech running attire to be an ultrarunner? I know some successful ultrarunners who run in old beat-up khaki shorts and white t-shirt. This isn’t a fashion show!  Do you think those Apache Indians worried about coordinating their running outfit?

I suggest you do some runs in cut-off shorts and old t-shirt. It might help conjure up the true spirit of ultrarunning and serve as act of defiance against the commercialization of our sport.

Stop worrying about how trendy you look in your running gear. Stop! You’re an ULTRArunner. Throw on an old pair of shorts and t-shirt you rarely ever wash and head out to run — and be proud of it!


#3 Thing To Unlearn: “I must have a running coach.”

Can you read? Do you have access to the Internet? Do you have a few supportive ultrarunning friends?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, you don’t need a running coach.

Honestly, it’s not rocket science. There is no shortage of knowledge, wisdom and information related to every aspect of ultrarunning.

There are a few key principles related to ultrarunning training, and after that it’s pretty much whatever works for you. There is no magic formula.

If you want to be an ultrarunner, you have to train and fuel your body to run extreme distances. You might want a running coach for any number of reasons, but you don’t need a running coach. In other words, you can thrive as an ultrarunner without a coach.

Only a small percentage of ultrarunners around the world could even afford a running coach. No one can put the miles in for you. No one can stick to a nutrition plan for you.

You are capable of doing the research and creating an effective ultrarunning training plan, and settling upon something that works for you. You are capable of staying inspired and disciplined with your plan. You are capable of cultivating mutually fulfilling and supporting connections and relationships with other ultrarunners.


#4 Thing To Unlearn: “I must have the latest technology.”

Imagine Morpheus saying this: “What if I told you that you didn’t need the latest high-tech gadget to be a kick-ass ultrarunner?”

Do you have a smartphone and a plastic sandwich bag? That may be all the technology you need.

On your smartphone you can download free apps to monitor your training runs, nutrition plan, and virtually all other aspects of ultrarunning. You can stick your phone in a plastic sandwich bag to keep it dry from rain or sweat when you run.

You don’t have to own a Garmin or iFit watch to be an ultrarunner. The Apaches had none of this and could outrun almost any ultrarunner today.

Look, I’m not one of those anti-technology, lets-turn-back the-clock guys. But when did we get to the point where we thought we needed buns of steel, trendy running attire, a professional running coach, and a $600 running watch to be an ultraruuner?

Really? Is this what we’ve come to in the commercialization of our sport? It used to be that ultrarunning was considered a minimalist sport. Now it’s become a multi-million dollar capitalist empire.


#5 Thing To Unlearn: “I must have a gym membership.”

Ultrarunners don’t have to be gym rats. You don’t need a gym membership to be an ultrarunner.

You can do core and functional strength training in the privacy of your own home or outdoors. You can do push-ups and pull-ups and other body weight exercises in the privacy of your own home or outdoors. You don’t need weights or weight-lifting machines. You can survive without a treadmill.

Learn to run in the heat, cold and rain. Ultrarunners need exceptional mental toughness.

Too often gym training becomes comfy, familiar, and routine. A structured and punch-the-clock exercise approach is likely not the kind of training mindset you need to challenge your mind and body for demands of ultrarunning.

Find ways to challenge your levels of strength and endurance along the everyday paths of your life indoors and outdoors, instead of the artificial environment of a gym. Don’t be a gym rat. CrossFit is gym-training, but ultrarunning does not happen on a treadmill or in a gym.


You can do all the above things if you want – sculpt a perfect fitness body, wear the trendy running attire, hire a running coach, drop $600 on a sports watch, and train in a gym. You can do all of that, but you don’t have to.

You could just as well be a hippie-looking, cut-off short wearing, figure-it-out-yourself training, low-tech, no gym membership ultrarunner.

My suggestion in the spirit of ultrarunning is to be the minimalist, focus on mental toughness, challenge yourself the old fashioned way. Think Apache Indian, Aztec and the Tarahumara! Toughen up.

Ultrarunners tend to march to the beat a different drum, slightly insane, extreme, unconventional, and do things differently. It’s a badge of honor.