What It Takes to Finish Your First Multi Stage Ultra Marathon
Guest blog by Women’s Ultra Running Coach Hannah Walsh
Earlier this summer, through my Project: Breaking 250 programme, I led a group of eight ordinary women across the finish line of an extraordinary race. That finish line was RacingThePlanet Lapland, a 250km / 155 miles self supported multi stage ultra marathon above the Arctic Circle (the equivalent of six regular marathons in six days!).
A physically, mentally and emotionally challenging event that pushed these women beyond what they thought they were capable of to endure whatever it took to pursue their goal of crossing a life changing ultra marathon finish line.
Let’s start from the beginning, you might be wondering ‘what is a multi stage ultra marathon?’. An ultra marathon by definition is technically anything over a regular marathon distance. So, anything over 26.2 miles (26.3 miles is technically an ultra marathon but events usually start at 50km / 31 miles).
There are two types of ultra marathons: a single stage and a multi stage. A multi stage is typically held over more than one day. The total distance across the days is greater than 26.2 miles but each individual day might not be. They usually take place in some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring landscapes on earth with rich culture, places you would never normally dream of visiting on a regular vacation.
Some are self-supported, which means to add to the challenge of not only conquering six back-to-back marathons in six days, you also need to carry everything you need for the duration of the week in your backpack with only a place in a tent and water provided.
This was an event widely recognised as the most prestigious outdoor footrace series on the planet and ranked by TIME magazine as one of the Top Ten Endurance Events in the world. But these women were not elite athletes, they were wives, mothers, daughters who did not have the luxury of training 24/7.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks I hear people talk about when it comes to taking the leap and signing up for your first multi stage ultra marathon (heck any ultra marathon!) is the time you think you will need to spend training.⠀
Training for any ultra distance event often feels scary and intimidating because you are stepping into the unknown. You're busy (I totally get that!) and I know what it's like to train for a challenge like this in the midst of the daily juggle where training doesn't always come first, second or close to third priority.
The reality is, in most cases you don’t need to dramatically scale your current mileage in training. Back-to-back sessions (two training sessions placed in back to back succession - usually a Saturday/Sunday) are a great way to squeeze in extra mileage if you can’t afford to be out training for big chunks of time. Mentally, this can be a huge confidence boost come race day. Because you’ve had the experience of pushing through a training session when you’re mentally and physically exhausted and your legs feel like logs.
From my Project: Breaking 250 group who went out to complete RacingThePlanet Lapland earlier this year the group averaged 9 hours of training weekly across running, strength and cross training. Of course, there were weeks when this was much lower. In the first 8-week training cycle this was no more than 60 minutes daily across all workouts and in the later stages this averaged out at 1 hour 45 minutes with the peak week topping out at 2 hours daily for 4 consecutive weeks.
For me, coaching women is about creating a space for you to feel transformed.
I began Project: Breaking 250 because I had the opportunity to be a part of some really amazing experiences with other women and I wanted to help take more women out of their everyday lives and be a part of something greater than themselves.
I am so passionate about helping women to step out of their comfort zones and do amazing things like finishing ultra marathons. If there is anything you take away from reading this today, let it be this.
- You don't have to run ultras, you can absolutely walk them too.⠀
- Anyone is capable of finishing an ultra, no matter how beginner or experienced you think you are.⠀
- Everyone should sign up for a multistage ultra marathon at least once in your life. It will change your life.⠀
- Never underestimate the power of women who team together with a shared purpose.
To find out more about joining the 2024 cohort of Project: Breaking 250 which kicks off in the summer of 2023 click the link below.
Images by @thiagodiz and @racingtheplanet