Taming The Ultra

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Plymouth running festival
Le Cure

At 6am on 1st August, a band of hardy souls will do battle with Jersey’s Round the Rock Ultra Marathon (www.roundtherock.co.uk). An ultra is any distance beyond a marathon. Round the Rock takes that to the extreme, clocking a daunting 48 miles and 1,000m of climbing. But ultra athletes feed off the pain. Just take a look at this lot…

1 Frenchman Serge Girard holds the record for the longest distance run in one year, covering 27,011km in 2009.

2 The world’s biggest and oldest ultra marathon is held in South Africa. The Comrades Marathon takes place over 90km and attracts 20,000 participants.

3 Put down your breakfast and read on… Many elite ultra runners have their toenails removed. When Marshall Ulrich was 57, he ran from San Francisco to New York in 52 days and noted the damage to his digits. The experience left him with three toenails – which became commonplace when he completed future ultras. He asked his doctor if he could have them all removed. The doctor agreed – and gave Ulrich a vasectomy at the same time (at the patient’s request!).

4 California’s Western States Endurance Run is the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race, climbing 18,000ft and descending 23,000ft from its start in Squaw Valley to the finish in Auburn. To compound the pain, runners endure temperatures that often tip over 40°C.

5 That debilitating backdrop didn’t stop 70-year-old grandma Gunhild Swanson becoming the oldest-ever female ultra-marathon finisher earlier this year. The American finished just 6secs inside the 30hr cut-off, though she almost didn’t make it – at mile 88 she accidentally followed some other runners off-course and added an extra three miles to her task.

6 Ultra-runners are tough. Deca-triahletes could be deemed stir crazy. The athletes complete not one iron-distance triathlon but 10. That’s 3.8km swimming, 180km biking and a marathon. Repeated 10 times! The most famous race is the Deca Ultratriathlon that this year takes place in Leon, Mexico, between 19th-28th October.

James Witts is a writer & editor specialising in endurance sport, health & fitness, outdoor adventure and sports science.

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