This post is written by Jennifer Heidmann

Silhouette woman run under blue sky with cloudsIn recent years I’ve reconnected with some high school cross country teammates, meeting them in New York and Philadelphia to run the big marathons. Going from training on the quiet trails of the Pacific Northwest to running through a corridor of live bands and screaming spectators was a thrill. Going from shorter races and runs to the consistent mileage and patience required for 26.2 miles was a challenge.

Marathons are oddly addictive. Like childbirth, you swear never again, usually around mile 18-22, but the next day you find yourself plotting the next one.

One September day, I was at work and got a call from one of my cross country friends.

“Hey”, she said “Why don’t we run a 50 miler next year?”

I laughed and laughed, but after 5 minutes we were already choosing a race at sea level. “Wow, you are easy” said she.

You can’t really google “marathon” without getting a zillion hits with detailed advice of exactly how to train. My daughter’s cross country coach, an elite marathoner, says he never reads that stuff about training plans, and when I asked his advice about my marathon training, he said “Don’t worry about it. Just run.”

But how does one get ready for their first ultra marathon? How do you think about pacing? How many miles is enough? And why are you even considering this in the first place?

Oddly, the lack of an easy answer for these questions is part of the appeal.  I believe ultra running has the potential to take you to new places, literally and figuratively.

The very uncertainty of how it will feel and what challenges it will offer is freeing. So, unlike my marathon training, I do not have a detailed chart planning my weeks until the event.

I do have advice for myself though, and it goes something like this:

Run. A lot. But not too much.

Run 6 days a week, most weeks. Your eventual goal is 70 miles per week. Run one long day per week (15-30 miles) religiously. But listen to your body, for goodness sake! If you are overly fatigued or something is feeling injury prone, rest.

Do Speed.

You fear the ultra will turn you into a slug, even though there is real truth to the old adage, “slow and steady wins the race.” Build your aerobic base, and do not run too fast, except during that tempo run and/or speed work on the track. After all, what feels better than running fast?

Pick shorter races to fill your need for speed. Try these 4 distances, in this order: an 8 miler, a 10 miler, a half marathon, then a marathon.

Sleep Enough and Eat Well.

As a doctor, I give this advice out like candy. Now I am telling myself: doctor, heal thyself.

Keep Changing.

Change your pace. Change your routes. Change your terrain. Run a different direction on that old favorite loop. Run hills, run flats. Run alone, run with friends. Run with music or a podcast or an audio book. Run in silence. Run before work, after work, in the morning on your days off and whenever you can on any given day.

Share and Track.

Must you wear your Garmin every single workout? No. But if you do, download it to sites like How cool is it to see where you ran on a map with terrain and elevation and per mile times? And it serves as a running log so you can stay honest about your mileage.

Ask your friends to join, and they will kindly give you kudos, which makes you feel even better about that tough run.

Read a Book.

Born to Run: Why we are physiologically built for running very long distances. Potentially barefoot, though I recommend shoes to myself.

Eat and Run:  Scott Jurek’s story with yummy recipes too!

The Longest Race: 60 years old and running 50 miles strong. Very inspiring!

Sign Up. Then Trust Yourself.

Nothing beats officially entering a race to get you motivated and to make it real. Enter that 50 miler. Then, just run.

Jennifer Heidmann has been running for 30 years, racing every distance from the 400m to the marathon. Her next adventure will be tackling her first 50 mile ultramarathon. She is also a physician, a pianist and a mother of 2.9 teenagers. Find her at her personal running blog, Redwoods and Running.

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