When Should You Run An Ultra Marathon?

by | May 31, 2016 | Fitness

By Running Technique Coach, Sean Tait

When Should You Run An Ultra Marathon?

Q: I’m so inspired by the Comrades, I want to start training for an ultra marathon, but I’ve heard you shouldn’t attempt one until you’re in your 40s – I’m 29. What’s the truth?
A: Firstly, it’s important for us to understand that the human body is perfectly capable of managing to both train for, and complete, a challenge such as the Comrades Marathon. The question as to whether it’s a sensible race for you to do as a runner is very much dependent on a) your running history, b) your injury history and, most importantly, c) your personal long-term goals.
Let’s get a) and b) out of the way… If you are withing your first two years of running or you’re prone to getting running-related injuries, you would be ill advised to attempt Comrades until you’re more experience or have addressed what is causing your injuries.
Whether you do Comrades, at the age of 29 (for example), should depend largely on c) as it could be detrimental to your goals. If you have an ambition to improve your 5k, 10k, 21k and even marathon times over the course of the next few years, training for Comrades would add little benefit to your overall development as a runner.
Firstly, this training would be at paces much slower than your target paces for the aforementioned distances, which with all the running you’d be doing at that pace, would effectively “make” you slower (at least temporarily). Secondly, running 89km on road takes a massive toll on your joints and is likely to result in shorting your “running life” with every one that you do.
Yes, you would be doing a lot of aerobic/easy running, and aerobic running is important for development, but studies have proven that the benefits you get from doing an aerobic run don’t increase much at all once you exceed 90 minutes of running. So somebody running for 12 hours on Comrades day will only benefit slightly more, with reference to aerobic development, than somebody who did a 90-minute loop around their neighbourhood. Where the 90-min runner will be able to go and engage in much more running throughout the week to see further benefits, the Comrades runner will be broken for weeks. A similar, but far less exaggerated, example would be to compare the 90-min training run to the typical four to five-hour Comrades training… The same principal will apply. So the argument that running the Comrades will develop you as a runner is rather futile.

In A Nutshell…

If you don’t have any desire to achieve time goals in shorter distances, if you’d be content if you had to give up running slightly earlier in life and if you run purely for enjoyment, camaraderie and the social aspect, then there’s no reason not to do Comrades. However, if you have other goals in mind and want to run for the rest of your life, it would be a sensible decision to put it off for a few years. There is no magical age to do it. Each year ask yourself these same questions.
Lastly, Comrades is an historic race, particularly for South Africans, and the vibe is amazing. It’s something that every runner should do at some stage of their life, when the time is right.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This