Health Benefits Of Ultramarathons
Twas a time when running a marathon was considered one of the ultimate athletic achievements. And for the purposes of this article we’re not going to argue that it’s not. There are other people today, however, who would. They look upon the marathon as a kind of quaint Sunday afternoon jaunt. Like going for a walk in the park. These are ultramarathoners. Any footrace that is longer than the well-established distance for the marathon (26.2 miles or about 42.2 kilometers) is considered an “ultramarathon”. And today there are hundreds of these races of varying distances run all around the world. But are there any actual benefits to this Forrest Gump approach to running? That’s what we’re going to find out.
For some people running is no longer enough. In fact, running marathons is no longer enough. For these people if a race isn’t at least 50 miles long then it’s just not worth signing up for. These are the ultramarathoners. Unlike the marathon whose mythic origins are well-known the origins of the ultramarathon are mired in uncertainty and conflicting claims of authorship. But regardless of who can lay claim to being the first ultramarathoner we’re here to look at the purported benefits, and they include:
1. “Because It’s There”
Someone once asked legendary British mountaineer George Mallory why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. His response? “Because it’s there!” One of the primary benefits of running ultramarathons is the sheer satisfaction of being able to say you did it. While this won’t help your aching feet recover more quickly or get your mom off your back about your “crazy habit” it’s very likely that the next time you go to a party you’ll be the only person there who can actually say they competed in and finished a 50 or 100 mile race. The only one.
2. It Helps You Become A Stronger Person
No, ultramarathoning won’t transform you into late-70s Schwarzenegger. But it will help you become a tougher mental and emotional specimen. Whether you are male or female completing this type of grueling physical test will require you to transcend your ideas about what you thought was possible. During the last 5 or 10 miles it’s likely the biggest obstacle you’ll need to overcome is yourself and your (quite understandable) desire to quit. But if you don’t, once you cross the finish line the world is going to look quite different to you because you’ll start to think you can do just about anything.
3. You’ll Lose Weight
When it comes to physical benefits there can be no argument that all the running you’ll need to do while training – and then the ultramarathon itself – will help you shed weight and keep it off. Running is one of the best exercises there is for losing weight. And running obsessive distances on a regular basis is going to optimize this particular ultramarathon benefit. So if you want to lose weight, create a more toned body and restore your cardiovascular system to robust health, lace up those running shoes and hit the road.
4. Shorter Runs Feel Remarkably Easy
Ultra running may be one of the best ways to train for your next 5k. Compared to the grueling ordeal of dragging yourself across the desert to reach the finish line of your most recent 50 mile ultramarathon that 5 or 10k race will seem like the walk in the park we mentioned in the opening of this piece. You’ll be so mentally tough from all your ultra running and training that any nagging doubts about your ability to compete and finish which used to dog you will be a thing of the past.
5. You’ll Sleep Better
For some people getting a good night’s sleep is a chore. They toss and turn and spend hours watching videos on their smart phone hoping it will cause them to drift off to slumberland. But you know who doesn’t suffer insomnia? Ultra runners. While there are exceptions to every rule there are precious few exceptions to this one. Ultra running is one of the best ways there is to ensure a good night’s sleep. That alone is worth the price of admission to some people.
6. You’ll Enjoy Food More
When you sit down to eat after an ultra running session or an ultramarathon you’ll be astonished at how remarkably satisfying that meal is. Food for most people becomes a rote activity that’s often devoid of enjoyment. You have to eat so you eat. “Oh look! Another salad. How exciting…” But just wait and see how good that salad you’ve been taking for granted tastes after you complete an ultramarathon training session. Even cool, clean water is going to taste like the nectar of the gods.
7. Your Brain Will Work Better
When someone is physically inactive their brain isn’t getting the oxygen it needs to perform at an optimal level. As a result they become mentally sluggish and lose their edge. Ultra running gets the oxygen flowing through your brain at unprecedented levels and you will feel the difference. You’ll be more alert, more responsive, better able to navigate complex problems and you’ll enjoy a more positive overall outlook on life to boot.
You Can’t Write “Ultra” Without A U
While all the above benefits of ultra running and ultra marathons are real and attainable we’d be remiss if we didn’t touch on some legitimate concerns health professionals have about this type of running. Those doctors point to what they call the U-curve.
Imagine the U as a line on a graph that charts the health benefits of running. Those who don’t run at all are at the top of the U on the left hand side. Those that run a few miles regularly are at the bottom of the U. And ultra marathon runners are at the top of the U on the right hand side. The moral of the story being that, beyond a certain point, the more you run the greater the risk to your health. So keep that in mind before deciding to turn your life over to ultra running.