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Ultramarathon running: advice from two of Boise's ultra distance runners

Have you ever thought of running an ultramarathon?  Are you a marathoner and ready to take running to a different level?  Do you have what it takes to be an ultra distance runner? It's a whole different animal than the marathon distance of 26.2 miles! Ben Blessing's Photo

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This past weekend there was an extreme ultra distance race held in the mountains of Idaho, north-east of Boise, called "WIFMER", which stands for "Wild Idaho Fifty Mile/Fifty Kilometer Endurance Run"and I had the opportunity to chat with the race director/ultramarathoner, Ben Blessing and another ultra marathoner, Jon Kinzer about the event and also about ultra distance running.  I thought I'd share it with those of you "crazies" who are thinking of stepping up to the ultramarathons!

Ben Blessing, Ultramarathoner and Race Director of the WIFMER

Jon Kiinzer, Ironman and ultramarathoner

Both Ben and Jon have plenty of experience in ultra endurance sports, Ben has many ultramarathons under his belt and Jon, though newer to ultramarathoning, has the Ironman title under his belt and between the two of them, they offer up some good words of advice :)

The difference between running the marathon distance of 26.2 miles and the ultramarathon in terms of training, both guys said:

***You really have to get in many more hours  "on your feet."  Like any race, you have to get the training in...but for ultra races, you will be training VERY LONG hours; also  your training and racing pace is much slower in an ultramarathon than a regular marathon. 

***You have to have a ton of motivation, an extreme amount of determination and mental strength to get you to the finish line when the going gets tough...because guaranteed, it will be VERY ROUGH AT TIMES.  These events are tough and not for the weak! 

Ben's best advice:  "First thing you got to do is sign up for the race, then you'll be motivated to train and come hell or high water you cannot give up in the race...push past the points of giving up and that--getting past giving up--will make it even more worth while when you cross the finish line."

Jon's best advice:  "You may hate life for awhile but keep pushing through the difficult times, because there will be some and if you can keep pushing through, you'll bounce back."

One of the misconceptions about ultramarathons is that you have to run the whole thing.  These events are so tough that most people will not run the whole thing, you will be doing some walking and resting.

There are differences in how marathon's and ultramarathon's are set up in that the aid stations are further apart in ultra races and the fuel in an ultra race has a bit more substance to it  to help sustain an athlete's body for a much longer duration than the marathon distance.  In ultra races you will have to carry whatever food, water/electrolyte replacement or anything else you'll need to have between aid stations and there are also "drop bags", bags that you will have access to at different points on the course.  In your drop  bag, you can put things in it that you don't want to carry but will need for later on in the race,  like more electrolyte replacement, food, sunscreen, fresh socks or maybe even first aid items. 

Most Ultramarathon courses are on trails (Ben say about 90% of ultra races) and their level of difficulty will vary.  Ultramarathoner's like to get off the beaten path, run trails that offer extremely challenging terrain and see the beautiful scenery that these races have to offer. 

Ben planned, organized and directed his first event just this past weekend and said that it was a great success.  He chose the mountains of Idaho and plotted a course that was extremely difficult.  He said he wanted to have beautiful views and also have a really tough course combined.  Ben has a saying "It's not an ultramarathon unless there's at least ONE HILL that gives you nightmares."

The WIFMER was full of hills (to give you nightmares!) and beautiful scenery.  Ben made the race event really fun by issuing each participant a race number and then having them create their own race bibs, competing for a prize for the best one.  The prize for the best bib was a one year subscription to Trail Runner Magazine. Upon crossing the finish line...each participant was given a unique finishers award...a mini Louisville Slugger baseball bat!

The award!

There were 26 race entrants total for both the 50k and the 50m distances and two volunteers (Emily Berriochoa and Dennis Ahern) who did sweep up--making sure all participants found their way to the finish line.  The entrants camped out at Boiling Springs Campground where the race started and the race began at 6 a.m. the following morning.  The last finisher, Sam Collier crossed the line in 16:24 and the race officially ended at 12:06 a.m.  Everyone was accounted for and there were no injuries or mishaps requiring any medical attention throughout the event.  One of the greatest things about the event is that everyone who finished stayed awake to cheer on every athlete who finished after them...until the very last person came in...including the sweep up volunteers.  Now that's what I call sportsmanship and commaraderie!   

If you think you've got that strong determination and mental strength and guts that it takes to complete an ultramarathon & want to do a tough ultramarathon in the beautiful mountains of Idaho, mark your calendars for August 6, 2011 and come and see what you're made of!  Ben says this race is guaranteed "to leave you crying for mommy." 

Check out the pictures of the race in the slideshow and see some of the tough ultramarathoners who gutted out this event, reaching deep within themselves for strength and determination to cross the finish line and receive the sought after Louisville Slugger award!

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