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Ultramarathons for the Lazy Runner- Chapter Four: How to Choose Your First Ultramarathon

Posted by on Mar 5, 2010 | 5 Comments
Before we begin planning and training, it is necessary to pick a race. This can be a daunting task given the number of ultramarathons. There are currently over 600 in North America alone! I would recommend using a good calendar such as the one found on Barefoot Running University’s website:

Yes, that is a shameless plug.

The following elements should be taken into consideration:
  • Location– the closer to home, the better. Being able to drive offers a huge advantage- you can bring more gear.
  • Time of year– it is best to avoid extreme temps that may occur in the middle of winter or summer.
  • Race organization– Usually the longer a race has been held, the better the organization. Better organized races usually provide better support.
  • Terrain– In my opinion, gentle rolling hills on smooth trails is ideal for a beginner. Flat ground forces you to use the same muscles for the entire distance. Rough terrain or steep elevations make the race more difficult.
  • Point-to-point versus loop course– A loop course offers the benefit of having a “central base.” It also allows you to become familiar with the course which is handy later in the race. It also gives you more opportunities to throw in the towel and quit.
  • Aid Stations– A good selection of food and beverages is very handy. Some ultras skimp on aid station food, while others have veritable buffets. Also, the distance between aid stations can be significant. Generally, the shorter the better.
  • Rules about pacers– A pacer is a non-racing runner that can accompany you for part of the race, typically the end. They help motivate you and keep you on pace (among other duties.) If you have access to a pacer, they can definitely be a benefit for your first ultra.
  • Cutoff Times– This is the maximum time allowed to finish the race. Find a race that has the longest cutoff times possible.

There may be a handful of other elements to picking your first ultra, but these should provide an adequate starting point.

More experienced ultrarunners- do you guys have any other advice on picking your first ultra? What were the criteria YOU used to pick your first? Post in the comments section below.
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  1. mmd
    August 5, 2010

    Barehanded Matt, i was a lackadaisical runner with no more than 3-5 mile runs before entering my first official race — the 2003 Akron Marathon. admittedly, not an ultra. ;^) i think there is no necessity of running lesser *races* but i did run long runs before the actual marathon (think a 19-miler).



  2. 119
    March 6, 2010

    TAHNKS FOR YOUR SHARING~~~VERY NICE ........................................

  3. shel
    March 5, 2010

    um, it was close by, it was cheap, it was loops in case i got in a bad way. i never did a marathon before the first ultra, though i had run the distance in training i still felt like i was in uncharted territory and needed the safety of something flat and looped. also, a timed race is nice because there is no finish line and no pressure to get there faster.

  4. Barefoot AngieB
    March 5, 2010

    Any particular training plans you recommend? I need structure or at least the semblance of it. I have 3 and a half months or so til the 50k.

  5. Barehanded Matt
    March 5, 2010


    What kind of progression do you recommend before taking on an Ultra? I hear a lot of people say how they are training for a marathon, but they've never even run a 5K or 10K.

    I would think with Ultras, you would want a marathon under your belt, before a 50K, before a 50 miler, etc.

    Are there examples where people just jump up to a 100 mile race, without having done shorter distances previously?