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How to Convince People to Sign Up for Ultramarathons

Posted by on Aug 31, 2011 | 13 Comments

I’ll admit it- I have a problem.  I love convincing people to sign up for ultramarathons.  If they already run ultras, I ‘ll try to convince them to sign up for longer ultras.


I think most people seriously underestimate their own capabilities… not only as runners but in life in general.  Completing a crazy-long race usually convinces people they can face any life challenge.  Most of us possess the inner-strength to push beyond any and all physical and mental barriers.  Those that don’t probably do, they just haven’t been placed in a situation where they’ve had to find that inner strength.

So what’s my magic formula?

Step One: The person needs a minor success.  It may be as simple as having them complete a 5k.  Maybe it will take a marathon.  The goal is to get them to recognize that they are capable of running a given distance successfully.

Step Two: Introduce them to the ultra scene.  The best method is having them volunteer at an aid station or crew and pace for a runner.  The laid-back camaraderie of ultras appeals to pretty much anyone and will make the races seem attainable.  Also, seeing the various body types of ultrarunners will help them realize you don’t have to have an elite marathoner’s build to run the races.

Step Three: Convince them to try a timed race.  This is pretty easy since there’s no pressure to cover a certain distance.  I like to use the “You can run one mile, then just spend the rest of the day hanging out and partying.”  Of course, once they begin the race, they’ll push themselves to a mileage they wouldn’t have expected.  That’s a huge confidence-builder.

Step Four: Find a cool race with an online signup option then get them drunk.  You can probably guess how this plays out.

That’s it.  Following these four easy steps will turn all your running friends into ultrarunners.

FYI- These steps can more or less be used to convince people to run barefoot, too.  😉



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  1. StephenB
    September 1, 2011

    Any thoughts on the best distance for a first ultra? Go directly to 50 miles or do a 50k first? I made it 26 out of the full 50 miles on my first ultra attempt (Ice Age), but I’ll try again next year.

    • Rob Youngren
      September 2, 2011

      IMHO, if you can run a Marathon and not finish it totally destroyed then I say go right to a 50 miler. A 50km is a “long marathon” in my book, less than five miles more than a marathon is not really very “ultra”. You should be able to get through a 50 miler on training not much more than what got you through the Marathon. Just a bit longer on the long runs and you can probably skip most of the speed work. Now going a 100 miles is a whole different story, night and day different than even a 50 miler! But one step at a time!

  2. Rob Youngren
    September 1, 2011

    Friends don’t let friends run 100 milers… 😉

  3. Vern
    August 31, 2011

    Jason, your convincing powers are greater than you know. You must have been thinking about this post last night when I finally pulled the trigger and registered for my first ultra, James Varner’s Mt. Spokane 50k this October.

    Thanks for all your inspiration and tips. Your race and training reports on the blog and in your book played a big role in convincing me that I, a mere mortal, can do this. I’ve had a blast running the rugged mountain trails all summer here in northern Idaho, and I’m sure the race will kick my butt and make me feel awesome at the same time. As Geoff Roes recently said, “Everyone I know has been physically hammered by their first ultra.” I expect no different, and I can’t wait.

    We’d love to see you guys in the Sandpoint, Idaho area if you’re ever coming through this way!

    • Spencer
      August 31, 2011

      Hey Vern I’m doing that race to, it’ll be my second ultra, and the course is awesome, since I run there nearly 2 times or more a week. I hope to see you there.

      • Vern
        September 2, 2011

        Spencer- I’m glad to hear the course is awesome. I’ll look for you there!

  4. Pete Kemme
    August 31, 2011

    Good thing I’m driving tomorrow night, otherwise I see where step four was coming into play.

  5. Chris
    August 31, 2011

    What’s stopping me is not knowing when my body is trained enough for it. I’ve never run a a marathon but I’m considering running one in a month. How do I know my feet/legs aren’t going to start to take damage after a couple of hours? If it’s a life or death situation then yeah I’m sure I could run on bloody stumps, but I don’t want to be maimed for a month afterwards. Gradually building up to a marathon for months seems boring and not what you’re suggesting. Are there some guidelines for when you’re able to take a giant leap forward and run e.g. twice as far as you’ve run before?

    • Brandon Mulnix
      August 31, 2011

      Chris, Your legs will heal after an ultra. If you are reading about ultras on Jason’s site I assume you are at least a minimalist runner. My first 50K was ran 2 months before I ran the marathon and boy did I hurt. My legs killed me. The 6000 ft of eleveation gain didn’t help, but the shoes I wore killed my legs. At least for the first week after the race.

      Fast forward 5 months to my 2nd attempt at 50 miles. This time with minimalist running shoes. I had legs left at the end, and my feet didn’t hurt. Your body has a natural way of adjusting to the minimalist shoes and the softer you land because of it will make a huge difference. I didn’t believe this till I ran 100 miles just 5 months later and again I had legs at the end of it. My feet felt awesome.
      Yes your feet will be sore after you run an ultra, but they heal within days. You will get swelling in your feet, but that to will go away.
      Sign up for a race and try it… Your mind is the only thing that stands between you and the impossible. Reach out for it, and you will realize its much further away than you thought.

  6. KittyK
    August 31, 2011

    Step 4 has been the culprit of most of my race entries. That and drunken conversations with Jesse.

    Who knows MTD’s 2012 🙂

  7. Andrew Klein
    August 31, 2011

    You had me at “minor success”. Actually, the story in your book about the trees at the Hallucination 100 already had me hooked. Not sure when, but I do one sometime!

  8. Brandon
    August 31, 2011

    Love step 4 🙂

    I may have to use it on myself to sign up for my first ultra after I finish my first marathon this October!

  9. Ash
    August 31, 2011

    Crap! You almost convinced me to register an ultra just by reading those four simple steps. Good thing it’s still early in the day. ;-P