When you think about ultra runners, what do you imagine? We’re going to go out on a limb here and say you’re thinking about a hardcore, lanky professional runner who smiles as they run the distance of multiple marathons outside, in all kinds of weather, feeling no pain (ha!). But do you know who you should be imagining? You.
Yes you, the non-pro runner who only laces up their sneaks from time to time. The person who’s comfortable running on the road but maybe is intimidated by the trail. The person who every ultra runner was at some point in their lives. We have a secret for you: ultra running doesn’t just happen all at once, not even for the record breakers. Like The Velveteen Rabbit taught us, you have to become. And the process of “becoming” an ultra runner may not be super linear, it really depends on who you are, what you’ve got going on in your life, and what your goals are. The important thing to remember is that you can do anything you set your mind to.
We know, that’s not super helpful, right? Well the first step is believing that you can start into the world of ultra running. The next steps? We turned to Injinji athlete and ultra runner Tara Warren for a few pieces of advice on how to become the ultra runner of your dreams.
1. Start where you feel comfortable. The reality is that starting something new can be really scary. So start where you feel comfortable! “Start by dabbling here and there, in a place that you know, where you feel safe and secure. Maybe take a buddy, and just know that everything is going to be fine,” suggests Tara. “Where you start increasing your miles and your effort would be depending on what your objectives are.”
Find a trail that is close by home, map it out, bring a running friend (or a walking friend) and just go. It’s a little cliche, but to start, you just have to start.
2. Don’t be afraid of the trail. Those first steps onto the trail can be daunting, we know. There’s comfort in doing what you know, like running on the road or running a familiar route. And according to Tara, that’s what kept her from trying out the trail for a long time.
“I always thought, someone is gonna get me, or I’m going to get eaten or there’s gotta be something to it. It can’t be all awesome and wonderful,” she explained. “But it turns out… it really is. It’s safe, there’s nothing super dangerous. I regret several years of not even trying.”
But if you never try, you’ll never get to experience all that the trail has to offer, or all that a new trail can bring you. Tara started small, with a trail close to her home that was a quick few mile loop, then as she got more comfortable in herself and her surroundings, she’d expand. At some point it became more about exploration than anything else.
“To get to certain places where I’d want to go explore, I had to get strong enough to get there by doing more difficult and different trails to get to those places,” said Tara. “So that’s what I found myself doing, as a means to an end.”
3. You don’t need all the latest and greatest gear. Just you and a good pair of shoes. Tara is a lifelong lover of Hoka brand shoes, but she told us that when you start out, you don’t need the best gear out there. Try out a few brands (most major running brands offer a 30 day trial), figure out what you like, and go from there. Bring water and food if you think you’ll need it, but other than that, the beauty of this sport is that it’s just you and the trail.
Tara also taught us one of the tricks that helped her fall in love with ultra running: taking pictures! “It seems silly, and a lot of road runners are like ‘ah you actually stop and take pictures?’ but absolutely!” she laughed. “It’s part of the journey and experience for me, seeing all these spots that maybe people don’t get to, or even my family doesn’t get to. And I can share that with them, and it becomes more of a ‘Hey check this out, see where I’ve gone’ type of experience where everyone is involved.”
Take your cell phone or a go-pro, whatever works for you. Because like Tara says, “You have to take the time to look around. Don’t be so keen on the data that you forget why you’re out there.”
4. But there are a few things that can make your life easier. The beauty of the world we live in, especially in the realm of activewear, is that there’s always a product out there to make your life easier. Whether it’s the clothes you wear, a watch to track your runs, apps like Strava to connect you to the community, there’s something for everyone.
One thing that made a big difference for Tara was finding a sock that helped her keep going, no matter what. “Utah can can get pretty chilly in the mountains: The trails are all runnable, but you know, you don’t want dead toes. I would have aching toes, it was so cold, I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I felt like gosh, I can’t run harder, because they’re so numb,” she told us. “And that’s when I had a friend introduce me to Injinji wool socks for the winter time. And I thought, that’s brilliant! Each piggy has its own sock, and it just worked immediately.”
The key? Keep testing all the time. Like shoes, the rest of your gear can only become a favorite if you try a bunch of things to narrow down what works for you.
5. At the end of the day, just remember why you started. It can be easy to get caught up in the data, the daily improvements, the testing of different things to see what changes your runs and your times. It’s a great motivator, and can be addicting! But sometimes you have to take a step back to make sure you’re remembering to savor every moment.
“Don’t forget that you love to run. Don’t make your stats such a big part of who you are that you can’t forget about it and go run, and have a good run and enjoy the day. And that sounds easy but it’s harder than you would think,” said Tara. “I broke my leg two summers ago, and I was out all summer, watching everyone do their thing and not being able to participate, and I was just so sad. So I promised myself that I would never forget that I get to do this, and to enjoy it every day. Because it’s not going to last forever, so you have to enjoy it while you can, and you can’t forget why you do it.”