Fortunately we’re seeing some sincere conversation around the idea that trail runners do not all have to run ultramarathons.
Trail runner magazine wrote a great piece on it that you can find here. Canadian Trail Running wrote a great piece last November, and I wrote a piece on finding the mileage that you like in May 2017.
Running is not a ladder that you’re obligated to climb, checking off one distance after another. This of course can be applied to road running as well. Not everyone needs to run marathons. Though in trail running, ultrarunning becomes so synonymous that it is easy to feel like it’s a direction you’re supposed to head. The main resource for finding trail races is ultrasignup which has ULTRA in the name, and honestly sometimes it’s not even as easy to find shorter distance trail races. Even marathons are far less prevalent than 50k’s. Why run 26.2 when you can run 31? Let me make somethings thing very clear. Running short distances is HARD. Running trails is HARD. Trail running is HARD. Also, it should be FUN, which is why you should find your sweet spot.
Aside from just the prevalence of ultrarunning in the trail community, the peer pressure to run ultras can be absolutely outrageous. Not just trying to get people to climb the distance ladder, but to stay there.
“Oh come on, you’ve done that distance before come with us.” – doesn’t matter that that person may have cut way back on mileage for the past year and is truly not prepared. It’s also okay to take a break, and just because you’ve done that distance doesn’t mean you have to keep running that long every year or race.
“Go ahead and sign up for the 50k, it’s not that much further than the marathon.”-uh, yes it is. For people who run that distance a lot it may no longer feel that way, but for someone who isn’t quite ready for a marathon or is just comfortable at a marathon distance that can be a big jump.
“You’ve got 24 hours (or 32 or 10 or whatever) you could essentially hike it!”- All that means is someone with LESS preparedness is going to spend MORE time on their feet.
It used to be that the 100 miler was essentially the “marathon” of trail running that was THE distance to hit. Now we’re seeing this huge influx of 200+ mile distances and people are pushing for them in a way that is often too big of a stretch. “You’ve got 6 days, you’ll be fine.” “You’ve run one fifty miler, you’ve got this.” Distances like 100, and 200 milers take a lot of time to train for, and let’s be realistic, money to race. It shouldn’t be something that you want to do because it sounds impressive, or the community around you is doing.
Training well for any distance requires a lot of work. You should enjoy the process of training, not just the celebration that is the race. It’s okay to find appeal in a distance, start training for it and realize that you don’t enjoy the training. It’s okay to change your goals. It’s okay to run for fun. Make sure to find joy in your miles however many there are.