the secret world of ultra running

To most people, the longest distance they ever consider running is the marathon: at 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers), it's known as the ultimate test of human endurance. It is true that marathons are the most popular and widely known long distance running events, but there is also the secret world of ultra running, which I have only recently discovered.

brian during an ultra marathon

what is ultra running?

Ultra running is considered to be anything longer than a traditional marathon. Most people will say it's got to be at least 50km to be considered a true ultra marathon. Ultra distances range from 50km to over 200km in races such as the Badwater, which takes place in Death Valley, CA -- quite possibly the most unforgiving climate in all of North America.

waiver sign at a race
Ultra marathons can be up to 200km long!

how to get into ultra running

I came upon the ultra scene after completing several marathons and started to look towards goals of running further instead of faster. I completed my first 50km road race in Canberra, AUS in April of 2009, which was a very humbling experience. I felt fine past the marathon distance until I got to the last 5km where I completely fell apart, or “hit the wall” as most people have come to know it. It seemed like a life or death situation taking place in my head and I was losing the battle. Somehow, I managed to overcome the struggle of my legs not responding to the instructions my brain was giving them, and made may way across the finish line.

I have since run several 50km races both on trail and roads and have become much more comfortable with the distance. My biggest problem in the first race was my pacing and my mindset. I was running as if I was doing a marathon, and ultras require a bit more patience and planning, not to mention mental toughness.

Brian's a goal-setting machine. Check out his BHAG below!

Recently, I set out to accomplish one of my latest goals: to finish a 50 mile (80km) trail race in under 9 hours. I was really nervous, since this was much longer than I have ever run before, but I was also confident in my body, my mind, and my training. Part of setting goals is setting them high enough so that it extends your comfort zone and forces you to go beyond your previous limits. That I did, while learning many different things along the way.

ultra running insights

  • Don’t waste energy running up hills. You'll make up your time going down them and your legs will thank you.
  • Running for many hours gives you loads of time to create new friendships and become inspired by other runners' stories. I ran side by side with runners who have completed Badwater, the Western States 100 and beat Scott Jurek in the National Championships. It’s comparable to cycling with Lance Armstrong, or shooting hoops with Michael Jordan.
  • After a few hours, it becomes an eating event. Your body will only keep going as long as you feed it the right things. At an ultra race, the aid stations are stocked with cookies, chips, pop, gummies, gels, fruit, sandwiches, potatoes and much, much more. If you like to eat, run ultras!
  • You can start to enter a meditative state after a few hours where you begin to realize that your limits are mostly based in your thinking, not your physical ability. This realization brings you peace, and then you keep on running.
  • After 5 or 6 hours, you can become very emotional, starting to think about those closest to you and how grateful you are for everything you have. It is like if you knew you were going to die, all the things that don’t matter disappear and you focus on what’s most important: your family and friends and all their support. It pushes you to keep going.
  • After 7 hours, you think Steve Jobs is the greatest man alive for inventing the iPod. As the runners are more spread out and you are running mostly by yourself, a little music does amazing things to your motivation and drive. Songs like Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin never sounded so amazing.
  • After 8 hours, the finish is drawing near and you feel a second wind coming on. There are always going to be ups and downs in an ultra race so you just need to be strong through the downs until you come back around. If you keep stepping one foot in front of the other, you WILL reach the finish line.

lookin good sign
After 5 or 6 hours of running, you start to think about people in your life you're grateful for: your biggest supporters.

brian post race
Brian and his running buddy, John, who had just completed his first 50 km

I completed my first 50 miler in 8 hours and 55 minutes, at the Sulphur Springs Trail run, just outside of Hamilton, ON. The sense of accomplishment was indescribable. I passed 5 of the 16 people ahead of me during the last 20 kilometers of the race.

brian and team
More supporters - a.k.a. the lululemon team!

I guess now I just have to up the bar one more time and start preparing for my first 100 miler (aiming to finish under 24 hours) in September. I’m putting this out there to the world so that I am held accountable and follow through. It really does scare me, but I know I can do it if I try. That is the power of goal setting. Share you goals with others and if it doesn’t scare you just a little bit, then try making some bigger goals. If you share your goals with others, it’s amazing how much you can do with their support.

brian bhag
Brian and his big, hairy, audacious goal.

read more related posts:


Wow! Awesome Brian! You can do it!

Comment by Heather — June 18, 2010 @ 8:06 am

Good luck, enjoy the ride, and keep us updated!!!

Comment by elaine! — June 18, 2010 @ 10:37 am

Awesome Brian! If you come up to Canada we have some great Ultras too!!

Comment by Jamie — June 18, 2010 @ 12:13 pm

Wow! Very inspiring! Congratulaions…Keep running :)

Comment by Lorraine — June 19, 2010 @ 9:52 am

This is my Ultra sales man………the man who MADE my day when I had a bad experience with a girl that wouldn’t get let me have the shorts off the model in the store.

THIS is the MAN I wrote to Head office about saying he was amazing, I could not remember your Name so I refered to you as the Marathon Man.

This just goes to prove my point………He is AMAZING!!!!

Comment by Kelly Moore — June 19, 2010 @ 10:11 am

Brian, that’s awesome! I know you want to run 100MILES, but you might want to check out the Canadian Death Race. Only 100KM(!), but it’s AWESOME scenery. Good work!

Comment by Erin — June 19, 2010 @ 10:29 am

Thanks so much Kelly! I love run talk with other runners and getting them into the best garments for their performance.
Jamie:I am actually from London, ON and do many of the Ontario Ultra Series here. I hope to do the solo death race in the next year or two.
Thanks for the support everyone~!

Comment by Brian — June 19, 2010 @ 5:25 pm

Welcome to the world of ultras! It’s one of my goals as an ambassador to get as many lulu’s into running and maybe even ultras!

Comment by Dwayne Sandall — June 19, 2010 @ 7:16 pm


Comment by Ha — June 19, 2010 @ 9:34 pm

One of the best blogs I have seen on the ‘ultra force’, Brian. I smile to think of what you have accomplished so quickly on the trails and love following your journey. I can’t wait to get the ok to run again so we can do a few of those Funshawe loops together. As much as I know you could and would run loops around me, I’m pretty confident the chat along the way would be Olympic Gold quality.

Comment by Kevin — June 20, 2010 @ 5:06 am

Ultras are the best, especially trail ultras! Keep setting those BHAGs Brian. I’ll do another Ultra this year, probably Vulture Bait in London.

Comment by John — June 20, 2010 @ 6:53 am

Thank you for being such an inspiration. After my post I threw on my latest runner clothes you sold me and ran my way to a first place finish for the ladies 10k at the Moon in June race here in Windsor Ontario! Keep spreading the passion for running. Dude you ARE a Hero in my eyes!

Comment by Kelly Moore — June 20, 2010 @ 8:46 am

Hey, I’m preparing to run my first 50k Ultra (UMA) in October… great article!
I started last year and had accomplished a lot within a year.. its all about training!!!
Keep running off the path!

Comment by Matias — June 20, 2010 @ 6:05 pm

Thanks for all the great posts!!!!! One thing possibly more frustrating than running that far is traveling in a foreign country and not knowing where you are going. I have almost made it to the GR20 in Corsica. Check out my facebook to find out how to track my progress from the 24th to the 28th. Wish me luck!!!!

Comment by Brian — June 22, 2010 @ 2:20 am

Inspiring! I’m currently training for my first marathon, and I’m learning that running is about learning and growing, more than physical ability. Truly enjoyed your post. Keep up the great work!

Favorite running quote:
“When your legs get tired, run with your heart.”

Comment by Amy — June 22, 2010 @ 8:24 am

Great going! Seaton and Sulphur were some great races this year! Way to go with your goals. We are doing some training runs up in Haliburton in July and you are free to join us to check out the trail! Left foot, right foot, repeat as neccesary. Cheers.

Comment by Ken — June 23, 2010 @ 2:35 am

Everything you just said is exactly what I felt in trying to settle into running ultras…patiece, patience, patience. Thank you for placing a post that is so honest, open, and relatable. Good luck on your future endeavors and your 100mile goal!!!

Comment by meg — January 9, 2011 @ 11:06 am

Good day! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us beneficial information to work on. You have done a wonderful job!

Comment by Clement Bowley — November 4, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment