Are you ever “ready” to transition to ultra?

Last updated: 30-Aug-18

Ingrid Featherstone had run 36 marathons and one ultra when she stepped up to 75km. Here she tells us how she got there. It is about the physical, but that mental journey is equally important.

By Ingrid Featherstone

People often talk about feeling running an ultra when they feel ready. I didn’t feel ready to run mine. It didn’t seem important to feel ready, though. Because how often do we feel ready for a major life decision? When do we feel ready to take an important exam, or to change jobs, or to move to a new city or get married? I think it’s making the decision to do something that makes it happen and my 75 km was no different.

I’ve run 39 marathons to date and two of these were in the same month as the 75km ultra. In fact, I ran them after completing it. Not once did I feel completely ready to run. Sometimes I felt lively at the start but sometimes I felt sick and a bit exhausted. However, going ahead and doing it was always great. Each time, I have met new people, achieved a new time or found a new place to run in. I’ve always had something to take away with a glow!

I think that if you truly believe you can do something, you are already on your way to achieving it. In the words of the Dixie Chicks: “She needs wide open spaces! Room to make her big mistakes! She needs new faces! She knows it’s high stakes!”. Praying for strength in hard situations helps me a lot too. I am a committed Christian and I could not run without my faith.

I did my first marathon while I was job-hunting after failing my law exams. I had had a bad thing happen with a guy and was feeling down. So, I decided to do something positive to help others and myself and raise money for Mercy Ships by running the Dublin Marathon. It was great and I came out feeling a lot more focused.

I found a job and after that had more funds to travel and to enter different races. Each time I ran in a new city or country it broadened my horizons. It was a character building experience. There were some massive mistakes too. I missed a flight and even forgot my trainers, but gradually my organisation has increased. It has meant I’ve had less time for life at home and it is quite expensive, but each time you step outside your comfort zone you learn new things from others and from the run, and you get to share your experiences with other people. I have joined two international clubs who keep me on my toes:

  • Marathon Globetrotters, whose aim is to run in as many countries as possible;
  • Marathon Maniacs, which helps us increase the number of marathons we run. I did two marathons in eight days for the first time last month….

My approach to the 75 km was probably unusual. I had run seven marathons in seven months and that was my training. There was no time for a complex training programme, as I finally decided to do it only a month before the start. Running in Morocco, Malta, Cyprus, France, England and Sweden kept my motivation high. It was also good for my confidence, as I knew I could try new things and adapt to difficult circumstances.

So I just went for it! I did not do a lot of runs the month before… just a half marathon once a week to keep me ticking over. I felt I had a good endurance base from the seven marathons in and from my 11 marathons in the year before. I was right – they got me through it on the day.

I was quite nervous about the distance though as my only ultra thus far was a 63km the year before and I remembered it had been hard. I had also felt I had some more left to give at the end though.

I was sure it was going to be ok from the start. I had decided that I was going to run all day but that I was going to complete. I had that expectation, so I set a relaxed pace and hammered it home. There were times when I was tearful with exhaustion towards the end and my limbs were having trouble moving forward. I prayed!  And in the last lap I had to alternate walking and running as I felt very sick and everything was sore.

There were also massive highs on the run and times when I felt really good. Excellent nutrition helped – well done Stockholm Ultra Marathon… They handed out meatballs in little cups at lunch and lots of sports drinks and salty snacks such as crisps.

However, getting through it was a matter of sheer determination and bloody mindedness. In terms of recovery, for me this meant just doing more marathons. After the Stockholm 75 km, I went on to complete the Reykjavik Marathon two weeks later, and then eight days after that the Guernsey Marathon. The confidence from the Ultra made me realise I could achieve more than I had thought. I planned these marathons before the Ultra thinking I would have to cancel one or maybe both but instead I ran all three.

Just do it! As Nike would say…

"I had run seven marathons in seven months and that was my training. There was no time for a complex training programme, as I finally decided to do it only a month before the start"

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An ultra distance race including at least two of the following activities such as running, swimming, cycling, kayaking, skiing and climbing. It may also include different climatic conditions (eg ice, snow, humidity, cold water, mud or heat).

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Increase of up to 2000 metres with very challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity, heat or at high altitude)

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Increase of up to 2000 metres with some challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity or heat)

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Experienced runners who have completed at least 4 ultras in last 12 months, or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races may be subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements.

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Runners who have completed several ultra distances or similar events, or are doing long distance running regularly, with elevation shown.

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Runners who have completed at least one ultra in last 6 months or are doing long distance running (>26 miles) regularly, with elevation shown.

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Very little change < 500 metres

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First ultra event. Runners completing a marathon or doing regular long distance running (>26 miles) in the last 6 months.