Article by Catherine Black

I recently completed my first Two Oceans ultra marathon. While the concept of running 56 kilometers all in one go may seem a crazy idea to some, running an ultra – any distance over the 42,2 kilometres of a standard marathon –  seems to be gaining in popularity. Steve Diederich of Run Ultra says that 12 years ago he was able to list 160 ultra marathons around the globe, whereas in 2017, there were over 1800. Locally, the 20 000 entries for the 2018 Comrades Marathon were snapped up in unprecedented speed compared with previous years. But why is this? While I can’t speak for everyone, here are six reasons why I love ultra marathons:

1. It expands your self-belief

If you’ve never run 10 kilometres before, the distance seems like a long way. But if you subsequently complete a half marathon, suddenly a 10km run doesn’t feel like very far at all. The distances you perceive to be difficult are all relative to what you’ve achieved before, and as you run further, you realise how much more you’re capable of than you initially thought. This has a positive effect overall: for me, it’s shown me how I may be holding onto limiting beliefs in other areas of my life, too.

2. It’s a mental discipline as much as a physical one

 In my experience, running long distances is even more of a mental feat than a physical one. When your body runs low on glycogen stores deep into a long training run, your mind is the tool that gets you to the end. And when you reach the finish line, the rewards of this mind-over-body achievement, coupled with the chemically-induced “runner’s high”, result in an overall sense of well being that’s hard to beat.

3. It’s meditative

I have two small children, which means that time on my own is a huge luxury. Running is a set allocation of time when I can simply be in the moment – I can’t read emails, answer phone calls, look after my children or worry about the minutiae of life: all I can do is run. In this simplicity, my mind clears, and the activity becomes meditative. Also, the more tired I get, the less intensely I think, which also helps my mind to “empty out” and rest.

4. It keeps me healthy

Long distance running has been shown to improve your heart health, strengthen your bones and combat depression, among other benefits. Of course, long distances on your feet do also put you at risk of injury. Johannesburg-based physiotherapist Diane Teles cautions, “While ultra-runners certainly reap the benefits of a sport that makes them mentally strong, if you want to improve physical fitness and general health markers, more can be gained from training for and completing a variety of shorter distances at varying paces.” Oh well, I never said this was rational! Also, if you belong to a medical aid, you can get points or rewards for keeping active and participating in events. For example, Fedhealth is a co-sponsor of the 2018 Cape Town Marathon, and the first 100 entries are free for Fedhealth members.

5. It makes you think more holistically about your health

A regular training regime makes me think more carefully about other areas of my health, such as what I’m eating and drinking, and how much sleep I’m getting. While I definitely enjoy good coffee, chocolate cake and wine like the best of them, running long distances has definitely made me more conscious of my diet, and more moderate when it comes to consuming stimulants like caffeine and alcohol.

6. It forges friendships, and opens you up to a solid community

I’ve met amazing people through my running club. Being part of a running community means benefiting from a sense of camaraderie, support and encouragement, and meeting new people in different circles than those I’d normally socialise in. I’ve also formed deeper human connections through the shared experience of completing such a challenging activity.

It’s true that ultra marathon running isn’t for everybody – and the thought of running for hours upon hours still may sound like a very bizarre thing to do. But for me, the sense of mental toughness, stamina, positivity and physical health I’ve gained has meant that the sport has won me over. So, who’s lining up with me at the start of Comrades Marathon 2019?


The Guardian, Healthy Living, NPR, Health24

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