Thursday, June 16, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions: Ultra Running

Since I've started running marathons and now especially ultra marathons I seem to get a lot of questions about why I do it and a how. I have compiled some of the most frequently asked questions that people ask me.

Q: Why? This by far is the most commonly asked question I get.
A: This is a question for a separate blog post.

Q: Do you stop and sleep during the 50 or 100 mile races?
A: Nope, you do stop at aid stations for a few minutes to refill water bottles and grab some food, but only for a few minutes. There are certain ultra races that happen over several days but the ones that I do you go straight through.

Q: How much do you run normally?
A: Actually I run less miles weekly than I did when training for a marathon. On average I run about 50-70 miles a week, most of the miles coming from the 1-2 longs runs of 20+ miles.

Q: What do you eat when you running?
A: During training I normally just eat Clif Bar Shot Blocks and gels. I prefer the black cherry shot blocks and Powerbar Tangerine gels. I'll drink mostly water but sometimes on really long runs I'll drink Gatorade, EnduroMax or coconut water.

Q: What is your normal diet?
A: I don't really follow a specific diet and over the past few years I have really experimented with my diet to see what will be the best fit for me. Right now I follow something close to the Paleo diet and the Slow-Carb Diet. I follow them fairly loosely but they are my general guidelines as of now, my search for the optimal diet is still a work in progress.

I have tried numerous things from a Raw Food Diet, to Vegetarian, High Protein Diet, High Carbohydrate Diet, Low Carb Diet, Standard American Diet (SAD) and even an all Liquid Diet.
As of now I'm settled on a hybrid of the Slow Carb and Paleo diets.

Q: Don't your knees hurt or aren't you afraid that you'll do long-term damage to your knees?
A: No, running is like anything if done properly you should not have any long-term issue with your knees or legs. The problem is that there are a lot of people that have very poor running form which leads to injuries and long-term damage.

My knees are very strong and I have never had any issues with them, I'm probably doing more damage to them by sitting at a desk 8-10 hours a day than any running that I'm doing. Generally people with bad knees are people that play sports like basketball, football, soccer ect. Yes, there are runners that have bad knees, but that is more often the exception not the rule.

Q: Is it healthy to run a marathon, 50miles, 100mile.

A: Short answer No, No and No. The human body is designed to go up to about 20 miles and anything longer than that is really taxing on the body from a nutritional, structurally stressing and muscular stand point. However, the unique feature of the human body is that if you stress it and allow it to properly recover it will become stronger. That is the simplistic basis of all training programs for marathons or longer. So no it is not healthy to run these distances, but the overall net health gains by eating and training for these types of events is generally a net gain from those who do not participate in other physical activities.

Q: You are probably a natural runner or generically inclined towards running right?

A: This is a classic nature vs. nurture argument. My response is that I do not believe that I have any more physical or genetic inclination or advantage as a runner than the average person. I would say that my desire and passion towards running is much higher than the average person. I was born with cold weather and exercise induced asthma which does not lend itself well for distance runners. Standing at a intimidating 5ft 8 inches, most of which is my torso, my limb ratio is not bad, but it is certainly not advantageous for me as a runner. I have never been tested for my VO2 max or lactic thresholds, so I do not know if I have any genetic advantage there or not.

My personal opinion is that there is certainly genetic or nature characteristics that help athletes, such as Lance Armstrong's lactic threshold is off the charts. I believe that most people have the necessary physical ability to become very very good at any sport, skill or activity if they put the necessary time and effort. The genetic features come into play certainly and when you put the time and effort and have the necessary natural abilities that is when you get a world-class athlete or performer.

Q: Don't you get bored? Do you use an ipod when running?

A: I don't really get bored when running. I personally think that it is very meditative when I'm doing my longer easier runs and when I'm doing tempo or speed work I'm concentrating on my pace too much to get bored. Long runs are great times to workout any problems that you have, I have yet to have a problem that after a 3 hour run I didn't feel better about. Another plus is that elevating your heart rate in any activity releases a lot of endorphins similar to the ones that are in antidepressants (runner's high effect I suppose).

I generally don't use an ipod when running, but sometimes during the winter on my long runs and when I run on the treadmill I will use one. When I started running I never had one, so I guess I have always been used to not having one.

Q: What do you think about when you are out running?

A: I think about the same thing I do every time I run. I think about way to try and take over the world.

Q: Did you just drop a Pinky and the Brain reference?

A: Yes, yes I did.

Q: What do you think is the most important keys to running well.

A: I think that the number one thing for almost all level of distance runners to focus on in injury prevention. At most levels whether you are a serious competitor or just running for fun if you can avoid injuries you will be able to not only enjoy running more but you will also be able to progress as a runner a lot more effectively.

Q: How many shoes do you go through?

A: Thankfully I can usually get about 500-600 miles out of most of my training shoes. I have been slowly transitioning into a more and more minimalist shoe which has allowed me to get the most out of my shoes. With normal mileage I will generally buy a new pair of shoes every few months, but I also buy different trail running shoes and racing flats for road races so I spend plenty on shoes each year.

I hope that will provide some good info for those of you wondering about running these types of events. If you have any other questions feel free to post them in the comments below and I'll certainly do my best to answer them.


  1. Thanks for that FAQ, Jordan. It is very helpful. I would appreciate a lot more from you on Tribal Running about how to tackle those Ultras, and what your strategies and gear are for dealing with them while you are running them.

    -John Vezina

  2. @John Glad to hear that you liked the post. I will definitely be sharing more information, strategies and product reviews on the blog. Hopefully they will be of use, I'm still pretty new to the ultra field so I've still got a lot to learn.

  3. Interesting questions and answers. I have been thinking about running an ultra in November. i agree about form causing injuries.