I ran my first half marathon in 2007. As I was showering off my sore aching muscles I thought to myself that people who ran full marathons must be out of their mind.
I did my first 70.3 in 2008. As I was finishing the last few miles of the run I couldn't even imagine what how it would be possible to still have another 13+ miles to go.
In 2010 I ran my first 50k. After I was done I started to get it.
There is certainly a progression to ultra endurance events - marathon, an ultra marathon, and a full distance triathlon (140.6 miles - often referred to as an ironman although all the cool kids know it will one day be commonly referred to as a FullRev). A lot of the progression is about perspective. And the other part of the progression is fitness. They go hand in hand...as fitness grows, perspective about what you think is possible changes and grows with it.
For some people they know before they even do their first triathlon that 140.6 is their goal. Sometimes I see these people jump in too soon and pay a heavy price. Now I'm not into the whole "you gotta pay your dues" stuff. What I mean is that an ultra endurance event of any kind takes a particular depth of fitness that only comes with time. The more time you put into that fitness, and I'm talking years, the deeper it becomes and the more you are able to stretch yourself without as much risk for injuries and overtraining syndrome.
Another price people sometimes pay is more personal. Sometimes I see people jump into an event that requires a lot of time to prepare for without having thought out the life logistics of that. How will this affect your job? How will this affect your kids? How will this affect your spouse or significant other? Let's face it, training for a 140.6 takes time...a lot of time.
So, here is a little list of things I think would be good to have checked off before you check the box on your first ultra endurance event.
- Is your spouse/partner completely, 100% on-board and supportive?
This is a no-brainer for me. If Kel didn't support me in my efforts towards my first 140.6 last year, there is no way I could have done it or would have done it. I will not coach people who don't have the support of their spouse. That's how important I think it is. You need to know that your person is not going to resent you being gone, but they are going to be excited for you while at the same time having to pick up the slack from your hours spent training. This is doubly important if you have young kids because your spouse is the person that is caring for your kids during your training most of the time.
- Are your kids old enough?
This is a very individual decision and probably varies depending on your family situation and if you are a mom or a dad. For me, I felt very strongly that I would not do a full until both my kids were in school. That way I could do a lot of my training during the time they were at school and not miss out on things. I was tempted to start when Noah was 4, but I am glad I waited. Kel actually did his first full the year before me, and it was exciting for me to watch him prepare and it worked fine for our family.
- Do you have time?
This is a tricky one because everyone has different ideas about how much time you need to devote to training for a race like this. My general answer is a lot. It can range anywhere from between 10 and upwards of 20 hours per week depending on your goals, fitness and the kind of athlete you are. Is this going to work with your job? Is this going to work with your family? I have a fairly flexible schedule so I am able to get most of my training done during the day. Kel has a more standard type of job. When he was training for his full he would go to work before any of us were awake and then leave work around 3:00 (since he got in so early) and then get a great workout in and be home for dinner as usual. This worked really well for our family and we didn't feel like we were missing him any more than usual. It's really about evaluating your lifestyle and seeing how the puzzle will go together: job, family, training.
- Is your body ready?
And by ready I don't mean ready to go do the race, I mean ready in terms of health and fitness. Do have a lot of weight to lose? Training for a full is not a great weight loss strategy. It is much better to get ready first than train for it. Is your body healthy and whole? If you are struggling with nagging injuries, now is not the time to dive into a 15 hour training week. As a coach I often recommend a two or three year plan leading up to a full. I like this because during that first year of training you can really focus on the limiters (weight, injuries, fitness) and then build up to the full distance slowly, safely and with health and happiness.
- Do you really want it?
You have to want it. Period. End of discussion. If you aren't sure, you are not ready. I don't mean if you aren't sure about if you can do it. Everybody is unsure of that in the beginning. I mean if you aren't sure you really want to do it. You have got to want it.