Has the Ultra become the new marathon ?

Running has become more and more popular , not seen since the days of the Sony Walkman revolution of the early eighties when for the first time you could run with music. (To the young generation amongst us we used a  thing called a ‘tape’, analog not digital music. ) People new to running inevitably join a running club or run with more experienced friends and before they know it they’ve signed up for their first race. This is a good thing as I believe you never push yourself as much as when the competitive juices start to flow with a racing bib on your chest. One thing leads to another and before too long you’ve entered your first half or full marathon.

Invariably this distance is conquered and you’ve informed all your friends via Facebook and normally your work colleagues via daily updates on your progress. The problem arises though when the marathon doesn’t seem to cut it for kudos like it use to. In the office there seems to be quite a few marathoners and worse most are faster than you. You start to get compared to John in accounts who ran sub3 or even Sheila in Purchasing who ran has ran 10 marathons while juggling family commitments and a busy career. So these days to get some real kudos it’s time to take this running to the next level, the ultra-marathon.

The ultra has the added benefit of the slower you run the more kudos you get,  where as the marathon is, these days, about not only completing it but also setting a good time. Non runners are getting use to people telling them they’ve ran a marathon and have responded asking how long they took. Again they are wise to what they consider a good time and if you reply ‘4 hours’ they look at you with pity and  ask ‘what went wrong’? Not so with the ultra-marathon. Because it is still not mainstream a non runner has no idea what a good or bad time is for an ultra and even if they did the distance can be varied to confuse them. Remember an ultra is anything longer than a marathon distance, it can be 42.3k upwards.

The ultra gets even better, they tend to be in far flung locations and have pretty serious titles, again earning kudos points. How good does an ‘ultra-marathon in Death Valley‘ sound. Death valley, c’mon, if that doesn’t get serious kudos around the drink fountain nothing will. Ok, Sheila from Purchasing has ran 10 marathons but she’s never ran an ultra-marathon in Death Valley. They have no idea where Death Valley is or even what an ultra-marathon is but who cares, you are now the running god in the office, someone who wouldn’t waste their time with silly ‘girl distance’ like marathons. The universe is realigned and you can ‘strut’ around the office yet gain.

The only downside to this new running adventure is the office folk then look to you for more and more longer distances and/or exotic locations. After your first ultra you can never repeat that distance as non-runners , although initially impressed , soon become impervious to distance running unless there is a serious upgrade or the location adds some spice. e.g. The Marathon Des Sable ( http://www.marathondessables.com/en/), the toughest footrace on Earth. ! ( ..On Earth? are they saying there’s a tougher footrace not on earth, the Moon 100k maybe? Now that would be worth talking about !??)

A word of warning of course,  you may come across the non runner who knows a thing or two about ultra-running and while you strut around the office sprouting off about a 100k race on the local trails,  basking in the adulation of the finance department,  they walk past and grunt it was ‘no Marathon Des Sables’. Instantly your credibility is destroyed and you sneak off back to your desk plotting your next adventure.

So to sum up,  an ultra marathon may fill the void in the office kudos states. It has the benefit of still being relatively hardcore, in the view of the uneducated, allows you to focus on distance and not time (to counter that nasty sub3 runner in Accounts) and even allows you to slow down and take your time as the longer you take will actually earn more brownie points.  I won’t even start to mention the extra equipment you get to buy and use on ultra-marathons. The wardrobe options are endless and include camelbacks, gators, water belts and my mate Mark’s favourite,  a cappuccino machine. ! (He doesn’t actually bring along a cappuccino machine but he wore a water belt once that had so many accessories he might as well have!)  This can become more of a hindrance than a help as I always remember feeling my mate TB’s camelback at the end of the 6 inch ultra-marathon ( http://www.6inchtrailmarathon.com ) and it must have weighted 10k; and that was at the END of the race not the beginning !!

The 6 inch is a good example of the small step up needed from the marathon distance. Remember anything longer than a marathon is classed an ultra. The 6 inch is 46k (assuming you don’t get lost, which I have on a number of occasions!), so for that extra 4k you get to shoot down Sheila in Purchasing as you’ve ran an ultra-marathon and ,as everybody knows , so much harder than the silly marathon…

So lookout Sheila,  we’re coming for you ?

6 Inch Trail
6 Inch Trail Ultra, only 4k’s more than a marathon but to the untrained eye a whole different animal, an Ultra !!


  1. Ed | 2nd Nov 17

    Who cares what other people think? Not a sustainable reason to run a specific distance imho.

    • bigkevmatthews@gmail.com | 2nd Nov 17

      G’day Ed, The post is written in jest of course but you are right you run for your own personal satisfaction and choose your goal distance to match your ambitions.

  2. Ultramarathon Daily News | Thurs, Nov 2 | Ultrarunnerpodcast | 2nd Nov 17

    […] Is the ultramarathon the new marathon when it comes to trying to impress your coworkers? […]

  3. Mark | 3rd Nov 17

    Have many pleasant memories of the cappuccino machine. Need to look it out! But for me it’s all about the the marathon right now. I think Sheila is onto something. Although I can’t help feeling the pull of the Comrades for some reason but that’s another story….

    • bigkevmatthews@gmail.com | 4th Nov 17

      Comrades, now there’s a story or three. I can feel a few posts coming on, surprisingly. I still need my UP silver medal to go with my DOWN version…

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