What if I told you that the secret to success in your ultramarathon is to become an Endurance Monster?
It’s that simple.
Or at least, it sounds simple.
I’ll describe the characteristics of an Endurance Monster in a second, but first let’s look at …marathons.
The Difference Between Marathons and Ultramarathons
Marathons are 26.2 miles – every single one of them.
Most of them are fairly flat, and a lot are on roads and easy paths. There are exceptions, but that’s the general idea.
In a marathon, you give it your all over those 26.2 miles.
As you run, you’re trying to push yourself to that fine limit between running fast, and going too fast and burning out.
Your Rate of Perceived Exertion in a marathon probably starts around a 6 or 7, and climbs throughout.
Marathons are a one-time deal.
If you blow out at mile 22 it sucks – but you can still walk to the finish line in an hour.
Then you get to go home, eat ice cream, and celebrate.
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Now, let’s look at Ultramarathons.
Ultramarathons are different beasts altogether.
Most ultras take place on the trails – they have a habit of being someplace weird, or interesting, or just damn beautiful.
Trails means climbs, descends, obstacles, uneven footing…
In an ultramarathon, you’re out there for so long that you’ve got to be prepared for anything to happen.
And this should be reflected in your pace strategy.
* * *
If you turn up to an ultra and run it like you would a marathon, you’re doomed to suffer.
You’ll go out too fast.
You won’t account for the variety in the trails.
You’ll burn out – after all, your body can only keep up a certain pace for so long.
When you burn out in a marathon, not all is necessarily lost. There’s a decent chance that you can limp onwards to the finish line.
Burning out during an ultra, however . . . not so pretty.
* * *
What Is An Endurance Monster?
So let’s get back to the question in hand – what exactly is an Endurance Monster?
It is someone who can run all day.
But that’s not the full story. Becoming an Endurance Monster isn’t just about running ability.
It’s about mindset, strategy, and your approach to running.
Here are some of the defining characteristics of an Endurance Monster:
- Endurance Monsters are humble and conservative
- Endurance Monsters always keep some energy in their back pocket
- Endurance Monsters train at a variety of speeds and distances, but always race at a sustainable pace
- Endurance Monsters keep their Rate of Perceived Exertion under 8 out of 10 (until right near the end)
- Endurance Monsters know how to manage their fuel, water, and electrolytes as they run
- Endurance Monsters don’t worry if they’re taking longer in a race than they thought they would
- Endurance Monsters have a relatively low DNF rate
- Endurance Monsters are nice to other runners.
Next time you’re at the finish line of an ultramarathon, look for those runners who are smiling and talkative as they cross the finish line.
They probably didn’t come 1st, but they likely pushed themselves to the edge of their comfortable limits, and knew how to manage themselves.
They are the Endurance Monsters.
How To Become An Endurance Monster
Here are my top tips for becoming an EM:
- Get familiar with listening to your body, and running based on RPE as opposed to your GPS.
- Make friends with other ultra runners – embrace the community
- Test your gear and nutrition extensively, so you know them intimately before entering any ultras
- Leave your ego and hubris at home – they can still come out to play when you’re running shorter distances
- Help other runners who are struggling
- In running events, avoid getting attached to target finish times or podium places
- Lean into the run itself – that’s what we’re all in it for, after all.
The more of us there are, the stronger our sport becomes.
So – are you going to become an Endurance Monster?
If you’re interested in the journey, check out the Ultra Runner’s Playbook – my complete guide to becoming an Endurance Monster
Thomas @ Marathon Handbook
(side note: there’s some cross-over between the ideas in this article and Stoicism, for those interested).