How I ran my first, and probably the last, ultramarathon

Hello there!

In this blog post, I write about my experience of running the ultramarathon - a footrace longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195 kilometers. I write about how I started running, what made me apply for the ultramarathon, the preparation process (nothing too deep and too sport-specific), how I felt throughout the race, and in the end, what I have learned from it.

Let me know in the comments what you think, or feel free to share this post if you found it interesting and maybe even inspiring!


How did it all start?

Running... When I think of it I always remember when I was little and seeing my dad going for a run on the hills above my house, I was so amazed by it. It was so cool, I thought. Then I got older both he and I started running together, once or twice per week. I enjoyed it! That is one of the things that got me into running.

Years went by, and I continued to run, both physically, and metaphorically. In my twenties, I ran my first half-marathon. To be honest, I was running two or three times per week at the time, but I never did prepare for it. I went for a shorter race, but at some point just made a turn on a different route and I managed to complete the half-marathon in below two hours. I was so proud of myself, but also in a lot of cramps days after that, which I still remember to this day. I was living in a dorm at the time, and I wasn't able to go out of my room, my roommate was bringing me the food.

Then I started climbing, and running fell into the background, as an addition to overall conditioning training. I continued to run, but a lot less than before. I was never so keen on competing and running races, so I ran only to satisfy my physical and mental health, even though I wasn't aware of doing the latter at all.

What, or better yet - who made me decide?

Two years ago, a good friend of mine said to me - I want to run a 100km race, wanna join? I was like - what, how, when? So many questions were asked, but not so many of them were answered. Not sure if it was smart or not, but soon after that I just went for it, and applied for the race. In the end, the distance was 64km - the 100km one being canceled due to the pandemic.

The race was on Stara Planina - the biggest mountain range in Serbia. And it was a trail run - the thing I never did before! Okay, I have less than a year to prepare for it - challenge accepted!

People who made me do it

Just a side note before I go any further - trail running is a sports activity that combines running and, on steeper terrains, hiking, that is run on any unpaved surface. So basically you go into some hills or mountains, find an unpaved road, and start running. When it becomes too steep you switch to hiking, and vice versa.

The preparation

The preparations started. I slowly started getting back to running, longer duration and distance each week. I was running solo, or with my friends who were also preparing for the same race. The longest distance I ran during one week of preparation was, if I remember correctly, around 60km in total. I remember even going alone on a mountain near my hometown - Rtanj, and I scaled it from the north entrance to the south exit in less than 3 hours. The distance was around 20km, but the difference in altitude was around 800m in the first 8km. I felt so prepared because it was the beginning of March, and the race was in June.

The date was getting nearer, but also our preparation got a bit more serious. We went for a hike after some climbing outside, and at some point started running because we were bored of walking. It felt nice. Kilometers were passing so quickly. Everything was so unreal.

I was, and still am, a complete beginner when it comes to running trail races, and the thought of the 64km being the first one didn't actually come to my mind. Which is maybe a lucky coincidence, or my modus operandi - when I have some tough challenge before me, I don't think about it much, I just start, and endure along the way.

Preparations continued on, both my friends and I were feeling ready. And to be honest, there weren't any dramatic things happening before the race, like I got cold feet (yeah, right!), or got scared (well, maybe a little), so I'll just go ahead to the race itself.

The race

It started really nice, there was an announcer at the start of the race, he was great in bringing the atmosphere up, everyone was so pumped and eager to start. The horn marked the beginning and we all started running, hyped and with smiles on our faces. I started slow, for the first couple of hundred meters, then I started running. I ran whenever I could - I am a big fan of uphill running, so that part wasn't a challenge for me, the downhill, however, was a bit of a mess. Fortunately enough, I didn't slip or slide during the downhill, so that part went well.

The real struggle for me happened around a 20-ish kilometer. I thought I could endure more, but my legs started getting cramps. I drank water, lots of it, with mixed electrolytes in it, and the pain started to die down, just a bit. During the whole race, I was alone with my thoughts and the sounds of nature around me. So no playlist to keep me busy, or occupied and distracted from the pain I felt. However I was able to channel that pain to the next step, and the next step, and the next. Then I started singing tunes of some random songs, continued to run with a combination of hiking, and in no time (around 10 hours in total), I was at the end. So, in a sense, I can say that it was a 10 hours long meditation.

Not sure what place I finished, but my goal was to finish in less than 10 hours. I almost completed that goal, only 15-20 minutes above the mark. But, nevertheless, the feeling of completing the longest race, at least the physical ones, of my life was done. I sat down on a near grass field, started stretching, also one of the longest ones in my life, and called my parents. They were so happy about the result, my dad especially. Then, I went to my room, took a cold shower, and continued to drink as much water as was safe for me at that time. Then my friends came and we were all so happy and full of various experiences from the race.

What I've learned?

After this one, I did another, this one half the distance, around 30km, but a lot scarier, harder, and with a lot of great vistas - on one of the most scenic mountains in Montenegro - Prokletije. I felt good throughout the race, but after completing it I decided it was enough for me, at least for now. Those long distances I ran really affected my climbing - I was even worse than I was before starting with trail runs and I hadn't climbed a lot in general, so the decision was obvious to me. Also, I'm not so keen on competing, as I mentioned in the beginning, so the choice was easy.

The thing I've learned during these two long-distance runs was that I should concentrate on the process, rather than the goal itself. Some of the hills in these races were so hard for me, but going up, focusing on one step at a time, made me climb them. And all the pain I felt through both of these runs was there, beside me, but I didn't let it stop me in one way or another. Maybe I sat somewhere a bit longer, but that was also okay, I challenged myself, and was able to complete that challenge. And that was the whole point.

Anyhow, if you are into running, I would highly recommend that you try trail running - it was such an experience for me, and the best way of running in my opinion - both uphill and downhill, in nature, with magnificent vistas along the way. Everyone should at least try it! If you are not that into running, well, going into nature can help your physical and mental health, so use that opportunity wisely and think outside, no box required.