THE THRILL OF THE MARATHON by Cheryl Stevens

Why would anyone voluntarily choose to run distances that could literally kill them? If it doesn't  kill them, it will certainly play havoc with their joints, their feet and their hearts.
DID YOU KNOW? The longest certified ultramarathon in the world is The Ultimate Ultra, an astounding 2 092 km held in New York. There is the annual Trans America Footrace, run in 64 consecutive daily stages from Los Angeles to New York. Runners cover around 4 800 km at about 72 km a day. Closer to home, don't forget our famous Grand Ultra ' the largest ultra-marathon race in the world, The Comrades Marathon. Twenty thousand  runners enter every year for a gruelling 87 km with only 85% of runners finishing. The word 'ultra' is slapped on everything from laundry detergent and protein shakes to beer and is a handy buzzword for many things. Yet put it in front of the word marathon and you really get its true meaning. Over 50 km of marathon running sounds completely mad, or is it all in the thrill? The thrill of the challenge, the thrill of the victory, the thrill of achieving your highest possible goal, the thrill of getting the body to do what it shouldn't possibly be able to do? Yes, yes and yes ' or perhaps someone dared you, or you've opted to support a good cause.  The reasons may be different, but what typifies the challenge is the endurance factor. 3 ENDURANCE TIPS According to Jennifer Lager from the Centre for Athletic Performance Enhancement, a vital part of any endurance race is training the mind. 1. VISUALISE Key to mental training is being able to picture yourself doing an ultra-marathon. This technique is called visualisation and the better image you have of completing the marathon, the better chance you have believing you can finish the race. 2. HAVE CUE WORDS In moments where you need to 'dig deep' to keep going, another technique is 'cue words'. Words that represent everything you need to draw on, at that moment. 3. STAY IN THE MOMENT Staying in the moment is critical, being present in the current kilometre, in the current step and not allowing the mind to worry about what still needs to be accomplished. Detrimental health effects around inactivity receive plenty of media scrutiny, but what about the effects of immense physical activity? What are the risks? And what about the benefits of running more kilometres in a day than many of us walk in a month? There is undeniable evidence that running helps weight loss, improves bone density and has a lifting, calming effect on the mind. Running improves the way we feel about ourselves and grows self-confidence. Research from Stanford University of California found that ultra-runners had a low incidence of high blood pressure and less than 1% had been diagnosed with heart disease. Interestingly, breathing problems like allergies and asthma are common in runners ' largely from time spent outdoors near pollen flowers and trees. Runners also tend to get hurt - injuries are part and parcel of running but injuries are most common in younger, inexperienced trail runners. Common injuries and ailments on long, hot races in rough terrain, include blurred vision, insect bites, cuts and bruises, hypothermia, hyponatremia (too much water), muscle cramps, stress fractures and blisters. Preparation is key to managing and combating the risks. Fuelling up for a race that can take 12 hours in temperatures over 35' C is a challenge, especially as runners are limited in what they can carry. It's commonly accepted that the jarring act of running reduces an athlete's ability to absorb nutrients. Ultra-runners can burn between 400 and 600 calories an hour and topping up calories through the run is key - eating before the race and often through the race helps keep energy levels up. Athletes have just two or three hours of glycogen stored in their muscles and liver. Traditionally it's believed that carbohydrates, as a source of energy, should be eaten before any race. They're stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver and glycogen is the body's most readily available form of energy. But it's not the only source, during an ultra-marathon the body burns both glycogen and fat. Carbo loading two or three days before a race to fill the muscles with glycogen is recommended. Steer clear of high-fat foods and protein which fill you up faster than carbs. Rice, oats bread, pasta, baked potatoes and yoghurt are all good options. Fruit is high in carbs but also high in fibre which can cause stomach trouble midrace. Water and fluid are as important as food and runners need a strategy on how to carry and consume the right amount of water. Running has profound benefits and effects on the body and mind. The benefits are vast, but the risks of ultra-marathon running must be considered, and addressed with proper training, nutrition, and rest. Ultra-marathons allow individuals to do something remarkable that is usually beyond one's expectation. The question now is; are you up for the thrill? 'If at first you don't succeed you can always become an ultramarathoner' ' Bruce Fordyce

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