What Is A Trail Ultra? | Hikers University

If you want to test the limits of your mind and body, a trail ultra might be for you. But what is a trail ultra, and what is it all about? 

Have you been trail running for some time now and want to up your game? If yes, then you should consider participating in an ultramarathon.

A trail ultra is an ultramarathon that takes place on trails instead of roads. These races are typically much longer than traditional marathons, often ranging from 50 to 100 miles or more. Trail ultras can be extremely challenging, both physically and mentally. 

Here is all you need to know about trail ultras, what to expect from them, and how to prepare for one. 

All the information mentioned in this blog has been taken from highly credible sources.

Table of contents


What Is A Trail Ultra?

A trail ultra is an ultramarathon that takes place on trails instead of roads. These races are typically much longer than traditional marathons, often ranging from 50 to 100 miles or more. While some trail ultras follow a specific route, others are self-supported and require runners to navigate their own way through the wilderness. 

Trail ultras can be extremely challenging, both physically and mentally. The rugged terrain and unpredictable weather conditions can make for a demanding race, and runners must be prepared for anything. This type of event requires a great deal of planning and preparation, and it is not for the faint of heart.

Those who complete a trail ultra will have accomplished something truly remarkable. These events push runners to their limits, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing is unlike anything else. If you're looking for a true test of endurance, a trail ultra is certainly worth considering.

What Happens To Your Body During An Ultramarathon

When you push your body to its limits during an ultramarathon, a lot of interesting things happen. Here's a look at some of the most fascinating changes that occur, from increased blood flow to altered brain activity.

Your heart rate and blood pressure increase as your body works harder to pump oxygen-rich blood to your muscles. This can put a lot of strain on your heart and, in some cases, can lead to cardiac arrest. 

To cope with the increased demand for oxygen, your lungs work overtime, and you may start to hyperventilate. This can cause lightheadedness, dizziness, and even fainting. 

Your digestive system shuts down almost completely during an ultramarathon. This is because blood flow is redirected to your muscles, heart, and lungs, and away from your gut. As a result, you may experience cramping, nausea, and vomiting. 

Your kidneys also work overtime during an ultramarathon to filter out the increased amount of toxins in your blood. This can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, which can be dangerous if not properly managed.

As your body breaks down glycogen for energy, you may start to experience 'bonking' or 'hitting the wall.' This is when your muscles run out of fuel and start to feel weak and rubbery. If you don't replenish your glycogen stores, bonking can lead to complete exhaustion. 

To make up for the lack of glycogen, your body starts to break down fat for energy. This process, known as ketosis, can produce some nasty side effects like bad breath, nausea, and diarrhea.

As you continue to run, your body temperature rises and you start to sweat. Sweating helps to cool your body down, but it also means you're losing water and electrolytes. If you don't replenish these lost fluids, you may become dehydrated or heat-stressed. 

Your muscles also start to break down during an ultramarathon. This can lead to cramping, inflammation, and joint pain. In severe cases, it can even lead to rhabdomyolysis, a condition where muscle tissue breaks down and enters the bloodstream. 

Finally, your brain activity changes during an ultramarathon. The increased stress hormones and lack of sleep can lead to impaired judgment, hallucinations, and even delusions. In some cases, runners may even experience a 'runner's high,' a state of euphoria caused by endorphins.

Do You Sleep During An Ultramarathon?

It's no secret that ultramarathons are grueling, demanding affairs. But just how much sleep do runners usually get during these events? 

There's no simple answer to this question, as everybody is different and will have their own sleeping patterns during an ultramarathon. However, it's safe to say that most runners will get very little sleep indeed during the race. 

That's because ultramarathons often last for many hours, sometimes even days. And when you're running for that long, there's simply not enough time to stop and take a nap. 

So if you're wondering whether you'll be able to catch some shut-eye during your next ultramarathon, the answer is probably 'no.' But don't worry - you'll be able to push through the tiredness and make it to the finish line! 

Do Ultra-Runners Walk?

Contrary to popular belief, ultra-runners do walk during races. In fact, walking is an important part of ultra-running and can help runners conserve energy and prevent injuries. 

While some runners may be able to run the entire race without walking, most will find that walking at certain points is beneficial. For example, if a runner is feeling fatigued, walking for a short period of time can help them recover and then resume running at a later point. Additionally, hills are often difficult to run up, so many runners will walk up steep hills and then jog or run down them. 

In general, the amount of walking that each runner does will vary depending on the individual and the race conditions. Some runners may find that they need to walk more frequently, while others may be able to run for longer periods of time before taking a walking break. Ultimately, it is up to each runner to find what works best for them and to listen to their body during the race. 

While walking may seem like it would be slower than running, it is actually possible to maintain a good pace while walking. In fact, some runners may even find that they are able to make up time by walking during parts of the race. This is because walking uses different muscle groups than running does, so runners can sometimes avoid fatigue by alternating between running and walking. 

Overall, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to how much walking ultra-runners should do during a race. It is ultimately up to each individual runner to experiment and find what works best for them. However, it is important to keep in mind that walking can be a helpful tool for runners of all levels and can be used to conserve energy and prevent injuries. 

Can You Run An Ultra Without Training?

It is possible to run an ultra marathon without specific training, but it is certainly not recommended. An ultra-marathon is any race that exceeds the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles and can range upwards of 100 miles. 

Running an ultra-marathon without the proper training puts your body at a much higher risk for injury, as well as increasing your chances of hitting "the wall"- a point where your body has used up all of its glycogen stores, and you are forced to slow down or stop altogether. If you're considering running an ultra marathon without specific training, be sure to read on for more information. 

The first thing to consider is your level of fitness. If you are not already in excellent shape, then running an ultra marathon is probably not the best idea. Many ultramarathon runners have years of experience running long distances and have slowly built up their mileage to be able to handle the strain of an ultra marathon. If you're not already an experienced runner, then you'll likely find yourself struggling during the race. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that an ultra marathon is not like a regular marathon. The sheer distance of an ultra marathon means that you will be on your feet for hours at a time, and your body will go through a lot more wear and tear than it would during a shorter race. Without specific training, your body will not be used to this type of endurance exercise, and you may find yourself succumbing to injuries such as blisters, chafing, or even dehydration.

Dehydration is a particularly big concern during an ultra marathon, as you will be sweating profusely for hours on end. Without proper hydration, your body will not be able to perform at its best, and you may find yourself slowing down or even stopping altogether. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids during the race, and consider carrying a handheld water bottle or hydration pack to make sure you stay properly hydrated. 

As you can see, there are a few things to consider before running an ultra marathon without specific training. While it is technically possible to do so, it is certainly not recommended. If you're considering running an ultra marathon, be sure to train properly and give yourself the best chance of success.

What Pace Do Ultra Marathoners Run?

While it is true that ultra-marathoners must be able to maintain a steady pace for long periods of time, they also need to be able to pick up the pace when necessary. This is because ultra marathon races often include a variety of terrain, from flat sections to steep hills. 

Ultramarathoners typically start out slow and then gradually increase their speed as the race goes on. This allows them to conserve energy and avoid injury. However, there may be times when they need to speed up, such as to avoid getting passed by another runner or to make up time. 

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of what pace do ultra marathoners run, it is important to remember that these runners are highly trained and experienced athletes. As such, they are able to adapt their pace to the specific conditions of each race. 

Tips For Your First Ultramarathon Trail Race 

l Train adequately: This is probably the most important tip for running a successful ultramarathon. Make sure you train enough so that your body is physically prepared for the demands of the race.

l Know your limits: It's important to know your limits when running an ultramarathon. Don't try to push yourself too hard and end up getting injured or burning out before the finish line.

l Pace yourself: Another important tip for running an ultramarathon is to pace yourself properly. If you start off too fast, you'll likely hit a wall later on in the race and won't be able to finish strong.

l Stay hydrated: It's crucial to stay hydrated during an ultramarathon, especially in hot weather. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids and take electrolyte supplements if necessary.

l Fuel your body: In addition to staying hydrated, it's also important to fuel your body with proper nutrition. Eat plenty of carbs, and make sure you get enough calories before and during the race.

l Be prepared for anything: Ultramarathons can be unpredictable, so it's important to be prepared for anything that might come up. Bring a change of clothes, a first-aid kit, and other essentials in case you need them.

l Have fun: Last but not least, don't forget to have fun! Running an ultramarathon is a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience. Enjoy the process and the achievement of crossing the finish line. 

How Long Should You Rest After An Ultra Marathon?

Ultramarathon runners are no strangers to fatigue and pain. After all, they've just completed a race that's longer than the standard 26.2 miles. So it's only natural to wonder how long they should rest after an ultra marathon.

The answer, unfortunately, isn't so simple. It depends on a number of factors, including the runner's age, level of fitness, and recovery goals.

Generally speaking, younger runners and those who are in good shape can recover faster than older runners or those who are not in as good of shape. That's because their bodies are better able to repair muscle damage and replenish energy stores. 

As for recovery goals, some runners may want to jump back into training right away, while others may prefer to take a few days off to let their bodies fully recover. 

Ultimately, it's up to the individual runner to listen to their body and decide how long to rest after an ultra marathon. There's no wrong answer, as long as the runner feels ready to resume training. 

How Many Calories Do You Burn In An Ultra Marathon?

To put it simply, the number of calories you burn during an ultra marathon depends on a variety of factors, including your weight, gender, age, running speed, and terrain.

That being said, a 2008 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that the average male ultra-marathoner burns around 2,600 calories per hour, while the average female ultramarathoner burns around 2,200 calories per hour. 

Of course, these are just averages and your calorie burn will likely be higher or lower depending on the factors mentioned above. For example, a heavier runner will generally burn more calories than a lighter runner, and a runner who is running uphill will burn more calories than a runner who is running on flat ground. 

So, how can you estimate the number of calories you'll burn during an ultra marathon? There are a few different calorie calculators that you can use, such as this one from Harvard Medical School.

Keep in mind that the number of calories you burn during an ultra marathon is just one part of the equation when it comes to staying fueled and energized throughout the race. You'll also need to make sure that you're taking in enough calories before, during, and after the race to replenish your energy stores. 

If you're not sure how many calories you need to eat before, during, and after an ultra marathon, be sure to speak with a registered dietitian or other qualified nutrition professional. They can help you create a personalized nutrition plan that will ensure you have the energy you need to get through an ultra marathon and beyond! 

What Should I Eat Before An Ultramarathon?

It is important to choose the right foods to eat before an ultramarathon. This will help ensure that you have enough energy to complete the race, and will also help minimize any GI issues that can occur during extended exercise. 

Some good options to consider include: 

l Complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal or whole grain toast

l Bananas

l Plain yogurt

l Peanut butter

l Honey

l Dried fruit

l Nuts and seeds


It is also important to stay hydrated in the days leading up to the race. Be sure to drink plenty of water and limit caffeine intake. Sports drinks can also be helpful in providing electrolytes and additional hydration. 

Eating a large meal immediately before the race is not recommended, as it can lead to gastrointestinal distress. Instead, aim to eat a small snack or meal 1-2 hours before the start of the race. 

What Do Ultra Runners Drink?

As one might expect, the type of drink that an ultra runner consumes depends on the specific race they are competing in. For example, a longer race such as a 100-mile event will require different hydration strategies than a shorter race like a marathon. In general, however, there are some basic tips that all ultra runners should follow when it comes to choosing their drinks. 

One of the most important things to remember is that water is still the best way to stay hydrated. This is especially true during the early stages of a race when your body is not yet sweating profusely. However, as the race goes on and you start to sweat more, it is important to replace the electrolytes that are being lost in your sweat. This is where sports drinks come in. 

Sports drinks are designed to replace the electrolytes that are lost in sweat, as well as provide some additional energy. However, it is important to choose a sports drink that is specifically designed for long-distance running. Many commercial sports drinks contain too much sugar, which can actually lead to dehydration. Instead, look for a sports drink that contains complex carbohydrates and electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium. 

In addition to water and a sports drink, many ultra runners also like to carry some sort of solid food with them on the course. This can be anything from energy gels to candy bars. The type of food you bring will depend on your personal preferences and the specific race you are competing in. However, it is important to make sure that the food you bring is easy to digest and will not upset your stomach. 

Finally, it is also important to remember that you need to drink according to your thirst. This might seem like common sense, but many runners make the mistake of trying to drink too much too early in the race. This can lead to problems such as cramping and gastrointestinal issues. Instead, focus on drinking small amounts of fluid regularly throughout the race. 

What Should I Do Immediately After An Ultramarathon?

After completing an ultramarathon, it is important to take some time to recover and allow your body to rest. There are a few things you can do in the immediate aftermath of an ultramarathon to help your recovery process. 

First, it is important to rehydrate yourself by drinking plenty of fluids. This will help your body to replenish any fluids that were lost during the race. It is also a good idea to eat some food, as this will help your body to replenish its energy stores. 

Second, you should avoid doing any strenuous activity for at least 24 hours after the race. This includes activities such as running, lifting weights, or playing sports. Taking some time to rest will help your body to recover from the stress of the race. 

Third, you should gently stretch your muscles to help prevent any stiffness or soreness. Stretching will also help to increase blood flow to your muscles, which can speed up the recovery process. 

Finally, you should try to get a good night's sleep after an ultramarathon. Getting enough rest is crucial for allowing your body to recover properly from the race.


Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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