That debate -- as well as any debate regarding "distance superiority" -- is silly and a waste of time. For you distance snobs, let's just agree that Usain Bolt and Joe Fejes (current top "6-day" runner in the world) are the two best runners in the world. (Those "distance superiority" arguments, taken to their logical conclusions: if you're in the "shorter is better" crowd, Bolt has to be your man; if the opposite, it's got to be Joe, right?)
Personally, I just like being a "runner." Specifically, I race more ultras and marathons than anything else. But running is running, and giving your best effort at any distance is really, really, really hard. (For my money, I think racing a mile is just about the hardest and most painful thing you can do in the world of running...)
At any rate, for this article, I am assuming that most of you are ultrarunners who want to do as well as you can in your races. If that is your goal, you should really consider racing a marathon (or two) as part of your build-up to your next ultra. Here are 10 reasons why:
1. it's a 26.2-mile tempo run.
Take the Keys 50 as an example. One of my runners is making his ultra debut there this spring. He's a 2:50 marathoner (about 6:30/mi). The men's record for the race is 6:55, which is about 8:20/mile for the 50 miles. Who would you place your money on to win this year's race? A guy who does all of his training runs at 8-9 min/mile, or the guy that can run a marathon in 6:30/mile? Assuming all other factors are relatively-equal (weekly mileage, experienced crews, solid race plan, etc), it really is not even a close call. (And if you don't believe me, come to the Keys this May and find out...) :)
2. "Train fast to run fast."
I know what some of you are thinking: "Well, I'm running a 100-miler. I just don't see how racing a marathon will help me; 100 miles is just too long of a distance for there to be any benefit to running a fast (for me) marathon."
Well, Joe Fejes, who last year ran 580.3 miles in a nonstop 6-day race in Alaska (seriously, that's not a misprint), disagrees with you. He firmly believes in the "train fast to run fast" philosophy . . . even for super-long races like a 6-day race, where he would never even approach his marathon pace.
It's not just Joe: all of the top super-long distance runners adhere to this philosophy. Current World 24-hour champion Jon Olsen routinely races marathons leading up to his 24-hour races. Current top-ranked 24-hour runner "American Harvey Lewis is a 2:46 marathoner. Aly Venti, who last year ran the third-fastest 100-miler ever on American soil, is "sub-3" in the marathon. They all recognize that a sustained hard effort for a few hours is excellent training for an ultra.
3. Your spouse/significant other will thank you.
(Note: Bambi may or not "really" have a gas issue. She may have just been sitting on a squeaky chair that sounded a lot like farts every time she moved. The jury is still out on the issue...)
Despite your significant others' undying love and enthusiasm for ultras, I'll let you in on a little secret: while they love and support you, it gets really fricking boring to sit an ultra for 20-30 hours. Do them a favor every once in a while: mix it up and just take up a few hours on a Sunday morning and run a marathon instead of an ultra every other weekend. Marathons are far more "democratic" when it comes to deciding how the weekend hours are spent :)
4. you won't see this guy at an ultra:
5. Or this guy:
6. Or even this guy:
7. Actually, check that:
8. Seriously, though...
I completely understand that what draws a lot of us to ultras is the feeling of exploring vast and epic lands, pushing our mental and physical boundaries, being alone in the woods for hours on end, and not having to constantly look down at our watches to make sure our pace hasn't slipped a few seconds.
All that being said, if you want to improve your finishing time at an ultra (or make it more likely that you will finish), putting in a hard 3-5 hour training run for an ultra will only help your goal. And it's more fun to run fast when you're surrounded by thousands of people cheering you on. Last weekend, I was down at the Miami marathon with a bunch of Zwitty runners, and we all had a blast. At the end of the day, we are all runners who share a passion for running (and especially for ultras). What better place to spread the word about ultras than at a marathon?
9. Make it a double...
Yes, working a marathon into a long training run (such as doing the Boston Marathon "double"), running a bunch of miles before a marathon, etc., is definitely a tad "gimmicky," but it's also a great way to get in a super-long training run and have people cheer for you for your last 26 miles!
10. The Bling.
Bonus: the Donna 110.
Seriously, this race is one of the best-kept secrets in Florida ultrarunning. The "Saturday course" mirrors the first half of the actual marathon, and it is gorgeous. You start in Ponte Vedra, run up PV Beach, catch the sunrise through Jax Beach, Neptune Beach, and Atlantic Beach, which is about the first 10-11 miles.
The Donna folks didn't pay me anything to plug their race. I just think it's a phenomenal race that combines the intimate, low-pressure, tight-knit feel of an ultra with the excitement of a marathon . . . all into a great race that people should really check out. Also, my close family members have been particularly hard-hit by breast cancer over the years, so I have a very soft spot in my heart for races like this one.
At any rate, for more info and to register for the Donna 110, click here.
For this weekend, good luck to all the runners who will be at FUR "GodFURther" Eric Friedman's "Skydive Ultra" in Clewiston, billed as having the "fastest first mile" of any ultramarathon in the world :) (You tend to go pretty fast when you are free-falling from a plane...)!
I hope everyone is having a great week, and I'm looking forward to seeing you guys "out there" at all the various races this spring!