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Jun 7, 2023

Going the Ultra Distance

I ran my first marathon more than 22 years ago. Until 2023, I hadn’t run once since.

After completing 26.2 miles for the first time, many runners celebrate their accomplishment and then vow to never do it again. Then, after the muscle soreness goes away and the urge to run comes back, they start training for another one.

That was NOT me. Unlike some of my friends who quickly planned to train for their next marathon or set a personal record goal, I was DONE with long distances after my marathon in 2001, ok? I told them you might catch me at a half-marathon every few years, but I would be sticking with 5Ks from now on.

I kept my word for 22 years. This year, I changed my mind – and went even longer.

On April 1, I ran 30 miles in eight hours, meaning that I completed my first-ever ultramarathon. What’s an ultramarathon? It’s any race over the 26.2-mile distance, with lengths as “short” as 50K (31.07 miles) and as long as 100 miles or more.

Why on earth would I decide to do this? After all, I don’t think any new runners say to themselves, “A marathon just isn’t long enough – I want to do even more!”

It started with the pandemic. Most road races were canceled and running the same roads around my home was getting boring. A few friends suggested jogging on local nature trails not too far from our homes, and I decided to try it for a change of pace.

That was my introduction to trail running, and it was a whole different type of running than I was used to. In addition to being more of a workout than my usual road training, thanks to the hills and changing terrain, it also had a profound positive effect on my mood. Running had always provided a mental health boost, but running in pure nature seemed to take that to another level. I always had such a natural high after some time on the trails.

The time seemed to pass quickly too. Time stopped when I was on the trails for 2-3 hours, and with me not focused on my watch, I noticed later that I was naturally running longer distances. There was also plenty of walking involved as well, which helped me preserve my energy and build endurance.

Some of my new friends even talked about spending all day on the trails, and they said they could hit 30 miles or more in that time, which turned out to be an ultramarathon.

That’s why, in celebration of turning 45 and enjoying the blessing of health and movement, I signed up for my first ultra, the Vernal Equinox 8-hour run. It took place on April Fool’s Day, but I wasn’t fooling around as I stayed on my feet the whole time running around a horse farm and trails, walking as much as I needed, and trudging through the mud left behind by tornado-like weather the night before.

My hips actually hurt more than my legs as I racked up the miles, but I kept moving and the hours ticked away. I smiled when I passed the 26.2-mile point and knew I still had more miles to go. I had just done my first marathon in 22 years, and it felt like no big deal.

When time expired, the results showed I’d run 30 miles – a bit less than the 50K I wanted, but definitely the ultra distance I’d hoped for.

It was one of the coolest experiences of my running career, and it won’t be the last ultra I do. Maybe a 50 miler to celebrate turning 50? Who knows?

By Shannon Shelton Miller /Twitter: ShannonSMWrites, Instagram: shannon.shelton1

Shannon Shelton Miller is a longtime writer and journalist who enjoys writing about sports, fitness, health, beauty, and parenting. She has been running for 27 years, starting from joining her high school cross-country team. She has run a marathon, two half marathons, and countless 5K and 10K races.