The difference between endurance rides and ultras
|October 7, 2014||Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized|
For almost a year I’ve had one foot in the trail running ultra world, and one foot in the trail riding endurance world.
While the two sports are very similar at the core, there are some surprising differences. Here’s what I’ve learned this year.
Ultras aren’t short
Oh sure, there are exceptions on both sides…but I’ve ran far more trail races that were at or above advertised mileage than under.
The exact opposite is true of endurance rides.
If you sign up for a 100 mile or 50 mile ultra, be prepared to go at least a mile or two longer. However, at least in my region, it’s a rare endurance ride that is actually the full 50 or the full 100 miles (Tevis is an obvious exception). If there’s a choice between going 2 or 3 miles under, or 2 or 3 miles over when planning the course for an endurance ride, I will bet cold hard cash on what the outcome will be.
A question of cutoffs
Depending on the expected finishing times, there are a variety of cutoff times for finishing an ultra.
- Western States 100 has a 30 hour cut off.
- Pine to Palm 100 100: 34 hours
- Leadville 100: 30 hours
- Angel Fire: 32 hours
- SF 100: 33 hours (this is the course that I did the 50 miler on, they also offered a 100)
- Tahoe Rim 100: 35 hours
- Hardrock 100: 48 hours
- Javelina 100: 30 hours
What should be apparent is that depending on the difficulty of the course, a reasonable amount of time for finishing has been determined. This isn’t unique to 100’s, it’s just easiest to google search popular 100’s rather than the other distances. Most of these 100’s have an “extra special” version of whatever award they give out (usually a buckle) if you can do the course faster (usually sub-24 hours).
This is of course in contrast to endurance, where we have 12 hours to finish a 50 and 24 hours to finish a 100 regardless of the course. This may be the biggest reason for our courses to more often be short. With no leeway in the cutoff time, the mileage is surreptitiously adjusted instead?
When it comes to mileage and time, I’m not judging – merely pointing out a quirk in both sports.
This is one I am going to pass judgement on. Sorry endurance peeps, but we at endurance rides take the prize for rudeness. I don’t see nearly the amount of rude people at ultras. The stress of wrestling an uncooperative 1000 pound animal has something to do with it, but really there’s no excuse for the behavior too often seen with riders being short and downright grumpy with volunteers and vets. If the ultra runners can mostly keep it together in a civilized manner, then we can too.
The entry cost for an ultra and an endurance ride is really similar. Even though the specifics of what you get for you money is different, I think the relative value is about the same.
At an endurance ride you usually get fed a meal, camping for a night or two.
You might pay for your own parking at an ultra and rarely do I get a full meal, but fully stocked (food and basic supplies) aid stations every hour or so along the course more than make up for it.
In both sports refueling and mini-recoveries is key.
In endurance most of the refueling and relaxing happens at mandatory holds – usually in one or two chunks of significant time. The key in endurance is to use your holds wisely since they are mandatory and you are going to be there anyways. You go a lot longer without aid/crew/refueling on the trail. I’ve done 35 mile loops that were unsupported, which depending on the day or terrain might mean I’m out there 5-6 hours by myself.
In ultras, it’s up to the runner to use their time wisely and strategically without the benefit of mandatory rest periods. Do you blow past some aid stations and stay longer in others? Spend a couple minutes in each? Because aid stations happen a lot more frequently than vet checks, strategizing aid station time is important – Just spending an extra 3 minutes in each aid station for my upcoming 50 miler (FOUR days!!!) would add over 30 minutes to my finish time. Remember my comments about time on the feet in yesterday’s post? An argument could be made that aid station time is recovery time….but that time has to be balanced against still being out there when you could have been done 30 min or an hour ago.
Sense of Adventure
Alright endurance peeps. It’s time for some more honesty. Wanna know the other reason I think endurance rides are short rather than long if the choice has to be made?
Because ride manager know that a long course (or even an accurate course that is tough and feels long) will result in a significant amount of bitching and moaning on the part of the participating endurance riders.
Now, ultra runners have an advantage that most races (at least the ones I’ve done in this area) provide an elevation map. I can take a look at the course, decide whether I can do it within the cut off time, and then I put on my sense of adventure and off I go (or not…).
Where’s our sense of adventure in endurance riding? Is it so buried under concern for our horses? Or maybe it’s related getting a nasty surprise because our maps are often line drawings on a white piece of paper handed out at the ride meeting? Even from the first time I rode Tevis I realized it wasn’t that tough of a course – partly because I knew what to expect having studied the elevation maps. Imagine going through the canyons at Tevis at mile 55ish and not really knowing whether the trail was going to continue to do that crap for the next 30 miles?
Or maybe it’s the lack of runners high in general among endurance riders?
At an ultra, I don’t have to listen to people discuss whether a trail marathon should be considered an “ultra” distance because after all it’s hard and is an accomplishment. Or whether it’s unfair that the 50 milers got better swag than the marathon event. Or that the 100 milers got better swag than the 50 milers.
Everyone chooses the event that suits them the best on that particular weekend, knowing that choosing the marathon distance means you might just get a finishers medal, while running the 50k ultra at that same event might have netted you a finishers medal AND A COASTER.
Seriously folks. I’ve never heard an ultra runner who just does marathons and 50k’s complain he’s a second class citizen to the 50 miler even though they are paying close to the same entry fees for less (no extra fancy finishers thingy, perhaps no free meal at the end). And if they did, I think the reaction by the listener would be a very strange look and the comment “well, run the 50 miler then.”
I’ll tell you the area that endurance is “da bomb”. Finishing swag. I have to admit I’m mostly tired of buckles and finishers awards. Buckles are fine and traditional for the big name races….but I love the endurance tradition of handing out practical awards. Another great thing about endurance? The ride photos. It’s a rare ride that I go to that doesn’t have an awesome photographer taking GREAT photos for a reasonable price out on the course.
I love both sports dearly. Both are incredibly special and I’m lucky to live in a place where I could do one or the other any weekend, in any season throughout the year. In fact, this kind of access to these communities is a major reason I’m choosing to stay in this area after graduation.