Our ‘Ultramarathon lingo Explained’ article is intended to help those that are new to the world of trail and ultramarathon running, that might hear these terms and wonder what they mean.
Ultra – short for ultra marathon – includes anything over 26.2 miles. However, most of the ultra running community won’t class anything less than 30 miles as an ultra so… if you run 27 miles, you’re still in marathon status.
The Common Ultra Distances
While we have already explained that an ultra is anything over marathon distance, when it comes to races and organised events, they usually take one of the following forms:
This is usually the first distance that those into trail and ultra marathon running sign up for. Our first event was a 30 miler, close to home, that we knew well. Many that attempt this distance usually do so as the next step after running a marathon however, it’s not a re-requisite. Some would argue that its actually easier to run 30 miles trail than it is to run a marathon. I think we’d have to agree on this.
The next step up from 30 miles, certainly for us, was a 50 miler. For those of you that operate in Kilometres, it’s actually 80k but it’s rare you will see this (unless you live in the US. Even then it’s still referred to as a 50 miler.
100k (62 miles)
Imagine – 100k and you’d still have to run another 38 miles to complete 100 miler. 62 miles is a significant distance and enough to impress your non running, or road running friends with.
The hard core ultra runner will undertake the 100 miler. It’s the ultimate goal for many. Once you start increasing your distances, for many it’s the the point where they will stop challenging themselves to go further.
There are those that will run greater distances, then there are those that will undertake timed endurance events. This could be a 24 hour event for example, seeing how many miles you can cover over that period without sleep.
There are many different types of course layouts. Some where you start and finish in the same place and those where you will end up in a completely different location. We take a look at the different types of course you are likely to encounter:
Out and Back
The out and back, as it sounds, is running to a point, turning round and coming back the same way. It usually means running the same route out as you do back. This can be completed once or multiple times. The trouble with out and backs is that you know what’s coming – the downhill you enjoyed on the way out is going to be an uphill on the way back. If you have to complete the out and back more than once to achieve the distance, it can be a little monotonous.
Point to Point
A point to point means starting in one place and ending up in another. Often, this means you have to consider logistics such as how you are going to get back to the start, or how you get to the start, who will be at the end to meet you etc. if you are undertaking a 100 mile event, it means that you will potentially need a crew.
These are often used for endurance events that take place over 12/24/48 hours. The loops can be 5 miles, 10 miles etc. The beauty of these type of courses is that you are never far away from the start. The downside is that if you are running the same 5 miles for 24 hours, it can get a little repetitive.
DNF, bonking, crewing… what does it all mean? We take a look at some of those trail and ultramarathon running race day terms that you may have heard but feel embarrassed to ask for fear of looking like a newbie.
Aid station, check point, food station… basically, this is where you are going to find food and hydration as well as friendly faces. Some may refer to it as a picnic table, or kid’s party table. It’s a welcome sight for many runners.
You get the chance to top up your backpack with sweets and refill your water bottles. If you are running a 100 miler, it may also be a check point to meet your crew and change your shoes/socks etc.
No, it’s not a rude term. It’s also referred to as ‘hitting the wall’. It’s that point in the race when your blood sugar crashes and you have nothing left. This is generally because you haven’t fuelled correctly as some point along the course. The key is to take on regular fuel. Take a look at our article on the best foods to eat during an article to understand what to eat so that you aren’t just loading up on gels.
A 30 miler doesn’t require a crew however, longer distances like 100 miles do. It’s usually advisable to have people that can meet you at certain checkpoints, that understand what you are going to need. Decide who will be at the various meeting points, what you are likely to need. They will usually be waiting with a fresh supply of any of the following:
- Spare trainers – although be sure that you have worn them in and that they are not new and likely to cause you any problems
- Clean, dry socks – a new pair of socks can make a huge difference
- Plasters, tape and anything else you need to hold your feet together
- Fresh kit – putting on fresh, dry kit can make you feel much better
- Food – there may be specific food that you like to eat that you don’t want to carry and squash in your backpack.
- Drinks including energy drinks to replace your salts and electrolytes
The three letters that every ultra runner dreads – DID NOT FINISH!!!! Hopefully, this won’t ever apply to you but there are occasions where it is inevitable – especially if you are injured or ill.
Similar to did not finish – this stands for ‘did not start’.
Salt tablets are used to replace lost salts during long runs. As we seat we lose salt, this can lead to cramps. Salt tabs are useful to prevent this.
Other Trail and Ultramarathon Running Terminology
This is not an exhaustive list of trail and ultramarathon running lingo, and we are sure we have missed some, but here are some additional terms that you might here when referring to ultra or trail running.
Back to Back Runs
Back to back are used to describe longer consecutive runs which are undertaken over 2 days. Let’s say instead of running 30 miles in one sitting, which will leave you exhausted and calorie depleted, you run the distance over 2 days – maybe 10 on Saturday and 20 on Sunday followed by a shorter run on the Monday.
This has increased in popularity thanks to events like the Barkley Marathons. The idea is that runners run 4.167 loops until only one runner is left standing.
No, not the anatomical form of the word but the pouch that carries water in your hydration backpack. Some people run with two bottles in the front of your running vest while others prefer to use the backpack to store their hydration pack and drink through the straw.
No, we don’t mean naked running but something that everyone into trail and ultra marathon running should have in their arsenal. The buff is one of those exceptionally handy items of kit. They were handy before the pandemic but now they double up as a face covering when you need to nip into a public place for a wee or to grab something from a shop on your training run. Use them to wipe your sweat off your brow, wipe your nose, cover your wars, keep your hair back, cover the top of your head. The buff is a must for long runs, short runs, races…
FKT stands for Fastest Known Time and is applied to the fastest recorded time taken to run a particular trail. You can check out the website for information.
Vet 30/Vet 40/Vet 50
These are the age categories used to group the results of a race. Typically age groups are under 30, under 40, under 50, under 60 and under 70 with FV or MV applied depending on whether it’s the male or female category. For example, FV40 is Female Vet 40 and applies to all women between the age of 40 and 49.
In a word ‘elevation’! Vert, short for vertical, is the American term for how much elevation, or feet of climb, you achieve during your run.
This is used to describe the technicality of the trail. A technical trail usually means it’s rocky, uneven or trickier than the usual mud or dirt trails.
We are sure there are a few we have missed so happy to hear your suggestions to add to the list! In the meantime, next time you hear one of these terms, you will be able to join in the conversation.