4 Mindsets That You Need To Run Ultra Marathons

4 Mindsets That You Need To Run Ultra Marathons
Photo by Sopan Shewale / Unsplash

Running ultra-marathons can be grueling. I find the people that run ultras not inspiring because of the amazing physical feats they achieve but the mindset that they have. To make a run for 24+ hours is no joke.

An ultra-marathon is more of a mental game than it is physical one. Sure, you will need to be in great shape to make it through an ultra-marathon but the mindset is often what sets most people apart from others.


It’s hard enough for most people to run an hour straight without wanting to quit. Now add that in 24x over and it sounds absurd.

When running an ultra-marathon, you have to compartmentalize your goals.

When you’re at mile 10 of a 100-mile race, you do not think, “I have 90 miles left to go.”

You think, “I have 10 miles to the next aid station.”

Making the goals small and mentally obtainable is a critical skill in life.

How do writers write novels? They don’t think about the totality of the book. They think about completing the section that is right in front of them.

Compartmentalizing is a crucial life skill to have when you are chasing a large goal. Running an ultra-marathon is just an analogy for this life skill.

There will be days when you will feel overwhelmed by everything that is happening to you in life. In those moments, you must look at what is right in front of you and not miss the forest for the trees.

Toughness is about embracing the reality of where we are and what we have to do. Not deluding ourselves, filling ourselves with false confidence, or living in denial. All of that simply sends us sprinting off the line, only to slow to a walk once reality hits. Being tough begins long before we enter the arena or walk on stage. It starts with our expectations.- Steve Magness, Do Hard Things

Lean Into Friction

In Steve Magness’s book, Do Hard Things, he writes about how toughness is about embracing the reality of where we are.

Ultra-marathon runners aren’t delusional about the state they are in. When they are delusional, that is usually when they get in trouble during a race. They run too hard, they don’t fuel or eat properly, and they ignore why they are having a cramp.

These things are all signals from our bodies that we should do something. It’s not a signal that we should ignore for the sake of “being tough.”

Where are areas of your life where you have a signal that you ignore?

What’s that signal trying to tell you? Is it trying to tell you that you should follow that gut feeling in your heart to pursue something that is meaningful to you?

Look at the mental friction that you experience in your life as a challenge to overcome instead of a threat.

It may seem a little ridiculous to think that you perceive waking up at 5:00 am as a threat but our body does. It’s a threat to our comfort.

The driver of daily execution. The core principle that overcomes laziness and lethargy and excuses. Discipline defeats the infinite excuses that say: Not today, not now, I need a rest, I will do it tomorrow.- Jocko Willink. Discipline Equals Freedom (Field Manual)

Consistency Matters More Than Anything

You don’t rise to the occasion; you fall back to your training. The days that you don’t think are significant for your training end up being the most significant of them all.

Because everything is significant. Being consistent in your training and all areas of life gives you a deeper well to dig into when times get tough.

Discipline isn’t supposed to feel good.

The times when discipline doesn’t feel good is the time when it counts the most.

When you’re training for an ultra-marathon, how do you think you’re going to make it through a 100-mile race when you quit on a 10-mile training run?

Granted, we all have bad days. Somedays we are sick or somedays our bodies will not work well.

Instead of looking at it as an opportunity to quit, look at it as an opportunity to sell a problem. What can you do today to make sure that you stay consistent and disciplined? Maybe you will have to compromise somewhere?

Be careful with compromises. If you are going to compromise, you need to make sure that you have set clear priorities in your life. If you’re going to forgo your hour training run because you need to walk the dog for 20 minutes, you didn’t compromise, you made an excuse.

You Must Open Your Eyes To Opportunities

There are opportunities for us to get better in everyday parts of our lives.

You must first open your eyes to these opportunities.

Maybe you live somewhere that it’s flat and you don’t have time to run hills for hill training. A resolution to that can be taking the stairs up ten stories in the building every day.

Maybe you don’t know where you’re going to fit your extra miles running each week. Running to work instead of driving might have to become an option. If your office is too far away, maybe you can run to public transportation and take it from there.

Opportunities are everywhere if you keep your eyes open to them. The world can become your gym for training.

Next time you tell yourself that you don’t have time to do something, ask yourself, what’s stopping you?

Running an ultra-marathon can seem like a daunting task. Whether you are training for a 50K, 50-miler, or 100-miler, they always seem daunting.

After I ran my first 50-miler, I became overconfident in my ability to run ultra-marathons. I signed up for a 50K thinking that I could “just finish it” and be home for a late lunch without a problem.

I was wrong. I got to around 20 miles and my gas tank was empty. I didn’t feel like running any further. I wanted to go home.

After that experience, I have learned to respect all my races no matter the distance. This is a similar mindset that you should have in life. No matter how easy or simple a task may seem, you should always respect it.