What is an ultra?
There isn’t a set definition of what an ultra is when it comes to cycling, but I would define it an endurance event that takes a significant amount of training to be able to finish. For example, a person can probably go from couch to 100 miler. It might take them all day to finish but if they started at 6:00 am and averaged 10 mph they would finish by sunset and could even have time to take a 15 minute break every hour (assuming they were riding in the summer). An ultra on the other hand might be difficult even for someone with a significant amount of cycling experience to finish if they haven’t prepared specifically for it. For road cycling, an ultra is usually anything from 200 miles to the Highest Annual Mileage Record of 76,156 miles and everything in between. Depending on the terrain, type of bike or weather, races shorter than 200 miles could be considered ultras. The Arrowhead 135, for example, is a fat bike race that takes place in Northern Minnesota in January for those who are truly insane. I started this blog to bring together all types of people who ride ultras whether its on pavement, gravel, dirt or snow. We all face similar challenges when it comes to riding ultra long distances so this will be a platform to share information that will advance the sport!
Why would I ever want to do something like that?
Riding ultras can be incredibly personally rewarding when you push yourself to do things you never thought possible. I’ve found that it makes other challenges in life seem easier. Unlike other cycling events where the point is to compete against other cyclists, riding ultras is more of a competition against yourself to manage the multiple challenges to keep moving forward. The best part is that there are no prerequisites: you don’t have to pay a membership fee, you don’t have to qualify for races, you don’t have to be a certain age or possess any special skills, you just need the courage to show up and try!
When are the events?
Check out the Events Page for a complete list of all ultra events throughout the world! Additional events can be found on the following websites:
Road Biking: the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association has a list of ultracycling road races as well as the association that oversees timed and distance cycling records.
Randonneuring: Randonneurs USA has a list of non competitive long distance events ranging from 200-1200 kilometers.
Gravel Biking: RidingGravel.com lists unpaved road races of all distances.
Mountain Biking: Mountain Bike Radio has a calendar of endurance races on dirt.
Fat Bike: for those who want to compete all year round, Fat-Bike.com has a list of winter fat bike races.
What kinds of people ride ultras?
It’s easy to assume that people who do events this long are superhuman, but in reality they are normal people just like you and me! With time and training, they’ve been able to accomplish more than they ever thought was possible when they started. You will find people of all different skill levels at events from people who bike more than 500 miles in 24 hours to those who are finishing their first race just within the time limit and everything in between. People of all different ages do ultras too. At the National 24 Hour Challenge in 2014, a 75 year old man rode his bike 395 miles and there was an eight year old boy who rode 152 miles at the Calvin’s Challenge 12 hour race. The video below was taken before the start of a 500 mile race and I think it does a great job of showing the diversity of athletes that make up the sport.
How should I prepare for an event?
Although the mileage can seem overwhelming, you can achieve a lot more than you think you can. When you actually get in the race, you will surprise yourself if you have the determination to keep going! Proper training can definitely improve the chances of accomplishing your goal and making the race less painful though. In general, I would recommend beginning your training plan about 4-6 months before your race and slowly building mileage so that your longest ride is about 50% to 75% the distance of your race. There are a variety of ways that you can go about training for an ultra but the most important thing is that you choose a plan that you enjoy. Check back in the future for blog posts specific to race training.
What kind of gear do I need?
You need far less gear than you think you need. As long as you have a functional bike and a helmet (and proper lights/reflective gear if you will be riding at night) you are set! There is some gear that will make your ride more comfortable and might help you ride faster, so I have compiled a list of the gear I use on my gear page.