What stops women entering ultras?

A couple months ago Robbie Britton caused a stir on the ultra-running facebook group with his article on Fast Running blog ‘Should female runners get double lottery chances in male dominated races?’ A lot of people, all of whom were ultra-runners and the majority of which were men, gave their opinion on both, why women were not entering and how and should this be solved. Anyway, I thought we should just ask women why they were not entering! So I posted the text below onto the Adventure Queens all women outdoor adventure group to find some answers, and hopefully solutions.

‘There is a debate happening on the ultra-running FB group at the moment about helping get more women into ultra-running. I thought we could actually ask some women instead of guessing. Can I ask any runners, especially those who have ran half and full marathons; What stops you from entering an ultra-marathon? And do you have any ideas what may inspire or help more women get into the sport? Thanks!’

One assumption made by the ultra-runners, was that women in general, do not want to run an ultra and that is why they do not enter. However, the majority of the responses  we received (around 40 women commented) began with ‘I would love to do an ultra, but….’

Below I have grouped the responses into to four categories in order of frequency mentioned.

  1. Training
  2. Ability
  3. Time/logistics.
  4. Lack of knowledge of races.

1. Training

A general perception of ultra-running was how long it would take to train for an ultra, that this endeavour would be greater than that needed to run a marathon.

Definitely to do with time. Training for a half or full marathon is easier time wise. You have to be pretty focused for an ultra!’

2. Ability

Comments included lack of discipline to train, being the wrong body shape. Being too slow was a common barrier for women as was fear of injury, not being strong enough and not having the right mind set.

‘Hi there, I’ve run several marathons and half marathons, and entered two ultras and pulled out as I worry about being timed out of an ultra. My marathon pb is 4.45 and half marathon pb is 2.00.’

3. Time and logistics

A big barrier for women was time to train or race due to family and work commitments. Other logistic issues included not having a support crew, cost of races and not wanting to run alone.

‘But an ultra seems like a whole different ball game!

4. Lack of knowledge of races.

Another recurring theme was simply, women did not know where to find out about smaller local ultras, or even trail races. This also included not knowing how to find cheaper races.


As women were writing about what holds them back, other women began providing advice, support and motivation. It became clear that for the majority of these women, who had proclaimed they would ‘love’ to enter an ultra, were held back from entering due to their perception of an ultra-marathon and what it would take to complete one. The reasons given were all very valid and real, yet on revealing some truths about the reality of the back of the pack ultra-runner several women began to consider, that in fact ultra could be for them. In some cases it was a lack of self-belief, this was greatly helped by supportive comments from other women – the role models.

To answer my proposed question – what stops you from entering? From this group of women, it was a perception of ultra-running that did not match up with their perception of themselves. We can through media and race coverage and through roles models address both of these. There were undeniably the time limitation barriers experienced by women, especially for women with a family.

So here to smash some myths and tear down those misleading perceptions!

  1. If it is longer than a marathon, it is an ultra-marathon! So, training for a 30miler is no different to training for a marathon.

  2. In fact, training for a 50miler does not require any more training than that for a marathon.

  3. Ultra-running is slow. If you are a sub 5hour marathon runner, you are going to be fine. The longer the race, the slower you can go!

  4. Ultra-runners walk. We walk a lot and walk up hills.

  5. For ultras under 50miles you will not need a crew. If you do need a crew ask about. People, even strangers will be willing to crew for you. Ask the race organisers for help finding a crew.

  6. An ultra-marathon is not just a long marathon. There are a lot of stops, eating, talking and making new friends.

  7. Ultra-runners come in many shapes and sizes and there is a huge range in ages. Turn up at a race and see for yourself. Never judge a book by its cover!

  8. Most ultras are on trails, risk of tripping may be higher, but risk of injury from repetitive running is lower.

  9. Ultras come in many formats, pick the race for you. Timed event, lap courses, small and large number of competitors. See LDWA challenge events.

  10. Join an ultra running facebook group and scroll through past questions or contact a race director and ask to volunteer. It is a great community and you will learn loads and come part of the family 🙂

  11. And for more info on where the races are, check out https://www.runultra.co.uk  and http://fellrunner.org.uk/races.php


Note: I have been asked if I should repeat this asking a group of men, I agree you may get similar results. I did ask as an open question on twitter to all genders. From men I mainly got the reply ‘nothing stops me.’ One transgender person replied to say anxiety stopped them from entering any races. 


Why run so far?

On my longest training run so far I had the distant and quiet thoughts of quitting. Dropping out of the WHWrace, for surely I could not succeed, or I would hurt myself trying. I cannot shut off these voices, they are natural for survival and as I get closer to the event, and deeper into the event itself, the negative voices telling me to stop will grow louder.

I need a clear motivation that is greater than the voices telling me to stop. My chances of success rely on this. I need to know why I am doing this race. What bigger reason to keep going despite pain, discomfort and fear. There are reassurances I can utter to myself like ‘it is only pain’ or ‘you are privileged to feel this pain,’ and I will not be alone in the latter stages of the race which will be an immense comfort, but these alone are not enough. I need to fully understand why I am running.

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Training in numbers

Running on the Way this weekend another runner came up to me and told me she reads my blog. I replied that it cannot be my blog as no-one really reads it. But she insisted, it was my blog! She said she liked that I put all my milage up and it was not huge milage weeks which reassured her. So, just for Nicky, here is my weekly milage (in Strava weeks) since my last podcast in mid Feb. Also, here is the food I ate and estimated calorie content from my longest run so far (34miles/~9hours) on the course and the kit I use.

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WHW Race Training… what next?

I have ended my 3 month base phase (I will post numbers in next blog entry) and I am using this first week of April as a time to reflect. This weekend I was at the Fling training camp and ran 34 miles on the course. I expected the 34miles to go well, to be a bit hard, but not too hard. It was a chance to recce the only part of the Way I did not know, the low road, to get time on the feet, try out nutrition and train on the technical Loch side terrain.

My legs were not the limiting factor. Despite hiking a mountain and running down it two days earlier and then a pretty speedy hilly 4 mile run the night before, my legs felt strong the entire way. However, my heart and lungs did not. This is not new, the feeling reminded me of when I was teen running for my school. It was always my lungs, not my legs that held me back. A tightness on my chest and what I can only describe as a tired heart made me afraid to push on through the rollerocaster forest and I walked quietly home grateful for the company of another WHWrace hopeful. I ended the run VERY tried and this left me worried about the WHWrace. However, I was very sleep deprived before this run and the next day I was fine enough to run again and my nutrition went well.

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3 months to go…

Firstly, that whole excel spreadsheet training plan thing I tried, well that did not last! But hey, I gave it a go and it was not for me. I even tried having Max prescribe my training from his very complex and clever spreadsheet (he cites three athletes in its creation, it is a pretty amazing spreadsheet if anyone is interested in a training plan from him!). That said, he is injured, and I am not (smug face).

The last 2 months or so of training has gone ok, I am not as tired as I expected I would be from training around 10hours a week. This is because I do 80% of the training at a really low intensity, in fact 50% of my training is simply brisk walking.

The benefits of the walking is paying off, my mindless amble on the flat is now at 6.1km per hour. I am aiming to get it to 6.5km per hour. Also my ‘slow’ running is now at a 6.10min/km pace, where it was at 6.30min/km.

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Training Plan: 5 months to WHWrace!

So here it is, my training plan for the 96 mile West Highland Way Race on 23-24th June! On the WHWrace podcast I mentioned how prior to this race I had never created an excel spreadsheet for my training. I am not good at schedules, fixed plans or fixed times to do things. With this in mind, and to take into account that my day-to-day and week-to-week life has little to no routine, I came up with a plan!

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Long Distances

I went on my first Long Distance Walking Association walk a few weeks ago (for more info).  The walk was 20 miles from Radlett to St. Albans Abbey, but by a very indirect route following, what I assume was, the Hertfordshire Way. The walk was great, I met some amazing people. One was a lady in her 70s and had represented GB in ultra walking! She has walked over 50 100mile races, several 200-300 mile races and a couple handfuls of other events, including winning the womens’ category of the Grand Union Canal race, despite it being a running race. She gave me some excellent advice on eating and reassured me that having walking as a large component of my 100mile training was not ridiculous, but essential. Nearly everyone in the group had walked 100miles at least once, and many do this distance every year. When you consider walking 100miles can take up to 48 hours, it is incredible and shifted my perspective of this distance from extraordinary to a sort of, sub-ordinary. It also gave me an insight into how much individual experiences vary, some people did not find sleep deprivation an issue at all, whereas others said this was the greatest challenge. I will not know know what will be hard for me, until I try myself, and I can only mentally prepare for the worst. My planned 96mile attempt was not seen as a drop in ocean amongst the seasoned ultra-distancers, or an impossible and pointless dream. Everyone was so excited about my goal and training and celebrated it. I appreciated this so much.

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Winter Mini-Adventures

So I put out a poll on what to write about next, a grand total of 4 people voted. Thank you  4 😉

As Max sailed off into the never-ending sunset on his Antarctic adventure, I began to think that maybe, to pass the time, I should try some new things, things that pushed my comfort zone a little bit. So here is what I did!

Challenge 1 – Ladies’ Pond, Hampstead Heath.

I am a member of the ‘Adventure Queens‘ Facebook group, which is an excellent resource for women out there looking for inspiration, ideas, women specific kit recommendations (I hate pink, all my kit is pink, vendors please stop doing this!! I look ridiculous and clash a lot!!) and female company to go adventuring with. On this group I had seen a thread about open water swimming. In London. In winter.

Turns out there are several locations open in London in winter for open swimming, including…

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Throwback Thursday: Rowing

Going through some old files, came across the visualisation piece I had written for our final race. This was the race we had worked together for 2 years to win. When I read this, I still get nervous! I never recorded big races as had a superstition that the recording may add subconscious extra pressure, plus pressing play was another thing to remember.

Photo credit: cover photo by Benjamin Valsler, Cambridge

The back story…

I moved back from Switzerland after a great autumn coxing and racing there and needed a new crew that wanted to be competitive. I met the Nines boys who had a goal of racing at Henley. The goal was to win a round in two years time. So we got to work.

We were your typical town crew, Okay-ish boat (The Client – part of my heart will forever exist in that shell), we all worked or studied full time, sporadic coaching, and we never had a full 8 due to injury. But we were so hungry, and for some reason, pretty raw. We were also lucky to have a hugely supportive club backing us.

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West Highland Way Race!!

My alarm was going off, it was still dark and I felt distinctly annoyed as it was Sunday. Then I remembered, I am going running!

Now that Max has sailed off to Antarctica for 2 months I needed to replace my missing running buddy somehow. My plan is to fit in training and socialising, by running to friend’s houses for coffee and catch up before either running or taking the train home again. This weekend, to keep it simple, I was going to join the Grand Union Canal and run to Kings Langley. Two 7 mile runs – flat, easy route with food in the middle, plus see my friends. Win!

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