Home World Move over, marathons: the ultra-endurance sports that are redefining fitness

Move over, marathons: the ultra-endurance sports that are redefining fitness

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Move over, marathons: the ultra-endurance sports that are redefining fitness

HHave you noticed recently that everyone is cycling across Europe, or running across the Alps, or skiing to the South Pole? Where once a few mad explorers pushed these limits, the amateur sport is now transforming into a feat of ultra-endurance, ranging from 4,000 km by bike to 100 miles of running. But why?

“Physical challenges like this have specific aspects,” says Dr. Carla Meijen, a sport and exercise psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Amsterdam. “They provide a blend of endorphins, help you feel better and see progress.”

She says the increased accessibility of these events is one of the reasons they are becoming more popular. To some, achieving something this extreme seems like an elite club for non-elite athletes. “People are reading about them and seeing posts on social media, so there is a bigger pool of knowledge. They see others like them participating and want to try, to be part of the culture.

Other help is now also available: coaching, sports psychology support and nutritional advice, via clubs and online. As people hone skills (like knowing when to sleep or avoid injury) and develop mental tricks, from rethinking negative thoughts to smiling (this can really help), they develop a resilient mindset that lets continue.

The idea is to overcome all pain, a goal that may seem mystifying to some. As Meijen says: “There are a lot of research to understand why people voluntarily expose themselves to pain while practicing sport.

Robbie Britton, British record holder for the 24-hour race (172 miles), is all too familiar with the pain and believes it’s all part of the fun: “Part of me looks forward to the tougher sections of the race. ‘a race. Anyone can run well when they feel good, but a successful ultra-distance athlete keeps going when everything hurts.

He also believes that anyone can participate – if they want to. “Ultrarunning can be described as superhuman, and it requires a huge commitment, but it is not unattainable.”

It’s not always about being the first to cross the finish line. Suffering together through these races has an unexpected bringing together effect. Often the satisfaction lies in beating the course rather than beating each other.

Meijen says: “While there is some competitiveness at the end of ultra-distance races, research tends to indicate that people are often not particularly motivated by their finishing position; they are more motivated by personal achievement.

Do you feel the need to take your daily run, swim or bike ride to the next level? Try one of these five ultra-distance events.

Ultra running

A runner in the Marathon des Sables Peru, a 250 km race in the Ica desert. Photograph: Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP/Getty Images

Long distance running events – longer than the 26.2 miles of a marathon – take place in mountains, deserts and jungles. The emblematic event of the mountain is UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc), which now has 42 races per year, on five continents, with courses of 50 km, 100 km and sometimes 160 km, all non-stop with a significant difference in altitude. Even more tests are Tor des Géantsa 205-mile circuit around Courmayeur in the Italian Alps.

THE Sand Marathon, held in Morocco every April, has a higher adventure quotient. Runners carry food, bedding and gear (water and medical care are provided) and cover about 155 miles over six daily stages of 10 to 50 miles in searing heat. This gave rise to alternatives, notably Run around the planet (whose 4 Deserts series involves races of similar distances in the Gobi, Atacama, Namib and Jordan), and Global limits (shorter five-stage events in São Tomé, Bhutan and Cambodia).

In Britain, January sees non-stop Spine Stroke268 miles along the Pennine Way, from Derbyshire to the Scottish Borders, and in September The dragon’s back236 miles and 17,000 meters of elevation gain along the mountainous spine of Wales in six stages.

Where once sports only required shorts and running shoes, now there are vests (for water bottles and gels), watches and specialized shoes such as trail shoes with better grip and durable soles. So what’s Britton’s best advice? “In training, it’s consistency. In racing, it’s self-control in the first third; eat and drink in the middle; and give it all you have in the last section.

Ultra cycling

Competitors in the Pan Celtic Race, which brings together all the Celtic nations, including Brittany (photo). Photography: Tomas Montes

Ultra-distance cycling is fast, non-stop, autonomous riding using navigation devices and streamlined “luggage” (bags hanging from the top tube and handlebars and a triangular “shark fin” bag protruding from your stem saddle).

Contrary to pro-cycling, with its teams of physiotherapists and support cars, ultra-cyclists can only use services accessible to the public – cafes, supermarkets, bike shops. They spend as much time as possible in the saddle, dozing for a few hours at night near the road, but sleeping at a hotel every three or four evenings to wash their gear and recharge their batteries.

As the name of the original event suggests, the Transcontinental race, events tend to cross borders. THE 45-Southwest covers 2,700 miles, from Krakow to Tarifa, and North Cape 4000 approximately 2,500 miles, from the Alps to the northern tip of Europe. Closer to home are the Pan-Celtic race (over 1,000 miles through the Celtic nations, including Brittany and the Isle of Man) and the 1,400 miles of Ireland Trans-Atlantic Way.

Jasmijn Muller runs a coaching business with a particular focus on female riders. In addition to a physical program, she teaches people to develop a mental toolbox. She encourages cyclists to “split distances” and shift their attention away from discomfort, for example by counting road signs or thinking about refreshment stops. She also gives advice on everything from napping to preventing nausea (ginger tea and sweets can help).

Long distance swimming

Swim the entire length of Lake Geneva. Photography: Steve Stievenart

Among the hundreds of events and challenges around the world, the cross-channel swimming – over 21 miles from England to France across busy shipping lanes – remains the benchmark. Training lasts up to two years, sometimes via 10 km events (the equivalent of marathon swimming).

Elsewhere, the Lake Geneva Swimming Association organizes crossings from Lausanne to Evian (eight miles) and back, as well as a 44-mile full lake swim. The Catalina Channel extends 20.2 miles from Santa Catalina Island, off the coast of California, to the mainland; THE 20 bridges swim is a 28.5-mile circumnavigation of the island of Manhattan; and the North Channel is a 21.4 mile swim from Northern Ireland to Scotland.

Cold water (below 15°C) poses an additional challenge, as a Swimming in Loch Ness (22.5 miles). Ice Mile Swims take place anywhere with water at 5°C or colder.

Swimming in open water can lead to seasickness, nerves, jellyfish stings, disorientation, problems swallowing seawater, cramps when walking on water to eat and drink, and hypothermia.

“I make sure swimmers have encountered all these problems before their big swim so they know how to deal with them,” says acute medicine consultant Dr Nick Murch, who has swum the English Channel, the Canal du Nord and all along Lake Geneva. .

His advice? “Training the mind is key: visualizing success, in words and images; divide the time into one-hour swims ending with a food break; and “anchor” positive thoughts with an action (I kiss my bicep), which you can repeat to reset.

Adventure racing

In the multidisciplinary Adventure Race Croatia, teams use via ferrata ladders to climb Klek Mountain. Photography: Boris Kacan

Spectacular, isolated settings are essential to this extreme sport, which consists of four or five day races by kayak, on foot, on horseback or by mountain bike. Teams of three or four people are usually mixed and transport food, water and equipment over distances of up to 300 miles. Non-stop running becomes demanding after two nights, when the “sleep monster” bludgeons you into micro-naps.

Races often involve rope work, caving, or whitewater paddling. Navigation skills (with map and compass) are essential. Tensions can flare up: we know that teammates never speak to each other again.

The significant events are in the World Adventure Racing Series. Adventure Race Croatia in May, 30 mixed teams will paddle, walk and cycle in the Kvarner district; And Raid in France will travel around 250 miles over six days in the southwest of France in June. Great Britain has Iterawhich is running a ‘lite’ event (48 hours) in 2024 for new arrivals (pairs and teams of four) with kayaking, cycling and hiking in North Wales in July.

Ski mountaineering

Ski mountaineering in the Swiss Patrouille des Glaciers race. Photography: Gérard Berthoud

Mainly uphill and downhill, generally off-piste, these events require exceptional physical condition for the climbs, and skill for the descents. Switzerland Glacier Patrol covers approximately 36 miles along the Haute Route from Zermatt to Verbier. From dawn, teams of three climb to over 3,600 meters before descending into Arolla resort and back up to Verbier.

The most hostile environment of all is Antarctica, visited in recent years by an increasing number of group and solo expeditions. This requires winter survival skills – mistakes can result in frostbite or even death. Fitness training involves dragging tires to mimic the weight of the “pulk,” the sled that carries your equipment and food. Most people travel in teams.

Psychologist Paula Reid teaches “adventure psychology” to groups participating in races and expeditions. She skied to the South Pole in a team of five in 2012-2013.

“We recommend that team members define in advance what success looks like and be clear about their goals. A “mission” may be simple, but a collective vision, such as everyone celebrating together at the South Pole, can serve as glue for the team in what may prove to be difficult, even dangerous, circumstances. she says.

There is no standard itinerary in Antarctica because teams can go anywhere: for example, they can complete the “last degree”. (89 degrees south to the pole), or a route from a historic cabin or coastal point to the pole.

James Henderson writes book on endurance for Aurum Press

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