10 Reasons To Run A 50K Instead Of A Marathon

By Unknown - August 28, 2014

Photo Credit: Samantha Lovett Photography

Marathons are an entirely different ball game than ultras. Although a few miles difference doesn't seem like that much, marathons have several major differences than ultras.

Here are ten reasons to run a 50K instead of a marathon:

1. It's only a couple more miles and you get some serious bragging rights.
A 50K (31 miles) is only a mere five miles longer than a marathon. Go those extra few miles. I promise it'll be worth it.

2. The aid stations (and volunteers) are WAY better.

This is me at the aid station of the Red Rock 50 a couple of years ago. I'm wearing a German beer-maid costume. Salted potatoes, anyone??

Tyler and Stephanie looking happy to be at the aid station for the Nine Trails 35-Mile Ultra!

Look at that SPREAD! (Photo cred: FastCory.com)

I apologize in advance if this offends anyone who has volunteered at a marathon. While I can't speak for those hardworking volunteers who do their job right, I have had my fair share of shorter-distance races where the volunteers had absolutely no idea what they are doing. Instead of the local high school track team awkwardly handing you cups of water, you'll find actual ultrarunners volunteering at the aid stations of Ultras. They will treat you like royalty; ask you what they can get for you and bring it to you. They will place towels that have been soaking in ice cold water on your back, give you endless words of encouragement, and lift your spirits. They know what they are doing. I cannot tell you how many times I've walked into an aid station dead-set on quitting and been completely revitalized thanks to the volunteers. The food options at ultras are also incredible. I have seen sushi, pizza, candy, homemade cookies, cake....BEER....you name it-- it's been at an aid station in an Ultra. I double-dare you to find an aid station at a marathon that has fireball whiskey and cupcakes.

3. Trails are more beautiful than running on the road.

Where would you rather run?

I'll never forget my first 5K-- it was around an airport hanger and every single step was misery. There was no beautiful backdrop to distract myself with; it was just me and the pavement. The repetitiveness of the race drove me mad, I couldn't imagine 26.2 miles of it. I struggled to push myself and wondered why I was even running in the first place.

I didn't run again for several months, let alone try to run any longer.

Ultras, on the other hand, are often designed specifically with the location in mind. The majority of Ultras happen on trail-- most of which are beautiful. When you are pushing yourself through the miles, nothing is more rewarding than an expansive view of a valley at sunrise. Or seeing animals scurrying through the forest. Many ultras give you an excuse to travel to parts of the world and see trails that you'd never get a chance to visit otherwise.

4. You get a more supportive community filled with friendlier people.
In my research, I compared marathon runners with ultrarunners on their personality types and competitiveness. I found that marathon runners were more introverted and much more competitive than ultrarunners. If you have toed the line at a marathon, you'd notice that most people have their headphones in and aren't talking to anyone. In ultras, it's the opposite. I have made countless friends in the middle of ultras. I almost never listen to music when I run with other ultrarunners. Try and make friends during your next marathon and see how hard it is; you'll probably get some weird looks if you try to strike up a conversation with another runner during a marathon. Also, unlike with marathons where you tend to go home right after, Ultras usually are an all weekend affair complete with camping, socializing and all-around FUN!

Maggie and I ran into eachother during the last section of our 50K and finished together. Those miles went by so much faster as we laughed and chatted about life!

5. Dollar per mile, Ultras tend to be cheaper. 
$300 for 26.2 miles? You've-Got-To-Be-KIDDING-Me. While you will surely find some 100-Mile ultramarathons that have a hefty price-tag, you can at least assure yourself that it makes sense given the distance and amount of work required to put on such a long race. Marathons with a $300 price tag just make me scratch my head. I'd rather get the most out of my dollar, thank you.

6. You're supporting locals rather than corporations.
The majority of Ultramarathons are directed by Ultrarunners themselves. They rely on volunteers and local running groups to support their races. I have several friends who are race directors and trust me, there is just something magical about having a race director who knows what they are doing from experience. Making sure the aid stations are well-stocked with food you actually want, accurately marking the courses, finish-line parties....Ultras just do it better. You never know what to expect when you go to an Ultramarathon. Especially if it's put on by Luis Escobar (AllWeDoIsRun.com). See examples below:

Have you ever been to a marathon that had an epic after-party with a metal-meets-mariatchi band? I bet not. (Photo credit: Larry Gassan)

Or how about an Ultra with a beer mile the day before?
(Photo credit: Samantha Lovett Photography)

7. Better chances of placing in your age divisions.
Ultras tend to be much smaller than marathons in terms of people signed up. 20,000 people in one marathon?! Not only is it going to be congested as hell, but the chances of you placing in your age division (or overall...) are much much harder. In Ultras, the playing field is leveled out more. The average Ultra has between 100-300 participants.

The NYC marathon....what do you think your chances are in this one? (Photo Cred: Kaftan Bikini Photography).

8. You'll be happier and healthier.
There are numerous studies which show that immersion in nature makes you happier. It lowers your blood cortisol levels (stress hormones), it improves your mood, and it is more challenging (which gives you more endorphins!). After a couple of hours on the trail, you are guaranteed to be in a better mood than if you were doing the same amount of miles on the road.

Look at all those happy runners! You'd never think we all just ran 31 miles.

9. The playing field is leveled out between genders.
New research suggests that in distances lasting several hours or more, the gender gap is significantly reduced. Not only are more women able to compete against men in ultras, but some are actually beating them. Women, rejoice!

10. There is room for growth.
Unlike the marathon, which is always going to be 26.2 miles, in ultras, you have room for growth. There is actually a big variance of distance in ultramarathons. They range from 50K (which is the shortest distance to be considered an ultramarathon), to 50-miles, 100K, 100-Miles and beyond. This gives you numerous areas for goal-setting and growth.

These are just some of the various reasons I came up with to run an ultra instead of a marathon. I'm sure there are countless more. What are other reasons to run an ultramarathon instead of an ultra?

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  1. Beautiful!! I've come to love the trails and find so much peace when I'm out there!!

  2. Great list! I love the relaxed, friendly vibe at a trail ultra. I never feel stressed out or competitive. It's such a supportive group!

  3. Well said, girlie! You're a sweetheart. And you know what, I could not truly appreciate your posted conversations with your grandmother had we not chilled together during BTR when I got to hear your awesome life story:)

  4. One thing I would add is that at an ultra I have never seen anyone pass another runner that looks like they might need help without asking how they are doing and/or offering them something from their pack if they have it. Great write up! (Beers at mile 95 of a 100 are exquisite to BTW) :D

  5. I agree trail running is MUCH better than road running...I've only done one marathon since starting but the short races are lame...the marathon I did was small less than 160 people and it was good. I did a trail race which had some ultra distances as well and it was the best race I've done by far. Want to get a 50 miler in 2015!!!

  6. Lovely write-up and spot on observations. You can get so much joy out of all that distance training by just adding 5 miles to your race choices x www.putthekettleon.org

  7. Love this and am sharing!

  8. Excellent article! I just started running ultras this year and could not agree with most of the reasons. I'm a little skeptical of the healthier aspect, but at least I'm happier!

  9. because we can, and we can beat a road runner

  10. I follow several ultra runners on social media and I thoroughly enjoy reading ultra running blogs but I've never had ANY desire to go any farther than 26.2 miles -- until now. I thought you people were crazy. This post alone makes me want to sign up for a 50k.. like yesterday! Seriously. It just looks like way more fun and I really hate how corporate road races are. It bugs the shit out of me. So yeah... looking up ultra training plans now...

  11. Very interesting article, especially since I've decided to train for and enter my first 50k race as a 2015 goal. In 2014 I decided to start trail running, even if it was in the local hills and I loved it! Now that I recently got a pair of Luna's, I'm approaching my first 100 miles on them and love them too. I think it was the whole "adventure sandal" thing that got me thinking about trail races and a 50k. I don't think I'll completely give up on marathons because I like them too. I'm signed up for the LA Marathon (the second time I've run this race) and even with the thousands of people, I guess I enjoy the thousands of people, the route is pretty cool for me too, from Dodger Stadium through Downtown LA, Hollywood, Beverly Hills and ending at the Santa Monica Pier. That being said, the LA Marathon is on March but now that I've made it a goal of mine to complete a 50k, I've become kind of obsessed with figuring out what race to run. I will probably enter at least 1 shorter trail race (10, 13.1, 15) before that time but my biggest challenge (and one I'll enjoy) will be to seek as many local trails as possible. Thanks again for sharing your experiences.

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  13. Also, countless runners I know who went from marathons to 50ks were surprised at how much less sore they felt and how much faster they recovered!