What you need (and don’t) to be a real ultrarunner

Ultramarathon mindset coach Susan Donnelly counters myths about what you need to be a real ultrarunner

I want to clear up a giant misconception I hear a lot about what you need to be a “real” ultrarunner.

Let’s start with a partial list in no particular order of what you DON'T need to have, do, or be:

  • A GPS watch

  • Strava or any other app

  • Headphones

  • Elite approval for your gear

  • A weighted vest or whatever the latest training fad

  • A cool, outdoorsy car

  • Stickers all over the cool, outdoorsy car

  • More/more impressive stickers than the next guy

  • A chiseled body of steel, sculpted quads, and six-pack abs

  • Sponsorship (other than your own)

  • The “right” training plan

  • The hot new shoes

  • Poles

  • Fewer pounds

  • Makeup/long hair/long beard/braids/dreadlocks/tattoos/more or different piercings than the next guy

  • A smokin' PR

  • Years of gritty, hard-earned experience

  • A dirtbag lifestyle

  • To live or train in a cool trail town

  • Drop-dead gorgeous trails to train on every day

  • Selfies that prove training on said gorgeous trails

  • A cool job

  • The perfect diet

  • A dramatic redemption/hell-and-back story

  • Matching outfit

  • Trucker hat (can we please, please move on from these?)

  • Standing in a race series

  • A resume of big-name races

  • A coach (yes, I am one and a coach can help you transform your results but you don’t need one to be an ultrarunner)

  • Weeks of spare time to pull off FKTs and big unique adventures

  • A podium finish

  • A buckle

  • Extreme suffering (moderate will do)

  • Elite/celebrity status/renown/notoriety

  • To finish a 100-miler

  • To be called “crazy”

  • To look like a Trail Runner or Ultrarunning cover model

  • To be a total machine

  • To be accepted in the cool kids' club

  • Everything perfectly measured out and dialed in

  • Anybody's version of the ultra-running life but your own

If you want something in this list that's going to make life better for you, go for it. I knew early on I wouldn’t think of myself as a real ultrarunner if I didn't go for a 100-miler, I sometimes use poles, and I love having a life coach.

But if you think not having, doing, or being any of that means you’re not good enough to show up at the starting line, that's a lie.

I’ve been running ultras for close to 22 years now and have finished plenty of ultras and 100s without the stuff on this list.

What you really need?

  • Ideally, some basic training

  • The minimum gear that will get you safely to the finish in likely circumstances (probably a lot less than you think)

  • Desire

  • Determination

  • Your full, all-in, I-can-do-this! self

  • A finish

Look, ultrarunning is about running a distance, not trying to be someone you've been told you’re supposed to be.

You don’t have to measure up to an image, you have to measure up to the distance.

Don’t worry about all that other stuff.

Show up as yourself, and run the distance.

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PS - If you signed up for my 5-video series on an Insider's Guide to Running a 100-Mile Race, you know I start 100s even if I’m over my comfortable weight and not in perfect shape. If you haven’t, check it out and get some great insight into what it’s like to run a 100 here.