Maybe it was pandemic cabin fever that helped ultrarunning become so popular; the sport has gained participation in recent years as 5K participation has leveled off. Or, maybe it’s something else: the beautiful terrain, the camaraderie, the challenge. Ultras, or ultramarathon-distance trail runs, are like an attainable Mount Everest—put in the time and training, be willing to suffer, and then achieve a goal you’ll casually mention at parties every chance you get.
“I like to joke it’s hiking for the impatient,” says Laura Mason, chapter leader of Trail Sisters Columbus, a group that aims to increase and diversify trail running participation for women and non-binary people. Mason likes to use trail running as a way to explore parks around central Ohio. Although she has been a runner since middle school, Mason had to work up to an ultra just like everybody else, clocking her first 50-miler in 2021. “It doesn’t matter your size, it doesn’t matter your background,” says Mason. “If you can run, you can be a runner. And if you can be a runner, you can be an ultrarunner.”
Public Lands caught up with Mason to glean tips about getting into ultrarunning, or simply extending your trail running miles, in and around central Ohio.
Buy the right shoe
Ultrarunning starts with the right shoe. Mason recommends getting fitted by a professional. “Crappy shoes or shoes that don’t fit you right, you might get hurt,” she says. “And then you’ll hate running because you got shin splints training for your first 5K.” Mason concedes that running shoes can be a barrier to entry—the cheapest HOKA comes in at nearly $150—but once that investment is made, trail running is basically free. Other key clothing items include wool socks (especially good if your feet get wet) and non-cotton, quick-dry shirts and shorts. Layer up as needed; this is Ohio after all.
Hydrate and eat correctly
For a short run, you can carry a water bottle. After you start adding mileage, a small pack with a water bladder plus pockets for snacks will be necessary. As for food, Mason prefers Honey Stinger waffles and GU energy gels. But you don’t have to get fancy. PB&J, fruit, chips and pickles work well.