How to Train Your Brain for Ultra Distances - NBC Chicago
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How to Train Your Brain for Ultra Distances



    How to Train Your Brain for Ultra Distances
    Jeffery Lung competes in the Christmas in July ultra race.

    Long distance running requires mental toughness. Ultra distance running -- anything past the traditional 26.2 mile marathon -- requires ultra mental toughness.

    Considering that much of a distance runner's time, during a race and during training, is spent dealing with his thoughts, it is easy to see how a sport that requires the continuous deterioration of your body could lead to an abundance of negative thinking.

    Anyone who has run beyond a marathon knows that pain and suffering is going to be a part of the experience. But he or she also knows that conquering that pain and suffering, and all the mental stress associated with it, makes completing the task that much sweeter.

    The body is smart and resilient. It quickly forgets how much it hurts when overwhelmed with the ecstasy of accomplishment. Nothing quite boosts your confidence like running 50 miles. Or 100 miles. Or 24 hours. Knowing you can achieve such monumental tasks makes every day life seem simple in comparison.

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    Of course, it's not always easy to quell negativity and keep ones mental game sharp. One method I use to stay focused during ultras is to concentrate on my body moving through space -- putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again -- and thinking of nothing else. In doing so I am able to brush aside thoughts that aren't relative to my immediate task and by focusing on one foot step at a time, I don't get overwhelmed with how many more miles or how many more hours I have yet to go.

    In treating an ultramarathon like moving meditation, I find that time goes by quickly, and I stay deeply in tune with my body.

    Another way that I prepare my mind for an ultra is by imagining the worst-case scenarios for any particular race -- It will be raining, I will have blisters, I will be nauseous and I will be chafing, for example.

    Then, one by one, I will think about a specific course of action to remedy -- or at least minimize -- the situation. By preparing my mind in such a manner, I find that when things do go awry during a race, I am already able to cope better because nothing is quite as bad as it could be.

    Which leads to another reality of ultra running: things will go wrong. Sure, there will be the occasional "perfect" race, but generally speaking, over the course of 50-100 miles, something is going to go wrong. The best way to deal with it is to be prepared, to be flexible and to stay in the moment, focused and determined.

    The real world applications for this ultra strong mentality are plentiful. But most of all, knowing you can get through 100 miles of aches and pains on your own two feet suddenly makes the everyday challenges of life much more manageable.

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    Besides, your body will quickly forget how much it hurts, until the next one.

    Jeffery Lung is an avid marathoner with two Boston Marathon finishes and a seasoned ultramarathoner with a 50-mile personal best of 8 hours. He is also a personal trainer who works with athletes of all abilities. You can learn more about training with Jeffery at or read his running adventures at