10 Tips for Surviving Your First Ultra

  1. Specificity in your training

The most important thing to do is train. The more you run, the better you get at it….within reason! However if the course you are racing your ultra on has lots of hills, then do plenty of them in your weekly routine. If it has stairs, then they should be included too. The more closely your training matches the course you’ll be racing on, the better.

  1. Practice your nutrition

Getting your fueling right is as important as the running. If you can’t ingest the calories and other nutrients you need, then you’ll grind to a halt. The best way to condition your body to eating on the go is to practice it during your training runs, particularly your long efforts. It’s a good idea to give different options a go and also to use the products that will be available at aid stations.

  1. Know the course

Study the course and get to know it in detail. Memorise where the hills are and where to expect checkpoints, plus what the underfoot terrain is going to be like. A technical section will be slow and will greatly impact your time between aid stations, whereas a flat road or fire trail will be faster but can also leave you exposed to the sun. The more you know about the course the better! In an ideal world you would run sections of it in training.

  1. Test all your gear

Do some of your training in the clothes and other gear you’ll be using on race day. This way you can get to know how to adjust the fit of your pack while running and also where to put things. Plus there will likely be areas where chaffing occurs and knowing these spots means you can apply some protection to those areas to avoid discomfort.

  1. Expect the unexpected

Things rarely go as planned, so it’s best to go into the race with a strategy, but also an open mind. If the food you normally eat is giving you stomach issues, try something different. If you get blisters for the first time, give yourself a few minutes at a checkpoint to strap them up. If you feel terrible on the hilly stuff that you normally feel strong on, try working the flat sections and walk the ups. It’s all about having a plan B for every situation and not freaking out if things aren’t going as planned.

  1. Start slow

Too often you see people racing off in the first few kilometres of an ultra and then pushing hard in order to maintain their position. This often comes back to bite you in the bum later in a race and the resulting fatigue means everything you gained by getting out quick is well and truly lost. So take it easy at the start and build into the run. It should feel as though you are going too slow and could easily up the anti. The if you have plenty in the tank later on, up the pace and bring it home. It’s much better to finish feeling good than to drag yourself to the end.

  1. Stay positive

There will inevitably be times when you are struggling physically and mentally. No matter how good an athlete is, they all go through rough patches. The key is to maintain a positive mindset and focus on the moment. Take a look around and enjoy the scenery and remind yourself that you are in the midst of doing something special. Most times these dark periods end and you regain momentum.

  1. Talk to experienced runners

In the lead up to your race it’s always helpful to seek advice from experienced campaigners. Pick their brains for tips on training and nutrition and also on the course itself. It’s also a good idea to join a squad or follow the Facebook page of the race you are doing and take part in some of the community events. This way you’ll meet new folks that will be part of your journey.

  1. Spend more, suffer less

If you skimp on quality gear, it may fail you when you need it most. You get what you pay for and in the case of running apparel and accessories the cheap stuff is often poor quality or inadequately designed. Footwear, your pack, headlamps and waterproof jackets are all items worth spending a little more on. Do your research and don’t compromise!

  1. Embrace the suffering

No matter how good you are, ultras hurt. A lot! The human body can do amazing things and you’ll be surprised just how much you can suffer and keep on going. There will be times when your muscles feel like they’re going to explode and your feet are aching. You’ll get thirsty, grumpy and likely start to hate the sickly sweet taste of gels. This is all part of what you signed up for so embrace it!