You’re getting ready for your first ultra marathon and looking for some tips to make sure you’re fully prepared to tackle what’s ahead. Today we’re going to move you from having an uncertain mindset to the point where you’re ready to tackle the challenge.
You may be running 30 miles, 50 miles, or 200 miles, but at the end of the day the number one thing that you must do to move from a long distance runner to an ultra
marathoner is to change your mindset. You have to be willing to accept the fact that you’re going to suffer and want to quit, while pushing through that unforgiving mental wall and into a place where you’re mentally remotivating (yes I just made that word up) and doing whatever it takes to carry on.
In the marathon, you will feel pain and your legs will reach a point where they’re not turning over as fast as you want them to. At that point in the race, you only have 10k to 10 miles left, so as daunting as that may seem at the time, it’s not the full marathon, 2 marathons or 3 marathons that could be remaining when you want to walk off of the course and hang em up.
“Meb said he often thinks about his father, who, in Eritrea in the 1980s, walked more than 200 miles to escape imprisonment or death for a chance at freedom for himself and his family. In the 2013 New York City Marathon, when his calf seized up in the 20th mile, he thought of the thousands of us who would be finishing minutes and hours behind him. He said he thought, ‘They are doing it so I must find a way to keep going too.’ ”
Again, we’re talking the marathon here, but ‘Elite Athlete’ mental toughness is what you will need to make the leap from simply marathoning to running your first ultra marathon. It takes a recognition of when you need to refocus to get near that level of mental toughness and continued practicing to keep that laser Elite focus.
Once you’ve made the decision to become as mentally tough as an elite athlete, now what? We’ll let’s take a look at your training.
Get off of the road and onto the trails. A majority of ultras are run on trails and in addition with the increased mileage you will be running, it will be a healthy breather for your legs and knees to reduce the amount of pavement pounding during your training.
I’m not saying never run on the roads during your training, but use the pavement sparingly.
During your training you’ll want to run long. That’s the obvious part, how long? Well maybe not as long as you think every day, but you better reserve some time on those weekend mornings to get in large chunks of miles. Three to four times before your race you’ll want to get in enough combined miles on Saturday and Sunday to equal the total distance for your first ultra. For example if your ultra is 50 miles you’ll want to run 25 Saturday and 25 on Sunday…or 35 on Saturday and 15 on Sunday….or 40 on Saturday and 10 on Sunday, the splits aren’t the huge thing, it’s the total mileage/time that’s more important.
I’ll tell you right now you’re going to hate your life on Sunday morning and it’s going to be hard to get going, but like Meb says, “…I must find a way to keep going…”
Alright we’ve hit up the mental toughness and the training, what about the race itself?
First off make sure you’re taking in the right food and drink in the 10 days leading up to the race. This means increasing your carb intake, ensuring that you’re getting enough water each day, and increasing your fat intake. Perhaps more important than any of those, you must get enough sleep!
Make sure you’re getting at least 8 hours a night, if not 8.5 to 9. Don’t oversleep, but your body will need all of the rest it can get heading into a likely 6-12 hour run.
Don’t just fuel up ahead of the race, make sure that you’re fueling up during the ultra marathon. In his post, extreme endurance athlete Marshall Ulrich highlights the best say to go about fueling up during the race. The key takeaway from his article is this:
Your body is smarter than you are and will tell you what you need. But you have to learn to listen to it. Remember to eat a balance of carbohydrates (simple sugars), proteins, and fats. Use the aid stations and, if you have crew, make sure they have a range of foods to give you. Sometimes it is easier to get your calories from liquid sources (like Ensure) or energy gels during a race. Try these during your pre-race training and see what works for you. Of course, stay hydrated, and don’t forget to take in electrolytes, including sodium!” – Marshall Ulrich
While you’re running your first ultra marathon you’re definitely going to face some tough challenges, most notably the hills (if not mountains!). Especially early in the race, newbies are quick to sprint past the athletes who are walking up these hills thinking, “Heh, look at these pansies, I’ll show them!”
In twenty miles they’ll be the ones laughing at you as they churn past your rotting corpse. Alright that was a little extreme, but you get the point. There’s a reason that these experienced athletes are walking the hills, most of them are too tough to run up. Walk early, walk often. It’s going to be a long journey, the length of time some people spend at work, you’ll be spending racing. If you finish your first ultra with something in the tank, you shouldn’t be killing yourself over it. So take it slow.
Lastly enjoy it, take in the sights, and have fun!