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Being Ultra Prepared!


Let’s be honest, we very rarely feel fully prepared for any event we’ve signed up to, especially if it’s our first time doing it. No matter how great training has gone, there is always that element of self-doubt that tends to creep in as race day draws nearer.

Over the last 12 months we’ve continued to see the popularity of “Ultra Marathoning” increase, and the new influx of participants have come from all sorts of different backgrounds. Some have always been “runners” who have decided to increase mileage, others have come from different endurance backgrounds, such as Ironman distance triathlon.

What’s been really interesting to see, is the difference in attitudes and expectations of the event, alongside hugely varied approaches (mental and physical) used to tackle the ultra-marathon and the training associated with it.

So to compliment our last Ultra training article (link to Ultra Do’s and Don’ts), we thought it would be useful to outline a couple of pointers to consider early in you ultra career!

Don’t Expect to Run it All

These events are long! With completion times usually starting from 6+hours, you can’t expect to run the whole thing.

Now this might sound an obvious statement, particularly when embarking on some of the hillier ultra’s, but there are some ultra’s with lots of flat runnable sections and these tend to be where people come unstuck.

Events like the Thames Path 100, a 100mile event following the river Thames from Richmond to Oxford, with a fairly modest (in ultra terms) 590m of total elevation, can lull people into a false sense of security.

When you break the route down into sections all of them are runnable. However, the cumulative effect of running for that distance can destroy your legs / hips / backs / souls? unless you are used to covering that sort of mileage and being on your feet for that long.

So, if you are relatively inexperienced in terms of ultra’s, be prepared to spend long periods of time on your feet, moving far slower than you usually would during a “normal” race.

In terms of training and preparation for this, don’t run all of your training! Go for long hikes. Vary it with some resistance training to get used to some fatigue in your muscles. All of this will help prep you for the time you’re going to take to complete it…and you will complete it!

Expect the Unexpected

Typically the longer the event, the more that can go wrong!

The long-distance triathlete’s amongst you will probably have experienced your fair share of run in’s with bad weather, mechanical failure, crashes, lost bikes at transition etc. This can sometimes help with the mental preparation for an ultra. There’s only so many variables that you can control.

You can have a game plan, but be prepared for this to change. If you need food…eat. If you need water…drink. If you need to slow down…take a walk and then get going again. Just don’t beat yourself up about going off-piste, and changing that game plan.

After all, you’ll have to deal with it, or DNF?

Don’t Place Too Much on Time

For those of you that love watching split-times, love calculating pacing or love counting watts, ultra’s are going to be a bit different. Training will probably be a little more relaxed than you are used to. After all, that 2 seconds per km that you’ve lost won’t make a difference if you DNF.

The first task in an ultra is to finish. There’s plenty of top ultra runners who fall into the trap of blowing before the end due to pacing or fuelling issues, so make sure you finish before worrying about time.

Be Familiar With Your Kit

Certain races will require a compulsory kit list to compete. This might include jackets, head torch, walking poles etc. so make sure you buy them and use them before turning up of the start line.

Simple tasks like changing torch batteries, zipping up zips and adjusting poles get a whole lot harder when you’re dealing with fatigue or sleep deprivation. Know your kit like the back of your hand and this should limit the fumbling around or stress when you can’t get the torch working!

Be Familiar With Your Terrain, and Train For It!

Whether you’re on-road, off-road, hilly or flat, knowing what to expect from the course will be a big help for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it will help when selecting the right kit. Picking footwear to suit the terrain can be hugely beneficial, or detrimental. You don’t want to be wasting time sliding down muddy banks because your shoes don’t have enough grip. You also don’t want the bone-jangling ride that can be associated with running on tarmac in hard, spiked hiking shoes.

Your training can also be adapted to suit the course. If it’s going to be hilly…train the hills, but remember to train up and down. Downhill running and hiking can be really tough on your knees and quads if you’re not used to it. We see lots of runners doing hill reps, working on the speed and power of the uphill sections and then just recovering on the downhills by walking them. The limitation of this is the energy expenditure relative to the speed gain of running uphill.

Most ultra runners see the downhills as “free” speed, so you’ll often see them hiking-up and running-down. Practise this, it’s very different and will take some time to get used to.

Finally, use some strength training to compliment your running for those hilly ones. This will really help to familiarise yourself with the muscle damage and DOMS you can expect after an ultra, particularly a hilly one.

Any ultra is going to be hard, so preparing yourself and adapting your training prior to it will make sure it’s hard but enjoyable! If you need any help or advice putting this into practise, feel free to get in contact with us!

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