I arrived limping, I left walking.
Tom, Maidenhead

Ultra Dos And Ultra Don’ts!

For some reason the idea of running seemingly endless miles in varying conditions on some fairly extreme terrains has been getting more and more popular?!

With more people participating in marathons and long-distance triathlons, the number of ultra-marathons out there has continued to grow too. The variety now brings about some fantastically picturesque routes, as well as some horrendously punishing ones.

So if you’ve taken the plunge and decided to do something stupid like an ultra-marathon, what are the common mistakes and misconceptions!

Too Much Slow, Too Little Fast

So, I was trying to avoid stating the obvious but Ultra-marathons are long!  Some will take 8 hours and others my take 8 days, but you’ve probably got your head round that before you signed up. 

The prospect of an event that long tends to result in runners substituting all their training intensity for distance.  They immediately focus on volume of training and get rid of intensity of training. This ends up making every training run a slow slog to the finish.

“But it’s miles in the legs” I hear you say. Yes it is, and it’s fatigue…and it’s potential injury risk…and it’s longer post-run recovery times. There’s a time and a place for the longer mileage runs, but it certainly shouldn’t be the main focus of every run you do as the cumulative effect of this will often lead to overuse injuries.

The long, slow runs can also be accompanied by the “I’m running slow in the event, so why do I need to train fast?” quote too.

Running slowly and running quickly have completely different physiological responses in your body, using different energy sources and energy systems. These will be beneficial at different stages of the event for instance you might still need the power to get up hills, or the agility to traverse rocks? Training them accordingly will result in a well rounded ultra-running fitness.


Whether you have gone for a hot/cold, flat/hilly, road/off-road course it’s important to train in conditions that will replicate your event as closely as possible. If you are able to recce some of the course, even better!

You’ll find this harder to do for certain events (how can you re-create the 45oC sandy conditions of the Sahara for the Marathon Des Sables?) but some warm-weather training wouldn’t go amiss.  Post-training sauna sessions have also been shown to aid some of the physiological changes you can expect to face in this type of event.

Not only will you condition yourself to the physical and physiological stresses of the event, but it will serve to ease some of the psychological “fear-of-the-unknown” stress too!

Starting Overfilled

Certain events will give you a compulsory kit list, so sometimes the weight you carry with you cannot be avoided. However, plenty of people overpack. A spare socks here, an extra box of gels there, jumpers, jackets, electrolyte tabs, hydration packs. It’s easy to “just in case” a whole pile of extra kit into your pack which you then need to lug around the course.

Research your course for aid stations and what the organisers provide at each and then travel light, packing the necessities.

Running on Empty

Sometimes eating during the event is the last thing you want to do. With your circulatory system trying to keep your muscles going, your stomach drops further down the pecking order  and your appetite can disappear. This is where things can get nasty.

If you start your nutrition too late, you’ll be playing catch-up and trust me…you won’t catch-up. Practising your fuelling strategy during training is paramount. You’ll find certain things your stomach likes, and other it doesn’t. It’s best not to leave this until race to find out!

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