Take these top tips to heart heading into your next ultra.
The thought of how to approach your first (or fiftieth) ultramarathon can be daunting. Although you’ve trained hard, it’s easy to waste precious pre-race energy worrying that a few small mistakes with your nutrition or pacing can result in a DNF or, worse, an injury. What follows are a series of race-day “dos” and “don’ts” from some of the top athletes in the sport. Take these tips to heart as you prepare to go the distance!
Anton Krupicka, Two-Time Leadville 100 Winner
— DO eat early and often. Everyone knows this, but actually doing it is important. Your body is running a deficit all day and it’s easy to forget just how much energy you need to get through one of these things.
— DO hike steep uphills early on. This will help you with maintaining a conservative start. If you’re feeling great, there are plenty of miles in the second half of the race to crank up the intensity.
— DON’T overthink. At the end of the day, running a long ways in the hills is still an extremely basic activity. You know how to run. Do that. Stay in tune with your effort, eat and drink, and things will be fine.
— DON’T be a wimp. Kinda the whole point is that an ultra is a challenge. You want to meet and overcome that challenge, not wilt in the face of it (i.e. DNF). When things get tough (they will, probably way tougher than you can currently imagine even), believe in your training, believe in yourself, grit your teeth and do it. Doing hard things is extremely satisfying once you’ve made it through. Don’t forget that in the moment.
Pam Smith, 2013 Western States 100 Champion
“I think the hardest part of an ultra is the mental aspect, and this applies to first-timers and veterans alike. The most important thing you can do for an ultra is to get to the starting line with confidence and complete commitment to get to that finish line.”
— DO believe in your training. You’ve trained hard for this, remind yourself that you are ready!
— DON’T compare yourself to others. Most likely you know somebody who trains more than you, who runs faster than you or who has more experience than you. If you start comparing, you can psych yourself out. Remember this is about YOU, YOUR goals and YOUR personal accomplishments.
— DO expect something to go wrong. No matter how perfect your training has gone, this is ultrarunning and a lot of crazy things can happen when you are running for hours on end. If you accept that something may go wrong ahead of time, you’ll be in the right frame of mind to tackle problems when they arise and to look for solutions, rather than wanting to throw in the towel.
Geoff Roes, 2010 Western States 100 Champion
— DON’T over-prepare or over-analyze a race ahead of time. Certainly it’s important to know the basics about a race, but if you focus too much on every little detail you can easily end up having way more stress and anxiety than is ideal. Running is a very simple thing. It’s best to keep it as simple as possible.
— DO be sure to get a decent amount of calories in your system on the morning of the race. Those who come from a shorter distance background might be used to not eating much of anything before an early morning race start, but when running ultras you are going to need every ounce of energy you can get into your system. If you need to start a little slower because your stomach is somewhat full this is certainly not a bad thing as nearly everyone goes out too fast in their first ultra.
Michele Yates, U.S. 50K, 50-Mile and 100K Trail Champion
— DO: Get your nutrition as close to spot-on as you possibly can. Although some nutrition counts in the marathon distance, in an ultra, I feel it is just as important as the training if not MORE important. Focus on quality foods, tummy-friendly gels (example: GU Energy Gels are gluten/dairy free), salt tabs and fluids. Factors such as weather, course and how you are feeling when you start play a role in ultra nutrition. Start eating early, as early as the first 15 minutes. I start with bites of the Simply Bar (also tummy friendly and easy to digest but high in protein), shooting for at least one bar an hour. I also follow that with a salt tab and half of a GU energy gel—all with water. My recommendation is shooting for 300mg of sodium per hour with 24-28 ounces of plain water per hour. This may need to be adjusted, again, depending on numerous factors. I also like to include my homemade cookies in the mix. Those are loaded with peanut butter, nuts, coconut, and chocolate pieces. This gives me that extra fat, (long and medium chain fatty acids) one needs to get energy from immediately as well as a little longer down the road. When eating gets tough, I reach for some Tums, but force gels, bars, and cookies down anyway. No excuses. It will make or break you.
— DON’T rely solely on aid stations. Sometimes they run out of the ‘good’ food, fluids etc. Come prepared with your own items and use aid stations for back up. Store your food in a zip lock bag in your drop bag. If you have crew or not, I still recommend leaving drop bags with the items you know you will need. This way if something happens, then you have it there. Give crew extra food/items that you may need and utilize them if they are there and prepared.