The First Rule of Ultra-Running is ...
Ultra-marathoners like to talk about ultra-marathons. We love our sport so much we want to share it, promote it and for some of us, brag about it. Ask any ultra-marathoner about ultra-running, to share their experiences of ultra-marathons or provide tips or advice to first timers, and you won’t be short of opinions.
We asked around the office for the best tips we had all received before our first ultra-marathon events, and here are the responses: (health-warning #1 – we do not necessarily advocate any or all of this advice):
“Walk the hills, run the downs and flats”
This is classic ultra advice. The key point here is that you are expected to walk at times, so it is better to walk on difficult or uphill sections than it is on a faster, flatter section where you could probably gain some time. This of course does not mean you always walk up hills and that you never walk a flat section, but as a general guide it is helpful.
“Skip checkpoint one”
Everyone seems to stop at Checkpoint one, and if your ultra-marathon has a gun-start, hundreds of participants are likely to hit Checkpoint one at roughly the same time. You could waste vital minutes queueing for loos, water, fuel etc. Most ultra-marathoners carry water and fuel with them in backpacks and belts. Checkpoint one is invariably after 10-15km so you should have started with enough supplies to get you to at least Checkpoint 2. Health Warning #2 – many ultras have mandatory checkpoints and of course, if you feel like you need more water/supplies or if the rules state you have to, then stop at Checkpoint one.
“Imagine the distance to go as a number of parkruns”
This advice helps you break down the distance to go and makes it seem more manageable. You may be struggling with a massive 30km still to go, but thinking of the distance as just six parkruns may help you view the distance as achievable. OK, so you’re unlikely to be cruising along at your normal parkrun (5k) pace, but this will help you visualise the distance.
“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, just never give up”
This is often-quoted (from either Martin Luther King Jr or Dean Karnazes, we can't decide) and the mantra does have some value. The key point is you are always getting closer to the end, as long as you’re moving. Limit the number and length of stops and be less-concerned about the speed you are moving at, as long as you’re always getting closer to the finish. Health warning #3 - we don’t advocate the crawling aspect, if you’re starting to crawl, you probably need some urgent medical attention!
“Don’t try anything new for the first time on race day”
This advice applies to all races, sports and distances, but you’re probably more exposed to problems developing on an ultra-marathaon. Make sure you have road-tested your kit, nutrition and hydration well before the event day. There is nothing worse than discovering a rubbing point on your backpack, that the gels you are using don’t agree with you or that you don’t actually like spam sandwiches, especially when they have been jiggling around in your pack for the past five hours in 30 degree heat.
If you’re an experienced ultra-runner – tell us some of the advice that you have received, or advice that you have given. And of course, always remember the first rule of ultra-running – “talk about ultra-running”.