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Training/Races

How to Finish Your First Ultra

April 15, 2015
How to Run an Ultra

Congratulations on deciding you want to run an Ultra! It takes a lot of courage to even consider the task, so I commend you. My short guide will certainly help you prepare for and finish the race!

Let’s get started! I will break down finishing your first ultra into a few “easy” sections.

Training: The one aspect of running farther than 26.2 miles that cannot be overlooked is training. Everyone is different, and depending on the race you want to run, the overall training mileage
will differ.  Free time, work schedules, and life all play a factor in training. Being consistent in training is very important. Even if your mileage during the week is low, getting out consistently goes a long way. Plan to run five or six days a week.  You need to train your body to run, and run for a long period of time, even when tired. There is no magic number for weekly mileage or daily mileage, but working your way up to back to back long runs (two days in a row) will definitely get your body stronger, and more efficient, especially late in an ultra.  Finding a coach that can help identify your specific needs will go a long way. If you are feeling puzzled and overwhelmed, having a coach or training group can keep you motivated and hold you accountable for your training.

Gear: Find gear that works for you.  Go to a running store and get fitted for a good pair of shoes. Ask questions and play with different ways to carry water and fuel. There are numerous devices out there, so try a few. Test out different types of socks. I have worn Feetures! socks for a few 100-mile races. They work for me and I love them. I know this because I have worn every brand, and Feetures! is the best.  Try out windshells, tights, and shorts. You want to be comfortable when running for a long time. Gear can definitely get in the way if you are chafing, cold, or wet. Don’t let that keep you from finishing.  Finding what gear works for you is a critical part of training.

Nutrition: During an Ultra, you’ll need to consume calories and electrolytes, more if it is hot or at altitude. Your body can burn anywhere from 600-1,000 calories an hour. Practice with various types of foods during training. You don’t need to replenish 600-1,000 calories an hour, but getting close to 200-300 will allow your body to stay fueled and energized. I like to use the longer runs to experiment.  See what works for your stomach and what does not. There are tons of great products on the market in the form of gels, chews, drink mixes, bars, and electrolyte pills. Some runners will even eat “real” food in the form of burritos, potatoes, candy bars, and sandwiches. Find what works for you, and try to stay away from anything new during the race. It also helps to know what types of foods will be present at the aid stations.

Race Day Prep: You are getting close to the race. Do some homework! I like to look at historic weather of the race so you can plan accordingly. Always pack more than you need and pack for every type of weather. Find out from the race website about having a crew, pacer, and where to place a drop bag. Crews are great resources, as they can meet you at various points of the race to cheer for you and to replenish your food, water, and gear. Pacers (typically 100k-100 mile distance) can help you stay on track and keep you safe. Most 100-mile runners use pacers. Personally, I don’t think I would have finished a few 100’s without one!

Race Day: For your first time finishing an ultra, go out slow. Take your time. Even if the race is a “shorter” ultra like a 50k, go out slow and let the day unravel. Ultras are long, and you won’t win or finish the race in the first 10 miles, but you can certainly lose it. Go slow, fuel, and most importantly, have fun!

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