Many of you know that my time on the trails has me pondering the eventual ultra. Which meant I’ve been picking brains and enjoying the lessons of experienced runners. Today Georgia is hopping in with some great lessons. And you can snag a first 50K training plan here!
I have been racing endurance events from Ironman triathlons to marathons for many years, but nothing quite prepared me for my first 100km ultra run. This kind of endurance race takes determination to a whole new level and I learned a lot about myself on the way. Mostly I learned that I CAN DO IT – and so can you.
First Ultramarathon Lessons
In every new distance there are things we learn in training about ourselves and things we learn on race day that might have been helpful to know in advance.
Hopefully this list will help you through both. Here is what else I learned….
It’s a Mental Game
We all know that endurance races are tough and that we need to keep mentally strong to get through them. But nothing prepared me for the mental challenge of running 100km. Thinking about it in hindsight it makes sense. After all who in their right mind WANTS to run 100km? Nobody.
It doesn’t matter how fit you are, there will come a point in the race where your mind starts to tell you that this is just not fun anymore and that you really, REALLY want to stop. For me this happened at about 70 km. I had already run 20 km further than I had ever run before, and I still had another 30km to go. What was I thinking?
Fighting my mind was a far harder battle than fighting my weary legs and sore feet.
It would’ve been great to have gone into the race with some strategies to deal with the mental strain of the race and steel myself for the inevitable instinct to stop when the going gets tough.
- Carry your phone so you can read encouraging text messages or call a loved one
- Have a very clear understanding of your WHY for doing this
- Write a note to carry with you, of quotes or reasons you want to finish
- Have a mantra
- Let the people at aid stations encourage you
- Try to soak in the surroundings, it’s usually a pretty trail
- Expect the low’s so they aren’t as surprising
For me, my ‘why’ was to show myself how strong I can be – and to show my two sons that you can do anything you put your mind too.I’ve done quite a few endurance races in the past, mainly triathlon, so I thought I knew all about long hard races.
But doing my first 100km was completely different.
I was unprepared for how mentally draining it would be and how many times I wanted to stop and just cry. It was really, really hard – so much harder than expected. And at times it was no fun at all, to say the least.
On the flip side are the high moments, like the camaraderie among runners at the start line, beautiful scenery and perfect weather. So in contrast to the lows there were a lot of those moments when it seemed life just couldn’t be any better. And of course there’s no better feeling than seeing that finish line right in front of you – except of course that feeling of complete elation that you accomplished something that most people wouldn’t even dream about doing let alone attempt and succeed.
It’s an Eating and Drinking Race
It is much harder to eat and drink enough when you’re running all day (and sometimes all night) than you think.
It’s also really hard to know what you’re going to want to eat when you’re tired, fed up and your stomach is churning. Being fit and ready to run is not enough – you need to keep your body sufficiently fueled and hydrated for it to continue to perform for you at any level.
I had a fueling plan, but I ended up eating little of the foods I had planned.It turned out that I only wanted to eat simple foods like the bananas and watermelon that were offered at aid stations during the race, and the odd sandwich that I had packed in my drop bags. Oh and coconut water mixed with chia seeds was awesome – easy to get down, hydrating and gives you a good lift. I probably didn’t eat enough, but I got through. One of those things you just live and learn.
- Unlike road racing, you’ll be focused on whole foods
- Boiled potatoes with salt are an upset tummy favorite
- Many ultrarunners love flat coke for the straight sugar
- Yes you will see lots of junk food at aid stations, for many it’s just a way to stay on top of calories (I feel better on whole foods)
Test out your nutrition plan on during longer workouts, so you know which foods you can stomach well while running for long periods.
Everyone is a little different, so don’t rely on what the aid stations provide. You might want it, but if not you need to be prepared with snacks in your drop bag and hydration pack. (checkout my favorite hydration packs)Considering an #ultramarathon next year? Lessons from a first timer @georgiabamber Click To Tweet
Walking is Part of the Plan
I’m a competitive person by nature and like to think that I never give up.
Going into my first race, I wanted to run the whole way (albeit a little slow perhaps!) But come race day this DID NOT pan out and I came to learn that walking is ABSOLUTELY OK.
Except for the elite runners, everyone does it – so don’t beat yourself up about it. As I progressed through my first race I made up little walking rules, which helped to keep me moving.
- At first I could only walk on steep hills, but as the day went on my definition of steep began to become less and less.
- By the last 20 kilometers any slight incline was enough of an excuse for me to slow down to a trot or walk.
- I actively started to look forward to hills so I could allow myself to walk.
It’s OK, I know these are technically running races, but it’s likely you will get through them easier and faster if you walk a little now and then. Look around, it’s what the long time distance runners are doing. They know this isn’t a sprint, it’s about conserving enough energy to last many hours.
Don’t Go It Alone
I ran my first 100km ultra, alone and with no support crew.
My husband was away and I was running in a city far from home. I made it through, so it’s definitely possible, but I was incredibly envious of all the other runners who had support crew waiting for them at checkpoints and pacers to help them along when they needed it.
There’s nothing more motivating than family and friends cheering you on, so if you can muster them together, get yourself a great support crew and it will make your race just that much more doable. If they aren’t sure how to help, here are some ideas:
- Give them a list ahead of time of what you’ll need when you see them
- Be waiting with dry socks or pepto at aid stations
- Have a smile and “atta girl/boy” ready no matter how you look
- Pace you for a loop or from one aid station to the next (check your race rules)
- Run it with you!!
It doesn’t matter what time you finish an ultra marathon in – just by finishing you are in a league with an elite group of single minded determined fit, healthy people – who are only a tad crazy!
If you’re thinking about training for your first ultra – a big high five to you! I hope my experience helped you a little – but really I think the only way to truly learn what ultra is all about is by experiencing it yourself.
It doesn’t matter how much you prepare the day is always going to throw you curve balls that you never expected. So my best piece of advice be prepared to expect the unexpected!
Georgia Bamber is a health and wellness advocate, writer, endurance athlete, business owner, mother and lover of good food. She hopes to spread the word about the importance of eating a plant based diet -for our own health and the health of the planet.
If you’ve done an Ultra, I want to hear from you!
What’s the longest race you’ve done?
Does an Ultra inspire you or scare you?