Ultra tips from ultra runners
"Take a nap when you start to see a dog face on a rock. Eat. Always eat."
Happy New Year friends, I hope 2022 has been treating you well so far! I’m very excited for this latest edition as I’ve compiled a whole whack of tips from a slew of runners who live and complete ultra runs around the globe. There are tips from 9 different countries in this post! Thank you, runners!
This is a whole lot more fun for me to write and a whole lot more beneficial for everyone to read, as there are a ton of great tips here that I could never have thought up all on my own.
Whether you’re thinking of running an ultra, or a seasoned veteran, there is something in here for you.
Everyone would agree that you must have some kind of nutrition and fuelling strategy when you get into such long-distance running, and that topic was a very popular one amongst the runners who I reached out to, including Kathy MacRae who had some short and sweet advice:
Pick a handheld food you love and see if it’ll work as a race food. Tater tots, pizza, burgers, pierogis and sandwiches are just a few options. The only thing you have to do is be willing to test them out on a training run. - Anna Razzell, Maple Ridge, BC.
During an ultra make sure you drink enough water. I go into an aid station with an empty bottle, fill it and drink it, and then refill before I leave. - Charlotte Wales, Davis, WV
Experiment and practice nutrition strategy often during training (including how you'll carry everything, so think about running vests, etc.), and always smile and have fun throughout the race! - Justin Yan
Something I am still working on: nutrition. It’s hard for me to force myself to eat during a race but you need to. Ask someone, find food that you won’t be sick of, do anything to get those calories in. - Jeannine Avelino, North Vancouver, BC
Clearly, nutrition is an important aspect of successfully running ultra-distance events! I certainly learned the same thing, and for myself through my coaching, I aim to ingest 250 calories an hour. I’ve consumed everything from McDonald’s to Banana Bread. There is no wrong food out there, as long as you can keep eating.
Another common theme runners mentioned was the mental side of training. The chance to train the mind beforehand for what’s in store on the big day is something that must be considered. This is something Anna Razzell keeps in mind:
Getting yourself to the mental low points in training, will help you learn how to get through those points on race day! It’s all mental and I have found it very fun to figure out how to work through them. - Steve Martens, Victoria, BC
Relax! This was a hard one for me. I get very nervous before races and for this latest one I decided that every time I got “The Fear” about something (it’s Nov, what if it snows?) I made a plan to deal with it. Take spare gloves that can go over normal running gloves. Pack an extra buff to keep ears warm. Pack an extra buff so that you can give it to someone else so they can have warm ears…making plans to mitigate against “The Fear” - worked a treat. - Gail Mackay, Scotland
Ultra Running is 90% mental, train your mind to endure suffering as well. - Alan Mijinke, Abbotsford, BC
Remember that you are amazing. However hard it feels, or whatever doubts pop up along the way (sometimes right after hitting that registration button) know that you only find out how it goes or how it changes if you stay in it. So don't give up on yourself and know that you will in fact probably register for another ultra or want to within 48 hours of finishing. :) - Jenny Quilty, Abbotsford, BC
We certainly have to find ways to keep our minds sharp and positive as often as possible when we are out there. I use a visualization technique when I have a negative thought while running where I essentially take that negative thought, imagine it on a piece of paper, crumple the paper in my hand, and blow it away into the wind. It’s funny to write down, but it works for me! I’m generally able to move on and get my head back into the run. I’m able to practice this technique during big races or training runs. Gail Mackay makes sure to train on grounds that will be familiar come race day:
Bring more food than you think you’ll need for longer training runs. Not much worse than bonking ten km away from your way home, as the sun is setting and you’ve already been out too late so you have to hobble back, when an extra snack could have kept you running the whole way. It’s a mistake I’ve made more times than I’d like to admit. - Chris Shier
By "joining" the ultra side of running, be prepared to start the toughest but most rewarding journey of your life. - Francisco, Portugal
Respect the distance! Ultras can do a lot of damage to your body if you don’t prepare for it with consistent strength training and solid mileage. Grit and a purpose can only take you so far without backing it up with the training. - Brittany Edmiston, Arizona
Join a running group! I'm quite introverted and get anxious meeting new people. It was a huge deal for my friend to drag me to a running group, but it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Right from the first run. I have made so many like minded friends and it's so much more fun and motivating for training and races to have people to run with. You can usually convince a few of those people to do crazy things with you, like run for 50 Kms. - Sheryl Zornes
Remember that the race day is just the culmination of the journey and every day of training leads up to that moment. Your training means more than the race, and while things will get in the way, and you may not even make it to your race day, your training is the journey to appreciate and be proud of. - Solana Green, Squamish BC
Success on race day is more likely if you have consistently embraced training. Being ready for race day both physically and mentally will obviously give you the best chance to succeed. I like to aim to be consistent in my training and also let myself off the hook when necessary. Nobody is perfect and it’s OK to realize you are included in this. This sort of mind frame helped me get to race day in a positive state, and that’s so important because you never know what will happen on race day! Sandra Louie mentioned this as well, and likes to break down her races, even more, to stay positive:
Figure out what makes you laugh, and use that during an ultra. You will hit low points, and they will pass. If you can think of something that makes you laugh during a low spot, it might at least make you smile, and help you start feeling better quicker. Biggest thing to always remember is to have fun out there! - Charlotte Wales
There will be times where things get tough but having a positive attitude and supporting others throughout the race will make things more memorable no matter how the race goes performance-wise! - Justin Yan
Focus on you. It’s the only thing you can control. - Greg Wingo
Smile at and thank your crew and the volunteers at the aid stations. Positivity breeds positivity and facial expressions can affect mood. You smile at them, they smile at you. Smiling makes you feel happier. It's a win-win! Invest in your overall experience of running an ultra by depositing some smiles with the aid station volunteers and your crew. - Scott Snell
If you can't have someone there with you at an aid station, try and have notes from family/friends/loved ones to help motivate you, cause it's gonna get hard! - Kathy MacRae
During the ultra, three things: hydrate, eat/energy, ibuprofen. I use ibuprofen to keep my stiffening knees going. Was first advised by a sports doctor in Hong Kong back in 2002 when training for 70 km mountain hike race, Lantau Trail. - Harry Järn, Helsinki, Finland
Take your time, there is no need to cramp up in a short timeframe. Allow yourself to enjoy the training and improve between events. I know it's so tempting to immediately sign up to the next event, but take a moment to reflect on the past few months before pulling the trigger. - Francesco Di Costanzo
Speaking of trail naps…
Take a nap when you start to see a dog face on a rock. Always bring extra toilet paper. - Johnny Lee, Coquitlam, BC
I can’t say I’ve run to the seeing-a-dog-face-on-a-rock point of exhaustion yet, so way to go Johnny! Johnny’s toilet paper tip is perhaps the most basic and smartest thing you can do. You’ll never be disappointed with TP in your pack! A few other random tips runners mentioned, including this gem from Anna about choosing a goal race:
Plan an A, B and C race. Sometimes races sell out in a matter of minutes. You don’t want to be scrambling to research and find another one. Be prepared. Know the races you’d be up for. Know registration dates, registration fees and any hidden costs (travel, lodging etc.) of each. If you have a few races to choose from, you’ll be much happier going into registration knowing the pressure is off. - Anna Razzell
When you’ve completed your first ultra, shout it from the mountain top! Tell people your story, be proud of yourself because what you’ve accomplished is amazing! - Natasha Wood
Not a tip really, just an observation made by a friend of mine: the good thing about ultras being so long is that there is plenty of time for conditions to improve (it may be raining here now, but 10 miles down the road the sun will be out). - Gail Mackay
Speaking of jorts…
Pack a mini tube of anti-chafe (like Squirrels nut butter) because sometimes you don't know what will happen at a new distance until you are there. - Jenny Quilty
No one will ever be upset they didn’t chafe while they were running, so chuck that in your pack with the toilet paper, and you’ll never truly feel shit out of luck…
Some really great tips that I was so happy to get to go through. I’m super grateful to all of the runners for taking the time to participate! I’d love to hear from you if you have any more tips of your own, comment below!
As pointed out to me on twitter, Ibuprofen is medication and you should not be taking medication without first chatting to a doctor (as Harry himself did!). So if you are interested in that tip, please do follow up with your doctor before putting it into practice :)