I started training for my first ultra on a whim. Running an ultra (any distance longer than a marathon) had always been on my bucket list, and with some unexpected free time on my hands, it seemed like the perfect time to tackle one. While my first race was a fantastic, memorable experience, there were a few things I wish I had known before I started.
You need more calories than you can imagine
Repeat that one. Fuelling is one of the most challenging issues ultrarunners face. Everything else: how well your body moves, how much, how well you can regulate temperature, your mental state and your ability to make decisions are all directly connected to how well you are fuelling your body.
The more distance in your race, the harder fuelling becomes. If you start working on how you can best take in calories from the moment you begin to train for your race, you’ll be way ahead of the game. It can take years and many adjustments to find a fuelling strategy that works for you.
Aid stations aren’t for visiting friends and family
You can do that after the race. In my first ultra, I spent 45 minutes in one aid station just chatting to my own family. I was so relieved to see my crew at each aid station and so eager to tell them every detail of my experience that I added actual hours onto my race time.
Was I ever a top contender in that race? Absolutely not, but learning how to move quickly through an aid station is a skill you should discuss with your crew, and then practice. You’ll tell better stories after you’ve finished your race and had a nap, anyway.
Unless you’re actually unconscious or unable to stand, you can probably keep moving
Prior to my first ultra, I finished four marathons and completed many training runs upwards of 30K. Heck, I even did a 50-kilometre training run prior to my 50K race. Despite all that, my first race felt impossibly hard.
With about 500 metres to go and one last climb, I was absolutely sure I wasn’t going to be able to make it. I pulled out my phone and texted my crew that I was utterly done, but they were not as sympathetic as I’d hoped. I realized two things: your legs will keep going even when you think they can’t, and if you can text, you can keep moving. If you can cry, or speak, or tie your shoelace–you can keep moving.
Against all logic, you’ll sign up for another
During the race, there were moments when I was sure I would never run again. One week after the race, I was perusing Ultrasignup for my next challenge. So much in an ultra gets better with experience and familiarity, so some things we simply have to try out to see how they work. No matter how bad you might feel during the race, you’ll never regret signing up.