Ultra running, a sport once deemed the sole province of wiry male trail dogs, is now beckoning to a broader cross section of runners.
The number of women competing is very nearly reaching a 50/50 split, and it is not a surprise to our community when a woman takes the overall top spot in a mixed event. And rightly so.
With more runners considering taking the leap and pushing beyond 26.2, we asked our ultra friends to impart some wisdom for first-timers.
Shell is a running coach who has completed two ultras in 2017, the Dukeries 40 miler and the Race to the Stones 100km.
My top tips are:
- Slow down and slow down some more.
- Eat before you need it.
Susie has completed distances from parkrun up to 100 miles. She came 2nd overall in the 2016 Centurion Autumn 100 and set a new women’s course record.
Recce as much of the course as you can in advance. It reduces the risk of unwanted extra miles on race day and gives you confidence as you know what to expect. Psychologically it is easier to race a familiar route and it’s good to train on terrain you’ll race on.
Steve has completed the Race to the Stones 100km and the Advent Running Bridge Ultra. He is currently training for the OCC 55k as part of the UTMB weekend.
Treat it as a long distance picnic. Breaking the race up into the distance between each aid station helps you manage the distance and you can use the food as both fuel and as a reward for completing a section, putting you in a positive frame of mind for the next section.
Also take the right kit. If it’s going to be hot, sunglasses, a visor or a buff can make all the difference.
Bozena completed her first ultra distance event in 2017, the Ultraroztocze 65m in Poland, where she placed 4th lady.
Respect the distance. Start slower than you think you should and actually enjoy the experience and everything around you. No matter what, you’ll have a PB. Your first time should be about learning what it feels like to run an ultra! It’s an amazing journey. Have fun. Oh and eat! Eat early. Don’t let fatigue ruin your run.
Marie has completed five ultra-marathons and won the women’s race at The Wall, a 69 mile race across Hadrian’s Wall.
- Eat little and often and drink to thirst.
- Walk the hills with purpose.
- Just think of aid station to aid station. Thinking of the full distance can be a little overwhelming. Getting to the next aid station where you can refuel and reset is much easier on the brain!
- Enjoy the experience! Embrace the fun, the pain, the distance, the surroundings and all the amazing people around you.
Effy completed the 2017 Marathon des Sables (MdS), often considered the toughest footrace in the world. MdS is a self-supported multi-stage event across the Sahara which covers 251km.
- Always keep something in your back pocket for when it gets tough, if it’s a playlist or a jelly baby.
- Eat real food when you can. A packet of beef jerky (my favourite) sorts you right out compared to a gut full of sugary gels, and if you’re pootling along for hours the feeling of chewing something is unbeatable.
- Hats and sun cream are better pals than Ant and Dec and infinitely more useful.
- Remember to fill up your water bottle!
Sophie decided to take on her first ultra, the Speyside Way 36.5 mile, in 2014. The following year Sophie took on the Kintyre Way 36 miler, winning and breaking the women’s course records by a whopping 42 minutes.
Carry crystallised ginger as it helps with nausea while getting the calories in. Also for longer races, pack ready salted crisps in your later drop bags.
Carola aka Aerial Spartan
Carola completed the Two Oceans 56km race in South Africa, 2017.
An Ultra Marathon is not a running competition, it is an eating competition. If you get the food and fuel right, you can finish.
For pacing all my races above 40km I developed the 90/ 75 / 50 strategy. At one quarter of the total distance in you should feel like you have 90% of your energy left, 75% at halfway and at least 50% at three-quarters. Why? They say that the second half of a Marathon starts at 30km. That’s why you want to have at least half your energy stores left at that point.
George Lloyd likes to push his running boundaries and has completed the South Downs Way 100 miler, Ultra Tour Monte Rosa, Saintélyon 70km.
- Train on similar terrain to that which you’ll encounter on race day.
- Have an A/B/C goal strategy (A being you best outcome, B your second best etc).
- Make sure you have weekly long long runs and back to back long runs in your plan.
- Get a good back pack or race vest.
- Practice nutrition.
- Have FUN!
For anyone who has never heard of Mike, he is an ultra-running legend. He has completed in some of the toughest races in the world, including MdS, Badwater 135miler in Death Valley and the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). He is a multiple world record holder over various distances and in early 2017 he broke the record for the World Marathon Challenge, completing seven marathons on seven continents in seven consecutive days with an average time of 2:45:46.
- Be consistent; nothing prepares you for running like running and the ability to train consistently is a huge factor in improvement.
- To race ultras you don’t have to do huge miles. You just need good fitness and determination to get it done.
- Work on being able to eat and run, so many incredible athletes get tripped up by their nutrition plan. Mostly in an ultra if you can eat and drink you will finish. When you get into trouble is when you can’t process foods and fluids.
Alan is a prolific runner who has completed the London to Cambridge 100km Challenge
If you’re running with people, try as hard as possible to keep the group together. It’s really hard if you then end up on your own.
You’ll never be able to know what you’ll want to/be able to eat and drink once you get deep into a race – even with experimenting during long runs. One race I did the only thing I could eat was a plate of tzatziki!
Always have a charged phone so you can give yourself a music boost during the tough miles or check in on Facebook to get encouragement from your supporters
(Twitter: @rnewstead Blog: powderach-running.blogspot.co.uk)
Rachel has completed the Isle of Wight Challenge 106km, the Classic Quarter 70km,Highlighand Fling 53 miler and the John Muir Way 50km, where she won the women’s race in 2017.
My top tip would be not to worry too much about time or pace. Stop worrying about minutes per mile, and focus more on how you’re feeling.
Remember the first time you ran a marathon and were scared of the distance; it’s that all over again (but try to be excited about it rather than scared!). I’ve run four ultras and went into each one with no idea how long I would take, which took the pressure off trying to run at a specific pace and look at my watch all the time. I was able to enjoy the scenery and chatting with different people. If I felt good I sped up a bit and if I felt bad I slowed down.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to share their ultra tips, we really appreciate it.
Are you thinking about stepping up to ultras? If so, do you have a race in mind or any burning questions?
Are you an ultra-runner who could share some additional advice? If so, please do leave us a comment below.