How To Prepare For Your First Ultra Marathon
Running your first ultra-marathon can be a daunting prospect. It's a huge challenge but not something that you should be fearful of. Chances are, you're already a fairly confident runner and you're looking to hone your endurance skills and up your game.
We have teamed together with Ellen Wood, an experienced ultra athlete, from Trail Events Co. to highlight a few key points you should be considering when preparing for your first ultra.
Find an Awesome Running Partner
Motivation can be hard to come by some days, but having a running partner that you don't want to let down will encourage you to get up and out. They don't have to be with you all the time - just enough to get you out of the door - so you can still enjoy those peaceful moments of solitude.
"A good running partner is one that is a good companion who supports, listens and understands your pain and vice-versa", says Ellen. "Having a wingman/woman can also help to break the long hours of mileage training into enjoyable sections whether they join you for short sections or at the latter stages to get you over those final few miles".
Organise Support for the Big Day
Some races require you to be self-sufficient while others don't. Having a familiar face along the course will give you a boost if you need it and even better if they have some pre-organised supplies and fresh kit for you to look forward to. "Clean shoes and dry socks feel like pure luxury after 50 hard miles!".
Invest in a Quality Pack
You might not usually carry a pack when running but it's important to abide by mandatory kit rules when racing - they are there to help keep you safe. It's never a huge amount of stuff and can all be carried easily in a small pack or race vest. You should make sure your trail running pack or vest fits you well and it should allow easy access to everything you need while on the move.
"Essential kit includes a good lightweight race vest", says Ellen. "Some are very expensive but there are loads on the market that don't cost that much and still perform very well". If what you buy doesn't have a fully waterproof pouch, make sure you add one by way of a dry bag or other lightweight alternative. This will go a long way in keeping some of your more important kit dry and useable.
Practice Hydration & Nutrition
Use longer training runs to practice how you are going to keep fuelled on race day. Switch between using water bottles or a reservoir to see which you perform better with, and test out different supplements to keep you properly powered along the way.
Ellen has experienced low points during running but insists that maintaining your energy levels is paramount to performance. "At times during runs I didn't feel like eating/taking on a gel etc but suffered further down the road as I had let energy levels drop too far. It's so important to keep hydrated and fuelled."
There is such a vast array of sports nutrition on offer between tablets, gels, powders, and bars, some of which you'll like the taste of and others you won't. At least if you like the taste, you'll enjoy it when you have it, even if you don't necessarily want it.
Practice Running With a Headtorch
A head torch with sufficient lumens and battery power will be a vital part of your training and race day kit. Depending on the length of the ultra you're running, you will likely spend some of it racing before the sun has risen or after it has set.
Treat Yourself (If You Can)
As an experienced ultra athlete, Ellen recommends using a GPS running watch: "Specialised watches with GPX files are fab for navigation, however, remember to always carry a route map, compass and a phone for long, lonely distances just to be safe".
Sports watches with navigation can really take the pressure off with regards to tricky navigation sections. They can also give you data that will help you improve your training and allow you to connect with community platforms where you can be motivated and inspired when looking for new routes, workouts or running buddies.
When planning your training and race day schedule, it is important to give your body and mind a chance to adapt and recover along the way. Ellen suggests taking a pragmatic approach to developing your training: "Anything is possible if you remain positive and focused. Don't get me wrong; there were a few times during the long hard miles that I questioned my ability. I know that I can run slowly for sure and I may never be at the top of the medal table but I can do it."
But, she says, perseverance and knowing why you're putting yourself through it is key to getting you to the finish line. "It is now my passion, and after a serious injury, I remain positive and determined to feel that amazing emotion when I have finished. I always try to take something new from each race which helps me to improve."
Looking for your first ultra-marathon? See Trail Events Co.'s race schedule!