5 Things to Consider Before Running Your First Ultramarathon February 23 2016, 0 Comments

Thinking about your first ultramarathon?  It takes more than conditioning to survive these races, follow these five tips for a better first ultra. 


Thinking about your first ultramarathon?  It takes more than conditioning to survive these races, follow these five tips for a better first ultra.   Photo Source:  terencenoah.wordpress.com


An ultramarathon is any race over the traditional distance of a regular marathon.  If you are a marathoner looking for your next challenge, 50k races (31.1 miles) are popular right now and a good place to start.  However, even for experienced marathoners, running your first ultramarathon can be an emotional and physical challenge.  You wouldn’t want to do it if it was easy – right?  However, there are some things that you can do to make your first ultramarathon easier on your body and more enjoyable for your mind.  Consider these five tips before running your first ultra.


1. The Mind Matters


Like most things in life, the ultramarathon is mostly mental.  Discomfort and being in novel situations can leave you with doubt and fear.  These thoughts of self-doubt can be disastrous for an ultrarunner, but they are just thoughts.  Be mindful of disruptive thoughts as they arise and learn how to let them go.  Humor is a good place to start, don’t take yourself or your race too seriously.  Next, be compassionate with yourself, having doubt is a normal part of any race, everyone is experiencing the same self-talk.  Lastly, try adding meditation or yoga to your ultrarunning training plan; you will see benefits both in your running and your life.


2. Going the Distance


Selecting the right distance for your first ultramarathon is important.  Most experts suggest that after you are comfortable with marathon distances your first ultra should be the incremental jump to a 50k.  Long training runs should be similar in distance to those from your marathon training. You will have to adjust your pace and time for running on trails which can take longer.  You may want to consider a few back-to-back long runs every two to three weeks in the peak training weeks prior to the race.  These back-to-back runs will help your body and mind prepare for the additional miles experienced on the ultra.  There is a steep learning curve on your first ultramarathon so you want to make this transition as easy as possible.  Considerations like pacing, equipment, nutrition, and hydration become even more critical at longer distances and you will need a few races to figure out what works best for you.  You want to learn these lessons on your local 50k, not on a 100-mile grinder through some lonely desert.


Poor nutrition and dehydration can kill on an ultramarathon.  Make sure to take bite-sized energy with you that absorbs quickly into your system and constantly hydrate during the race.  Photo Source: timeoutdoors.com


4. Nutrition


Part of your training is figuring out your race nutrition plan.  Your body has a reserve of stored energy in the form of muscle and liver glycogen that can normally last for a 1.5-2 hour run without taking in new calories. This storage is adequate for a marathon, but won't work for an ultra.  You need an energy source that is compact, provides the right kind of calories and electrolytes, and is easy to digest so you can go the distance when your race is 4-7 hours long.  Another good feature for race nutrition is something that can dissolve easily in a dry mouth and absorb quickly into your system.  Everyone is a bit different so start figuring out what your stomach can handle early during your long runs and perfect your system with bite-sized energy. 


5. Terrain


The change in the terrain is often overlooked by new ultramarathon runners.  Be prepared for narrow trails, mud, tree branches, and endless sand.  Depending on your race, you could find yourself in semi-extreme conditions.  High altitude and tricky footing could be just a few of your concerns on an ultra.  This terrain will challenge not only your conditioning, but also your balance.  Think about adding core strengthening exercises to your routine to help with stability.  Also, plan to train on ground similar to what you will face during your race, this will not only help your race specific training, but will prepare you mentally for the potentially disorienting conditions.  


Ultramarathons will take you to rugged places and challenge more than just your endurance and speed.  Photo Source:  xtremesport4u.com