GB ultra runner Robbie was kind enough to write this for Chia Charge having just returned from some snowy race up North somewhere.
Running Ultras is a process of trial and error. The more mistakes you make, and take heed from, the better you become. Trust me, there have been plenty of errors in my career.
Here are three common mistakes that runners, including myself, make when we start out running ultras and Running at the same speed all of the time
To run an ultra you have to get millions of training miles under your belt, all done nice and slowly. Everyone tries this at some point, gets really tired and then gets slower and slower. There is only so much training your body can handle, gradually built up year on year, you have to figure that much out yourself.
It’s not the quantity that I focus on, but the quality of the training. A mistake by runners of all distances is running everything at the same pace, tempo runs have very little difference from your easy runs and the long runs are just that little too fast, knackering you out for the week ahead.
Each week there are tempo, hill and long runs in my training and you can see the difference from how much effort goes into each. Every session has a purpose and many are specific to the next race coming up. Think about why you are running each day, but remember “just for fun” is a good reason too.
An ultra is just an eating and drinking competition with a little running thrown in.
Eat, drink and be merry throughout the whole of your race and that is how you break Personal bests. Focusing on getting as fast as possible, whilst neglecting what you will eat on race day, will only end in tears. Painful, salty tears about halfway through your race when you run out of energy and start weaving around like a drunk. This looks funny to watch, but makes getting to the finish line very difficult.
Practice beforehand, in long runs, easy runs and races, what you will eat in your ultra marathon. Chomping on the startline or mile three may get some funny looks but you want to avoid eating into that glycogen store as much as possible. Keep it as a reserve for when you really need it and start eating early on.
Try anything you like, be it Pork Pies like Holly Rush, Jelly Meerkats like me, Chia Charge Bars or slices of pizza. Anything that provides a good amount of carbohydrates, that you can keep eating for hours on end, is a good idea. Make a list, starting with the most sensible, slow release energy foods and whittling everything down to what you can stomach when most things just come back up.
If you have a support crew then have a selection. At times in a race I would have fought Zeus himself just to have a Capri Sun or craved something more savoury. The length of the race and your effort level makes a difference too. When James Elson and I ran across Iceland 40 Chia Charge Protein bars disappeared into my gullet over the course of the week, but in a faster, shorter race my body wouldn’t be able to digest them in time.
New Kit is not for race day, unless it’s snowshoes.
“Those Salomon shoes only arrived five days before the race and they felt so great on the two easy runs within the taper, surely they will be amazing to wear for the UTMB…”
Six months down the line the same Salomon shoes, UTMB toe blood and all, ran the whole 200km across Arctic Sweden, but back in the French Alps they needed a few long runs to get them ready for a huge race on my feet. Mistakes aren’t just for those new to the sport.
Anything you get, be it fancy running pants, new headphones or sunglasses, need to be tested on a long run before you let them be part of your race kit. A head torch might have a strap that catches your abnormally shaped ears, certain socks may rub your achilles or that beautiful pair of running tights might have a seam that works on your balls like sandpaper. It may not be obvious but all of these things can happen and be avoided if you test kit beforehand.
Scientists have proved that inner thigh chafing in an ultra can be a painful as child birth and can really ruin your race so even the slightest irritation could become a game changer by mile 73. Even a new pack could cut into your shoulder and end your day. Take the time to test it.
The only exception is snow shoes. Snow shoes are so irritating that they should be worn as little as possible and then only donned for race day when totally necessary, such as in a snow shoe race or a 200km Ice Ultra.
There are plenty more mistakes to make but we don’t want to give away all the secrets and have you guys miss out on the pain and suffering of learning them yourself. Play your cards right, eat well and pace yourself and you could be running ultras and fucking them up for years to come, gradually improving with each mistake.
What is the worst that you’ve made yourself? Share the comments below so that you might help someone else avoid the same fate or take joy in the fact you’re not the only one out there who thought sleeping in a bush by the start the night before a race would be a good idea. That one might just be me.
To learn a bit more about Robbie, click here