Max King, world class runner offered 6 tips to finish your first ultramarathon. His insight on training, nutrition, back to back running, pre-race homework, running gear and making no promises is spot on and a great read.
I cannot add to Max’s insight on how to get the best performance at your first ultra, but I wanted to offer my thoughts on getting the most out of your first ultramarathon “experience.” I went into my first ultra, a 24 hour race with ZERO ultra-experience, no ultra-running friends, and no support system on race day. I was a lone wolf without the benefits of the pack. I left that first race with a new personal long distance record, 52.5 miles but more importantly I left with a ton of knowledge, some experience, new friends and a running mentor.
- Talk to other runners – Unless you ‘re gunning for a race win or some other milestone, an ultra is the perfect place to learn a few things and make new friends. The slower pace and longer distances provide the perfect backdrop to talk to other runners. It might be during a pitstop, or when you meet up with a group running the same pace. Whenever the opportunity comes up ask about their past experiences, favorite races, and lessons learned. Not only will this help the time and miles fly bye but it will also make you that much smarter, better prepared for your next ultra. I entered my first ultra a complete rookie. I was unprepared (knowledge wise) and knew very little on how I was going to get thru the day. I left much smarter…many of the lessons I learned came from the conversations I had during the race.
- Spend time with the Race Director – If time allows (after all the RD is pretty busy during the event) spend a few minutes thanking and chatting with the RD. Most RD are veteran runners who have a world of information to share. Many love to invest in new runners and enjoy seeing new people succeed in a sport they love. During my first 24 hour race, the RD ran a few laps during the middle to later stages of the race and I was fortunate to run a few miles with him. I gleaned a ton of information, gained a running mentor and made a good friend from this race.
- Stop and smell the roses, the sand, the trees, and the wind – Most ultras are run on trails, in city parks or some other type of natural setting. For many city runners this may be the first time in a long time that your exposed to nature. Take the time to stop and see the beauty of the natural setting around you. On one lap in the middle of the night, I noticed for the first time in years the sounds of frogs off in the distance, I saw fireflies dancing in the night and noticed how calm the world is after everyone goes to sleep. This race took be back to some simpler days…
- Help someone else when they may be struggling – Everyone has a low point during a really long race. No matter your talent level if you see someone struggling take the time to lift them up. A smile, a kind word or talk them thru a low point and the reward you achieve when they finish is better than any trophy. During one particular race I was hurting myself, when I came upon a young lady who was moving pretty slow. Ignoring the pain I was in I took the time to introduce myself, offered a few words of encouragement and told her as long as she was moving she was still in the game. A mile or so later we said goodbye and I moved on. Later in the night I saw her a few more times she was looking much better and even smiling. After the race out of nowhere she came up to me and told me because of my kind words she kept going. To me it wasn’t much, to her it helped her to keep moving.
- Be flexible – Going into my Ultras I normally have three goals, an A goal (best case time/mileage), B goal (fall back goal, normally slightly slower/shorter than my A Goal), and my C Goal…to simply finish. I would like to say I’m tough enough to always battle thru to make my A goal, but a marathon is a long way and many things can change. An ultra is a much longer race and a world of things can set the best laid plans, training and hopes astray. You can’t let a missed goal ruin the whole race. I went into my first ultra thinking I could run 100 miles in 24 hours, it looked easy on paper…and I had a plan. Well that plan fell apart early on and I had to adjust. In the end I was so very happy to have logged 52.5 miles in my first ever ultramarathon. I came home sore, and a winner. Without adjusting my goals, I may have been defeated and never toed an ultramarathon starting line again.
- Keep Smiling – No matter how bad your race is going, your still alive and running. Always remember there are millions of people who wish they could do what you’re doing at that moment in time. Instead they are trapped in hospital rooms, tied to medicine bottles, starting chemo, in battles with their own minds or worst saying goodbye to this world and farewell to their loved ones. No matter what smile when you run, because someone wishes they could.
The ultrarunning community has made me the runner I am today. Without the support and advice of other runners, without the help and friendship of my mentor George, without smelling the roses, without the victory of others, without new goals and without my smile…I would have been a beaten hulk of a runner. But today I’m an UltraRunner and a better human being.