So you’ve run 26.2 miles and you’re all like “OMG, marathoning is SO 1976. I want to go BIGGER!” Now you’re stuffing your face with a leftover turkey sandwich, listening to Ultrarunner Podcast, reading Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning and trying to figure out what to do with your life. Lucky you! Today we are going to cover 7 tips for running your first Ultra.
- Choose an “Easy” Ultra
I know what you’re thinking: “You’re out of your mind if you think anything beyond 26.2 sounds easy!” But take it from me, there are easy ultramarathons and there are hard ultramarathons. A prime local example would be Defiance 50K v.s. Orcas island 50K. The trails themselves may look similar, but Orcas Island 50K features a staggering elevation change of 17,000 feet while Defiance 50K features 6,000 feet of change. This can mean a difference of one to two or even three hours on your feet, depending on skill level. For your first rodeo, I suggest you go “flat”.
- Start Small
If you can curb your enthusiasm, try not to jump from 26.2 to 100 miles. You’ve got a lifetime of running ahead of you if you do things right and you don’t want to end up side lined. If it’s something you’re interested in, start with a 50K and work your way up slowly. There is no sense risking a DNF by choosing a mountainous 100 Miler as your first Ultra. Ultrarunning takes an immense amount of endurance, focus and mental tenacity, not to mention the time and patience it takes to properly train for one. Those demands will only increase as the distance goes up.
Apart from increasing your training volume and altering your tactics, you need to be in constant practice with your gear; what we call a dress rehearsal. The smallest problem, like the wrong socks, can become a HUGE issue when you’re out on your feet all day in questionable weather. What shoes will you wear? What socks ? Shorts or tights? Glide or Squirrel’s Nut Butter? Do you need a jacket? Gloves? A headlamp? A hydration pack ? Gels? Solid Food? The list goes on, but you need to make a check list and regularly run in the gear you will use come race day to make sure you are as comfortable and prepared as possible.
- Don’t Race
Unless you’re Sage Canaday or Jim Walmsley, it’s best not to “race” your first ultra. Even with the 50K being simply a poorly measured marathon with hills, it presents many challenges that you won’t experience in the standard road marathon: mud, rocks, roots, stream crossings, mountainous climbs and adverse weather conditions, just to name a few. When you toe the line at your first Ultra, go out with one goal in mind: to finish.
- Don’t Give Up
Unlike the standard marathon, you will hit many walls, even in the 50K distance. Depending on the Ultra you choose, you will be out on your feet somewhere between 4 and 30 hours (30 hours if you’re ignoring tip #2). You will feel depleted, energized and then depleted again, many times over. It’s important to remember something my mom would always tell me growing up: “This too shall pass”. Like most things, it won’t be gone forever, but as you move through it you will feel new again, your legs will come back, and you will feel an inexplicable sense of strength. It’s impossible to describe this feeling, but be careful, the low may be back again before you finish.
- Have Fun
Remember: This isn’t a race! The Ultrarunning community is unlike any other. Are we impressed with CRs and FKTs? Yes! Do we really give a shit who finishes in 1st or 400th place ? No! We will pick you up if you fall down and we will sacrifice our own race time to help you finish if that means walking you in. We are all out on the trails to experience wild and scenic areas together; to connect with the land as well as with each other. When things get tough just smile, strike up a conversation with your new friend, and keep moving forward.
- Be proud
After the 900th person says “50 miles? I don’t even like to drive that far!” You might feel slightly annoyed, but hey! 50 miles is a long drive! And you just ran it. Revel in your accomplishment! You’ve just done something very few people on this planet will do. That’s something to be proud of.