7 Tips for Running Your First Ultra

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.

  1. 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”.

  1. 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.

  1. Prepare

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Josh Myers-Dean finishing Bigfoot 100K  PC: Howie Stern


Top 7 Trail Races In Washington

This was going to be a top 5 list, but because our friends over at Seven Hills Run Shop are so awesome, we’ve changed it to a top 7 list. The following events are what we would consider the top 7 trail races in Washington State (currently). I’ve run 3 of them, while the others are included because of their deep fields, beautiful scenery and great reputations in the community.

1. First on our list we have Orcas Island 50K. This was the first organized race I ran and I will do my best to be on that island every year until I die regardless of if I’m racing, volunteering or just hanging out with friends. It’s the most “PNW” race I’ve ever experienced: winding your way from sea to the summit of Mt. Constitution through old growth forest on squishy single track, surrounded by bright green moss and near untouched flora with a staggering elevation gain of 8,500 feet – it’s just as breathtaking as it is challenging. It’s so popular that Rainshadow Running has to do a lottery now, but if you’re going to run an Ultra, this should be your first choice. There’s also a 25K the weekend prior for you short distance aficionados. This race feels like home.

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

2. Second we have the White River 50 Miler. This was once one of the most competitive 50 Milers in the country and is still the most competitive in Washington State; offering prize money to the top 3 finishers. The entire race features views of the ominous Mount Rainier as you make your way through dense forest, over ridge lines and up and down the perfect mix of technical terrain and buttery smooth singletrack. The 50 Mile course features 8,700 feet of climb and descent and will leave you sore for days (or even weeks) following the race.

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

3. The Guerilla Running Hillbilly Half Marathon in Capitol Forest is a local favorite and has been part of the La Sportiva Mountain Cup in the past. The start is located off of highway 101 just outside of Olympia. The RDs, who happen to be good friends of mine, call it “One of the most challenging half marathons in the State of Washington.” The weather is usually nasty, there are deep puddles, lots of mud and the forest is dense. It’s almost always guaranteed to be a mud bath, just watch out for stray bullets – the reason my workouts are always so fast out there.


4. Chuckanut 50K is arguably one of the most competitive 50K’s in the country and always has a stacked field and sizable prize purse (for trail running, anyways). Going on it’s 25th running, it’s also got rich history. I’ve never run this race personally, but almost all of my friends have and say it’s a fantastic course and we sure do love those Fairhaven Runners! With 20k of the distance on Bellinghams’s  flat interurban trail and 5,000 feet of climb and descent on trail in the middle, this course will test your skills in every kind of running possible.

Photo Courtesy of Elisa Laverty

5. Chuckanut Mountain Marathon Championships – For those of you wanting some of the same trails in the same area as the the Chuckanut 50K, this race is a little more low key, but just as beautiful and brutal. With 4,500 feet of climbing, it’s not your average marathon. It’s the championship race for the the Bellingham Trail Series and is run pretty much solely on single track through beautiful PNW forest on Chuckanut Mountain. Rock Trail is steep as all hell and Ridge Trail is super techy, while most of the rest of the course is buttery smooth. There is also a free kids race for those of you who love to involve the family in these events. 


6. Cutthroat Classic. I’ll be honest, I had never heard of this race until I asked about top races on Twitter, but Maxwell Ferguson said “A list of best trail races has to include Cutthroat. It is literally: a classic.” So here it is. It is an 11 mile run in the North Cascades starting at at Rainy Pass and climbing over Cutthroat Pass to Cutthroat lake with over 2,000 feet of gain. From what I’ve heard, it’s gnarly and beautiful and it sells out every year.

Photo courtesy of Justin Huff by Patricia Leigh

7. Finally we have the big guns: The Cascade Crest 100. I have yet to run a 100 miler, but all my friends tell me this is the place to start. This clockwise loop course, starting in Easton, WA was founded in 1999 and is one of the most well known 100 Milers in the country. It gains 22,250 feet over 100 miles and passes through both Wenatchee and Snoqualmie-Baker National Forests including 30 miles on the PCT.  It’s a hell of a course, just check out the runners manual! You must have completed a qualifying 50 Mile or any 100 Miler and you must do 8 hours of trail work to run. With classic PNW views, big climbs and the real possibility of hallucinations due to exhaustion and sleep deprivation, I’ve been told it’s a must do.

Photo courtesy of Sean Olson by Glenn Tachiyama

So there you have it! I suggest you get out and experience some of the wonderful landscape, beautiful scenery, challenging courses and vibrant trail running community we are so fortunate to have here in Washington State.

And remember, we can help get you to any one of these start lines fit and healthy. Just drop us a line if you have any questions.