Running an ultramarathon is a race that is doable, more so than most people think. There are some challenges that come along with running ultra distances, but with the right training and preparation you can finish an ultra. Here are some tips on how to run an ultramarathon.
- Build up your mileage base gradually. Rushing this can lead to burn out and injury. Having a good base is very important.
- Register for races that you can use as training races. The marathon and 50K distances are good for training for a 50 miler and a 50 miler can be a good training race for a 100 miler. Half -Marathons or 10Ks can be great training races for a little speed training.
- Be flexible. Don’t get caught up with following a training plan. Weather and injuries can keep you from sticking to a training schedule and that’s okay. Work, relationships and other commitments are important to maintain and should remain a high priority.
- Focus your mind on finishing. You will need every ounce of mental toughness you can muster to finish. At times mental toughness and focus are just as important, if not more important, than physical toughness.
- Find a friend who has ultra running experience who can coach and mentor you.
- You need to know how to run on tired legs. To do this schedule back to back long runs. Your legs will be tired from the first day’s run and this will simulate a race-like situation that you may face during your actually race.
- Know the course you will be running. Will it have mountains, flat roads, technical trails, or water crossings? Knowing this before hand can help you know how to train and prepare you mentally for what the race will be like.
- Remember to taper leading up to the race.
- When race day comes remember to go slow. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and go fast. The name of the game is to maintain a manageable pace through out the whole race.
- Before race day think about clothing and gear. Will it be cold or hot? Will you be running in the dark? Some of these questions can help you know what clothing and gear you may need or do not need.
- Know your nutritional needs. Know what works for you and does not work for you.
These are my top eleven tips on how to run an ultramarathon. In future posts I plan on going into more detail on each of these points.
Running during the holidays is a little different than the rest of the year. The focus shifts from preparing and training for races to holiday parties and time with family and friends. Here are four tips to help you keep running during the busy holidays when it can be easy to not run.
- Sign up for a race: Look for a race that is in the month of January that can help you stay motivated to train. Without a race goal it can be really easy to get caught up in the business of the holidays and as a result running gets put on the back burner. Choose a race that is not too demanding so you can still dedicate some time to enjoying the holidays.
- Get a running partner: It’s likely that there is someone who wants to run during the holidays, but can not find the motivation. Invite that person to run with you. It will give you and that person motivation to run during the holidays. Who knows maybe a running friendship will result that will become long lasting.
- Enjoy the sights and plan ahead: For the holidays you maybe going out of town to visit family. Where ever you may be going plan ahead a route to run. Also include in your route planning sights to see that are unique to the location you are visiting. This will add motivation to get you out the door running and to learn something new about where you are visiting.
- Run in the mornings: There are a lot of evening parties/activities during the holidays that can get in the way of evening running. To get around this, simply run in the mornings. Running in the mornings may be hard especially if you live in a cold area during the holiday season. If you dislike cold weather running dress in layers and just get out the door. No one ever said they regretted going for a run once they have done it.
Last winter I drove up a near by canyon and before I got out of my car I checked the temperature….it read 6 degrees. It was cold! But I went running anyways on a snow covered trail.
Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean we need to stop running. In my opinion, if you prepare and dress properly cold weather running can be enjoyable. Here are a few tips.
Dress in layers. Doing this allows you to take off layers if you begin to get hot. A lot of times when I go running in the cold I usually over dress, but once I get going I warm up and as a result I take off layers.
Your base layer should not be a cotton base layer. Cotton, moister, and cold weather are not a good combination. You want a synthetic base layer that will wick moister away from your skin. The next layer should be your insulation layer. Something like a fleece. Your third layer or outer layer can be optional depending on the weather. If it is raining or snowing you will want to put on a waterproof layer that is breathable. What I mean by breathable is so moister from your sweat can pass through your outer layer, but the outside elements (rain and snow) can’t get in. It’s all about staying dry and warm. Being dry is important to staying warm.
For your legs wear tights. Your tights should not be cotton, but a synthetic material that wicks moister away from your skin. I like to wear synthetic shorts over my tights, but shorts are optional.
Same story with socks….don’t wear cotton. Wear a synthetic sock or wool socks specifically made for running.
Always wear a hat that will cover your ears. Someone asked me the other day what may be the reason for getting headaches after running in cold weather. I asked her if she was wearing a hat that covered her ears. She said, no. She began wearing a hat and her headache problem went away.
Also wearing a hat helps with keeping the rest of your body warm. Your head has a lot of blood. If you can keep that blood warm then that warm blood will circulate through the rest of your body which will help prevent you from getting cold.
Cold and numb hands can make a run miserable. To prevent cold hands wear gloves. Again, wear synthetic gloves. They don’t need to be heavy gloves, but a light pair can go a long ways in keeping your hands warm.
Remember synthetic clothes are a must. dress in layers. wear socks that are synthetic or wool. Always wear a hat. And gloves can make a run a lot more enjoyable in cold weather.
Struggling during an ultramarathon race is common and part of the challenge. To overcome those struggles toughness is required. So….where does toughness come from?
My feeling is that toughness is a combination of the mental and the physical. When I am in good physical shape for an ultramarathon, my body can respond to the physical challenge of running ultra distances. When this happens my mind or the mental part of me is more at ease and I am in a better place to handle the challenges than if I was not in good shape.
With that said, there have been times when I have toed the starting line of an ultramarathon knowing that I’m not in good shape. I have found when this is the case my body does not respond very well to the challenge and my mind or the mental part of me seems to go down hill.
So does the physical part of me determine my toughness? I think being in good shape physically certainly does help with the mental component of ulta running, but there are times even when in good shape, when physically I feel crumby. When this happens it becomes mental and it is mental toughness that gets me through the hard times.
How do we stay mentally tough when physically we are struggling. The physical may be a sour stomach, muscle cramping, or any kind of aches and pains. Perhaps the mental toughness comes with understanding that these physical struggles will pass. They may pass after a few miles or they may pass after crossing the finish line.
Getting better physically means drinking, taking salt, and eating. Doing this can be hard especially when your stomach goes sour.
So, where does toughness come from? Mental? Physical?
Is there more to running trails than just running trails? I think so. What I mean by that is if you are out running trails then you are out in nature. Maybe you are on a mountain trail or in the desert on a trail or maybe on a city trail. Whatever kind of trail you are running on there is a good chance you are surrounded by nature. Something I have started to do more of is enjoy nature on my trail runs. I do this by taking pictures of what I am seeing as I run up and down mountains. I also have found it enjoyable to take video of my runs and then edit that video into something that is hopefully enjoyable to watch.
I started out doing this by taking pictures with my iphone 4. Not the best option as far as quality pictures go, but it was good enough and the only option I had at the time. I found a couple of apps that I could use on my iPhone to edit my pictures…Google’s Snapseed app and of course Instagram. Snapseed works great for editing photos before posting them to Instragram. Instagram is a great way to share photos and Instagram has photo filters for minor photo editing. Instagram is primarily set to share and view photos on a smart phone, but there is a sharing function in the app that allows you to share to Facebook, Twitter or to email your photos to family and friends.
After using my iPhone 4 as my main camera for awhile I decided to buy a nice point and shoot camera that I could easily carry with me on trail runs. The end result of this purchase has been better quality pictures. I also bought a GoPro Hero 3 which has been a lot of fun to use. I can take video and pictures with my GoPro. Both video and pictures from the GoPro are great.
Trail running by itself is a lot of fun, but adding photography and videography to trail running adds another element to running trails. And it gives you a way to share with others the things you are seeing and experiencing. Below are some of the photos and a video I took on my run last Saturday.
I live in Utah and this time of year (the winter months) when I leave for work it’s dark and when I come home from work it’s dark. As far as running goes, that leaves me the option of putting on a head lamp and some glow in the dark clothing (so car can see me) to go for a run in the dark. But my preference is to not run in the dark, but to run in the day light. So I decided this week I would start running during my lunch break at work.
To make this idea work, I decide to make sure I ate a good breakfast in the morning, so I would have enough energy for my lunch time run. I also have made a better effort of drinking water during the day so I will be hydrated come lunch time. Then on my run during lunch I eat a small sandwich. In ultramarathon races you have to eat on the run. Eating a small sandwich while running is good practice. When I get home in the evenings I make sure to eat a little bit more for dinner to make up for only eating a sandwich during lunch.
So far this has worked out very well. I’m able to run during day light hours. I also work in downtown Salt Lake City and right close to downtown there is a canyon called City Creek. Within five minutes I can get up City Creak Canyon and I actually feel like I’m in nature and away from the city…it’s great!! I also feel rejuvenated physically and mentally and I am ready to get back to work after my run. I also feel more productive after my lunch time runs.
Also, my work has a small lockeroom with showers and so I’m able to change into my running clothes, take a shower after my run, and then quickly change back into my work clothes. All this takes me about an hour and fifteen minutes. I can get in about 2.5 to 3 miles in during that time period.
I think this will be my regular routine for lunch until I can go running in the evenings when the sun is still up.
I have not done this for a while, but in the past I used my heart rate monitor to track my fitness progress from week to week. I’m not a fitness trainer nor am I an expert trainer. But this test I use to track my fitness is a fun way to see progression.
When training for a race, it is often noticeable that you are getting in better shape. You and others may notice that you have lost weight, you may feel healthier, have more energy, and just feel happier in general. These are all good indicators that your fitness is improving, but another way to track fitness is through tracking your heart rate over the course of your training.
To do this you need to know your (1) target heart rate for exercise and then (2) do a weekly test run around a track, (3) while staying within your target heart rate for 60 minutes. This initial test will give you a baseline to compare future fitness tests to see your progression.
Stuff to keep in mind when doing your weekly test:
- Stay within your target heart rate.
- Running surface.
- Run for 60 minutes.
- Heart Rate Monitor (this is a must)
- Your normal running clothes and shoes
Why the focus on target heart rate?
When training you can under train or over train or in other words your heart rate may be too low for improved fitness (under training) or your heart rate may be too high which can lead to burnout and/or injury (over training). In between both of these there is an “ideal” that is most optimal to aid you in reaching your fitness goals. This “ideal” is your target heart rate. Everyone has a different target heart rate which is dependent on age. To learn what your target heart rate is you can use a target heart rate calculator.
Why run on a track?
To track your fitness progression over time the surface you run on for your weekly test needs to be the same or in other words it needs to be one of the constant variables from week to week. Running on different surfaces will skew your results from week to week. The surface also needs to be flat to eliminate the hill variable. The local high school track is a prefect place to do this.
Why run for 60 minutes?
There are two reasons for this. The first being that the time needs to be a constant variable each week when you do this test run. The second reason being that you need to run long enough to show a decline in your pace while making an effort to stay within your target heart rate
Why this is a good way to track your fitness progress?
The first time you do this test (baseline test), you will notice that as you stay in your target heart rate your pace will slow down as you get closer and closer to running for a full 60 minutes. Naturally your heart begins to get tired the longer you run and in order to stay in your target heart rate you will need to slow your pace. Slowing your pace is okay when doing this test.
Over weeks and months of training your heart will get stronger and the decline in your pace for each test will not be as steep. You will also notice that you will be able to cover more distance in 60 minutes while still staying within your target heart rate. Seeing this kind of data from your heart rate monitor confirms what you have been seeing and feeling which is weight loss (if that is your fitness goal), more energy, and generally feeling happier.
To do this you need:
- To know your target heart rate.
- To run on the same track each week.
- To run for a full 60 minutes.
- To stay within your target heart rate for the whole 60 minutes.
- A heart rate monitor (this is a must).
- Your normal running clothes and shoes.
As you do this test each week your pace will not decline as fast as you run in your target heart rate and you will be able to run farther in 60 minutes. This is great way to track fitness using a heart rate monitor and it is fun way to see your progress.
Note: You don’t have to do this test each week. A monthly test will work just fine as long as the variables are the same.