In a few days' time, I'll be running my fourth ultramarathon. Yes, fourth! Back then, the idea of running ultramarathons was just a small inkling voice in the back of my head- a what-if. Just a plain, crazy idea. Until I actually signed up for my first one. It was overwhelming at first because I was bordering between excited and nervous. I know how to train for regular running events but I did not have the slightest idea on how to prepare for an ultra. Being someone who loves to learn through other people's experiences apart from her own, I sought for advice from people who've done it. I also read a LOT of articles about ultramarathons. And it helped. So for those who are looking to run their first ultra, here are some tips that I've read and that I swear by.
First, don’t train for a 3K steeplechase when you have to run 50K. Obvious, right? Yes and no. What I mean is that if you’re trying to do your first ultra, don’t just go do it. Put that goal as the focus of your training for 5-6 months and make sure you’ve worked out all the kinks—nutrition, gear, long runs, hill climbing, etc.
Nutrition, Nutrition, Nutrition
If your training is just about anything but off the couch, you’ll be able to finish an ultra. What will keep you from getting through one, however, is your nutrition and/or lack of a good nutrition plan. Your long runs and workouts are the perfect opportunity to try out different foods, gels, and electrolytes to see what works and what doesn’t. Before your race, have a solid plan outlined and follow it during the race.
A key element to a good ultra training plan is a back-to-back long run about every 2 weeks leading up to a race. I like to break it down into two specific days. The first day is a slower paced run with a lot of elevation gain. Getting some good hills in at a comfortable pace. The second day is an up-tempo run on the road or smooth non-technical trail of about the same distance done in about half the time. This works on leg turnover and efficiency when your legs are already tired. At some point in an ultra, feeling comfortable running the flats at a faster pace will come in handy.
Do Your Homework
Know the course and train accordingly. Do your due diligence and study course maps, profiles, and look at race photos. Pick out certain elements of the course that you feel may be particularly difficult and practice those in your training. It may be becoming more comfortable on technical downhills, more efficient at hiking steeps, or heat acclimating.
Your gear becomes a crucial element to your success the longer you go. Make sure you train with the gear you’ll be racing with and make sure it works. Never underestimate the performance-enhancing benefits of just being comfortable. Nothing destroys a good mental attitude faster than some chub rub. You’ll also be carrying calories, electrolytes and water. Making those items easily accessible with a pack system you’re comfortable with may be the difference between finishing and missing a course cutoff.
Don’t assume that even with a solid training, a race plan, and a good nutrition plan that you’ll automatically have a great race the first time. Some people do, but more often than not, they don’t. Use it as a teaching moment and learn from it. Come back stronger and more experienced and try it again.
So to those who will be running their first this weekend at the Tagaytay to Maragondon 50k Ultra, good luck, run safe, and enjoy the race. See you there!