Running your first ultramarathon can be quite a defining moment in your life. There’s every chance you’ll love it and be hooked onto the energy of trails forever. But it’s often easier to focus on negatives, like getting a DNF or an injury or getting lost! Despite months of training and pep talk, it’s okay, and often unavoidable, to catch a case of nerves days before the race … even the most proficient runners must have during the first few ultras. Drawing on some of their stories for motivation, we bring you the best advice for beginners, along with tips and experiences on braving your first ultra or even your first 10K, from some of the stars of the sport.
On the run
Be prepared for the route challenges in the late kilometres, as that is where enormous time gains and losses occur. Hold back a bit in the first hour, and have a strict, regular fuelling plan to ensure that you’re not running on empty later on – try for 200 calories per hour. (That’s the equivalent of a cup of rice.) Relax, enjoy the scenery and the company of the other runners!
Andrew Hagen – Lesotho Ultra Trail 2013 winner
Don’t overthink. At the end of the day, running a long ways in the hills is still an extremely basic activity. You know how to run. Do that. Stay in tune with your effort, eat and drink, and things will be fine.
Anton Krupicka – Two-Time Leadville 100 Winner
Do expect something to go wrong. No matter how perfect your training has gone, this is ultrarunning and a lot of crazy things can happen when you are running for hours on end. If you accept that something may go wrong ahead of time, you’ll be in the right frame of mind to tackle problems when they arise and to look for solutions, rather than wanting to throw in the towel.
Pam Smith – 2013 Western States 100 Champion
On fuelling up
Do be sure to get a decent amount of calories in your system on the morning of the race. Those who come from a shorter distance background might be used to not eating much of anything before an early morning race start, but when running ultras you are going to need every ounce of energy you can get into your system. If you need to start a little slower because your stomach is somewhat full this is certainly not a bad thing as nearly everyone goes out too fast in their first ultra.
Geoff Roes – 2010 Western States 100 Champion
Don’t rely solely on aid stations. Sometimes they run out of the ‘good’ food, fluids etc. Come prepared with your own items and use aid stations for back up. Store your food in a zip lock bag in your drop bag. If you have crew or not, I still recommend leaving drop bags with the items you know you will need. This way if something happens, then you have it there. Give crew extra food/items that you may need and utilize them if they are there and prepared.
Michele Yates – US 50K, 50-Mile and 100K Trail Champion
On staying inspired
I think the most important lesson that I learned transitioning to ultras is that there are so many people that will tell you that you can’t do something, but you can. You should always believe that you will finish the race, and that is goal that I always have. You are much tougher, stronger and more resilient than you think you are, and if you keep eating and drinking, you will finish.
Michael Wardian – US National 100 km championship winner 2008
Running efficiently demands good technique, and running efficiently for 100 miles demands great technique. But the wonderful paradox of running is that getting started requires no technique. None at all. If you want to become a runner, get onto a trail, into the woods, or on a sidewalk or street and run. Go 50 yards if that’s all you can handle. Tomorrow, you can go farther.
Scott Jurek – Hardrock Hundred (2007) winner, Appalachian Trail record holder