Like most people, I signed up for my first ultra marathon not truly understanding what I was getting myself into. A few of my friends are runners but I had yet to make any friends in the trail running community so the tips and advice I got were mostly from road runners. I will tell you this now, running a road marathon and running a trail ultra marathon are two different things. I’ve learned a lot over my last few years of racing and have put together a list of the 5 things I wish someone had told me before running my first ultra marathon.
5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before My First Ultra Marathon
1. It’s Ok to Walk, Especial Uphill
When most people hear the words “ultra running” they picture someone running a 6 minute mile down a forest trail. The truth for most of is that is not going to happen, at least for for very long. Most runners run a very relaxed pace and many walk every few miles. And for most first timers it’s just best talk walk all of the uphills. I spend a lot of time working my uphill walking speed on the treadmill, working to a 4 mph pace as steep and as long as I can go. The result has been me passing people on long inclines with out expending too much effort. A pro tip is to eat while walking uphill.
2. Everything is “a Mile, Mile and a Half” Away
The answer to how far you’re away from the next aid station, major landmark or even the finish is always “a mile, mile and a half.” This will sound very familiar to any hikers out there. And while this may sound like a reasonable estimate of the distance, I’ve found that the direct conversion of “a mile, mile and half” is roughly 1-5 actual real world miles. Just don’t blame them for lying. The truth is that if you’re asking 4 miles out from the aid station it’s probably better if someone lies to you.
3. Ultra Running Aid Station Food is Really Good
Do you like the taste of carbs, bacon, bbq, quesadillas, soup, chips, cookies, and some of the best homemade trail goodness you have ever taken from a stranger? Well you just might be an ultra runner at heart. Ultra marathons are really just eating contest for crazy fit people. And Unlike road races where the aid station consist of water, gatorade, and a power bar, ultras are known for their incredible race directors, volunteers and the food and support they provide to runners. I’m talking hot food, treats ranging from donuts to shots of fireball (did I mention ultra runners are crazy), and every snack in between. Not to be outdone, the post race offerings also tend to be high quality beers and food.
4. Downhill Running Hurts More than Uphill
When a runner looks at the elevation profile of a race, the first thing they look at is the elevation gain (or vert). If you’re looking to run the entire race race or push your comfort zone with some serious elevation gain, this is always an important this to pay attention to. That said, what goes up must come down. This can lead to hard running on tired joints and stabilizing muscles. Watch your pace downhill early in races. Make sure training to strengthen those muscles or you will pay for it the next day.
5. The Ultra Running / Trail Running Community is Amazing!
The biggest difference between the road runners and trail runners is the community. Trail runners and ultra runners are not your average people. They enjoy time alone, the beauty of a good trail, pushing their comfort zone, and typically just the right kind of crazy. So when I person find their people, something special happens. This often happens with ultra running. A bunch of people get together to do something that tests their limits, eat good food, drink good beer, and celebrate life. What more could you ask for!
Running your first ultra marathon? Make sure to check out How to Finish Your First 50k