First Ultra?

I love running and I want everyone else to love running, so I try to make this crazy ultrarunning thing easier for others to wrap their minds around and jump in. Here are my eight quick tips for runners who want to make the leap to ultrarunning:

  1. Physical Training.

Training must be a priority and it must be consistent. You don’t have to run a hundred miles a week to be an ultrarunner. Many ultrarunners run 60 miles a week and complete 100-milers. Your training does need to be race specific. If the race has mountains, you train mountains. If the race is flat, you train flat. If it’s going to be hot, run in the heat. If you’ll run through the night, train in the dark.  Weekly long runs, up to 20-30 miles, are a must. Back-to-Back runs should be done at least a few times throughout your training. Speed work is good to include, but not necessary. Be careful, speed increases your risk of injury.

  1. Mental training.

In ultrarunning, training your mind is as important as training your body. There will be dark times during the race where you question your ability to go on. Positive self-talk, mantras, and remembering how you’ve overcome other difficult times can get you through them. My favorite is, no matter how dark it gets, the sun always rises.

  1. Rest.

An injury is the last thing you want to have as you near your goal race. Taking a rest week every fourth week by cutting your miles back by 20%, will decrease your risk of injury and help build your endurance and strength. Listen to your body and take a rest day when needed. It’s better to take a break early in training than push through and have it get worse and force you to rest late in training.

  1. Strength training.

It’s more important to add strength training than to cross train or to stretch. Core and hip strength are critical to maintaining your running form and preventing injuries. Two to three days a week is enough. If you have time add in squats and deadlifts with low repetitions(4-5) and maximum weight 4-5 days a week.

  1. Nutrition plan.

Plan what you’re going to eat during your race. If you’re going to take stuff from the aid station, know what’s there. Train with what you plan to use in the race (this goes for gear/clothes too). Relying on gels and chews is not enough for most ultrarunners. Train with solid foods that are easy to digest, high in carbs, low in protein and low in fiber. Use caffeine strategically. Stop using caffeine a month before the race, so you can use it to stay alert during the night portions of the race.

Know your hydration needs. Drinking to thirst isn’t enough during an ultra and electrolytes are a must.There are a lot of sports drinks out there, find one that works for you or use salt capsules. Pack enough for the whole race in your drop bags and with your crew.

  1. Body Functioning issues.

Plan for dealing with blisters, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, nausea, cramps, aches, and general pain. We all hope we don’t have to deal with these issues, but if you’re caught unprepared they can ruin your race. I keep a blister kit with my crew and a small one in my hydration pack. I also have ginger chews, antacids, Imodium, and Icy Hot. I avoid any pain medication.

  1. Crew/pacers.

Chose happy supportive people who won’t let you back out of your goals, even if you’re crying and limping. Family and spouses are not always the best for this. Finding crew and pacers who have experience with ultrarunning is going to be very helpful to you. If you don’t have anyone with experience, you’re going to need to educate them as best you can. See my page on the Ultra crew.

  1. TAPER wisely.

Trust in your training.

Adjust your calorie intake to match your decreased training.

Perfect your race day strategy.

Embrace the “free” time.

Rest and recover.

Respect for the Game


There are a lot facets to the term, “respect for the game,” as applied to ultrarunning.

Respect the course in all ways. The obvious leave no trace. If you drop something, pick it up. If you see something someone else has dropped, pick it up. The not so obvious form of course respect is what Mother Nature can dish out during these events. Be prepared for the unexpected and train adequately for the terrain you will be crossing. Mother Nature has other children out there in the mountains too. Be aware of what you could come across, moose, mountain lion, bears and such. It’s a good idea to know what to do when you do see them.

Respect for all the other runners. I hate to see runners being rude to one another. We’re one tribe. Call out when you are approaching other’s from behind. If you hear someone call out, move over as much as you can. Watch out for one another out there, stop and offer help if you see another runner who is in need, stop and see if you can help. This is just one of the things that I love about trail runners. If you’re bent over on the side of the trail, the next runner will ask if you’re okay, and the next, and the next.

Respect for volunteers and race staff. Remember no one has to be out there for you. The race director and the staff are there because they love the sport. They love to see people succeed. They love to watch the strength and tenacity of the runners. It takes an inordinate amount of organization and time to put on an event that spans fifty to one hundred miles. Many volunteers are out there year after year. So, even when you are hurting and feel like you’re going to die, smile at volunteers and staff and say thank you with your whole heart.

Respect for your crew and pacers. These people are out there solely for you. They aren’t getting paid. They are just there because they care about you and want to see you achieve your goals. They are the people who make or break your run. The work they put into helping you is huge. They are out there all night and day. They deal with things you will never know about (because you have enough on your mind). They cater to your every need even when you’re smelly and have all sorts of bodily functioning issues. They brave the weather and the boredom of waiting for you.

Respect for yourself. You’ve put a lot of time and sweat into getting to race day. You’ve spent hours planning and organizing to make it the most successful race possible. Anything can happen out there. Even the elite runners have bad days and drop out of races. If something goes wrong, learn from it rather than beat yourself up over not meeting your own expectations. Finally, respect your body and give it the rest it needs to become stronger.