If you’re new to ultrarunning and have looked into planning for your first ultrarace, you’ll notice how overwhelming it can become pretty quickly. There is a lot of information out there (including on this blog) and sifting through it can become a full time job. Ultrarunners love to share their knowledge and expertise with others, especially those just getting into the sport.
Watching a new ultrarunner cross their first finish line is such a treat. The emotions that dance across their face and those of their loved ones waiting for them is truly inspirational. Out of my love for the newbies, here are my top five mistakes I see first time ultrarunners make.
Forgetting the Mental Training.
Running an ultra is not just a major physical effort. It’s a mental endurance event too, especially as you reach the 100 mile distance and beyond. In marathon running, runners talk about hitting the wall. Well, in an ultra there are lots of walls and they are usually followed by a dark pit of despair and then the pain cave. Leaving out the mental training can destroy your race. There are many runners who were physically fine to continue an event, but chose to drop because they had fallen a part mentally due to the exhaustion and concept of traveling 100 miles by foot all at one time.
You have to be ready to deal with your self defeating thoughts because they will come at some point during the race and they may visit more than once. Being prepared with positive affirmations, memories of when you overcame challenges before, and knowing that it’s a normal part of the ultra-experience makes a huge difference.
Ignoring Small Problems
When you’re running 50 or 100 miles (or more), things go wrong. Sometimes it’s one or two things, and some times it’s everything. They can be big things or they can be small things. The one thing you can’t do is ignore what you believe to be small because in 24-36 hours and over 100 miles, small becomes very very big.
If your shoelaces become a little loose, tighten them as soon as possible to prevent your foot from sliding back and forth or say hello to blisters. Tiny rock in your shoe-stop and get it out ASAP. Hot spot? yeah, take care of that right away. Some piece of clothing not quiet in the right place? fix it, lube it, or suffer in ten miles.
Fixing little problems as soon as possible is better than taking a long time or dropping from a race because you thought you could ignore it.
Finding the right balance for your body can be a challenge and you’re not always going to get it right. Being able to identify dehydration and an electrolyte imbalance in your body is something both you and your crew should be able to do quickly. Knowing how to bring yourself close to equilibrium is critical. You’ll have plenty of opportunities during your training to figure this out, so pay attention an keep a log of what you consumed and what the environmental conditions were like. Dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance can cause nausea, vomiting, head aches, confusion, and much more.
Going out too fast and not walking when you know you should be walking under the circumstances are both situations which can end your race. Standing at a starting line is exciting and your all nerves. You just want to let it rip and get ahead of all these people who are going so mind mindbogglingly slow. Stop and think, why are they going slower? oh because they have 100 miles of mountains to get through on their own two feet. Keep it chilly at the beginning of a race, you can pick things up later if you have extra fuel in the tank. If you see people speed by you, keep calm and remember it’s a long race and a lot can happen.
The other issue with pace is you have to adjust to your circumstances. A hill that is very run-able at mile 15 may not be run-able at mile 55. Another situation is a run-able section in 65 degrees Fahrenheit can become not run-able in 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Pay attention to other runners especially if you find out they’ve run the race many times before and have a similar finish goal as you. I don’t mean you should glue yourself to them. Just think about what they are doing and ask yourself if it’s something you should consider.
Giving Up Too Early
Dropping out of an ultrarace is nothing to be ashamed of and nearly all ultrarunners make that choice for a variety of reasons at some point in their running career. But for every good reason to drop out, there is a runner who gave up too soon. In preparing for an event, you need to come up with reasons for you to stop such as major injury, repeated vomiting for more than an hour, or vomiting and diarrhea. Right below that should be all the things you should try to fix the problem before you actually turn over race number.