An ‘Ultra- marathon’ is any distance over the 26.2 miles of a standard marathon They are becoming more popular with the running community and you don’t need to be fast, just have the right attitude, to accomplish something amazing and you can be proud of. You will become stronger physically, but more so mentally. To be still going after 12+ hours of running, you have to be self-motivated, strong willed and really good at eating on the move.
At 23, I am young to be running these kind of distances, but in the past 4 years of ultra-marathon racing, I’ve learnt a lot. My top tips are:
- Learn to differentiate between injury pain, and ‘I’ve been running for a very long time’ pain. It took me my first race to get this- running 40 miles on a stress fractured femoral neck is not advisable. It hurts and is a long recovery! Whilst you will need to fight through the pain that will inevitably come with an ultra-marathon, make sure you have learnt the limits of your body.
- You don’t need to run anywhere near the distance of your race in preparation. Doing a 40+ mile run during training will take a lot out of you and will mean weeks of recovery and increase your risk of injury. I would advise back to back runs, so you have the same number of miles in your legs, but with some time in between. For example, I ran the 69 mile Wall Run, with my longest training run being 26 miles. I followed this with 16 miles the next morning. My body adapted to running on tired legs, and I didn’t need as long to recover if I had done a straight up 42 miles.
- Hill training is demanding and works your muscles in different ways to improve your strength and endurance. It also means you can run for a shorter period of time with just as much benefit. I spent hours running up and down the muddy town moor hills when I was at University in Newcastle. I took my rucksack with spikes in, changed shoes, ran up and down for 1-2 hours and was home again in time for lectures. I did this over winter and it made me the most prepared I’ve been for a race (35 miles Exmoor with 6000+ foot elevation in April).
- The usual ‘don’t change anything on race day’ advice. This is boring, but especially important for a long distance run. You’re going to need to get your nutrition spot on right from the start, so risking something new is not a good idea. Wear your usual kit, a different rucksack could rub or new socks might cause blisters.
- Don’t ignore strength and conditioning work. A small imbalance or weak area is going to cause problems when you rack up the miles. If you know you have a problem area, strengthen everything around it. Get your glutes firing up, make a strong core, and don’t neglect your upper body… your arms will be working for just as long as your legs will!
- Sleep well. When your weekly mileage is high, your body is going to need a lot of recovery. And sleep is essential. Aim for minimum 8 hours a night, and if your lifestyle allows it, nap during the day, particularly after long runs.
- Get used to the feeling of tired legs. Whilst over training is always a bad thing, for an ultra-marathon you need to practice what you will be doing during the race, and that is running fatigued. Make sure you allow your body to recover and adapt to the overload you place on it. Every week, take your heart rate first thing in the morning and also on a run. If it is elevated, keep an eye on it as you may be struggling to recover and need to back off for a week or so.
I could write an endless list of tips I have picked up on, and things that really work for me. But remember when people are offering advice that what works for them, may not work for you. Gather as much information and knowledge as you can, take the bits that work for you and ignore what doesn’t.
My first ultra was the Ladybower 50 http://ladybower50.vpweb.co.uk/ . It’s a small, friendly race in the peak district around the Derwent and Ladybower reservoirs. I’ve been every year since it started, running the 50, 35 or 20 mile race, or volunteering. Another favourite is the CTS Exmoor Ultra, organised by Endurance Life. http://www.endurancelife.com/
Ultra- marathon races have a great sense of camaraderie, so don’t be nervous on your first one!
I would also recommend taking a look at http://www.kinetic-revolution.com/ It has great videos and articles on strength and conditioning exercises, tips for running technique and injury advice.
Every ultra-runner should read ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall. If you need some motivation or inspiration, it’s got it all!