5 Ultra Marathon Ultimatums
by Patrick Reed
In reflecting upon this past weekend during which I partook in my first Ultra Marathon weekend, as it were, I have come to various conclusions about running ultras and taking in the ambience of this extreme culture. I thought it would be fun to catalogue a few of my observations in the form of ultimatums: “When running an ultramarathon, do this … or else!” So, let’s dive into such a list:
1. Go slow … or else!
Resolve to go out comfortable for the first 2/3rd’s of the race. In this way, you ensure negative splits and you greatly decrease your chances of a catastrophic bonk. And it will be catastrophic when it happens. In a 30, 50 or 100-mile race, to bonk midway is to invite misery the likes of which is unimaginable to even the marathoner. With each passing mile comes more resistance and bodily breakdown. Add to this the prospect of being unreachable by any who can offer you assistance — and bonking suddenly becomes unacceptable to any who would return again to big distance races. Go out really slowly and comfortably. In fact, enjoy the race during the early stages and set yourself up for a successful day.
Here are 2 tips to help you to be sure that you start within yourself:
- Set reasonable and informed time goals for the first 3/4’s of the race, and DO NOT go faster than those times.
- Resolve to ‘race’ only with 1/3 of the race distance to go. No competitive juices are allowed to boil over until more than half of the distance has been covered.
2. Have a food and drinking plan … or else!
In looking back on this past weekend’s 5ok race, I am a bit shocked at myself, that I had NO food and drink plan to speak of going into the race! My plan was to carry a couple of goo’s with me and to eat one every 7 miles. Foolish me, I threw away one of the two goo’s I had on the start line just before the gun went off because it felt like I was carrying too much. Crazily enough, I did not even have any water on the starting line — and I was actually thirsty just before the gun fired!! In short, I had no plan for my energy or hydration. This is to invite utter suffering. At some point in the race — mile 25 — I was out of energy goo’s and I was thirsty, and I was miles from an aid station. To express to you that life was complete misery at this moment is to undersell my reality at mile 26.
“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
Try these 2 suggestions in order to avoid such folly:
- Carry a handheld water bottle during your next ultra.
- Write out a sensible and informed energy plan for your next long distance race. I could get away with minimal planning back in my road marathoning days. I was only on my feet for 2 hours and 20 minutes. But, in the ultra races, you will be out there for many hours and cannot bank on resilience and grit. I tried it — and learned the hard way.
3. Be prepared for the unexpected… or else!
As I mentioned in my race recap of the Born To Run Ultra Marathons, I was struck by Luis Escobar’s warning that “It was not a question of if, but when things get weird” out on the ultra course. These races are not track meets, nor are they road marathons — with perfect footing and clean markings. Ultra’s happen out in barren nature. The trails are hugely long, difficult to mark, and ripe with variables. This past weekend, we were running with herds of bulls, coursing across scree slopes and constantly seeking the next flag to encourage us that we were still on course. Even still, multiple runners got off trail at times. It is part of the challenge and fun of Ultra running. Additionally, with the constantly changing surfaces comes the likelihood of falling. I stubbed my toe this past weekend, sure that I had cracked my big toenail on my right foot. I exclaimed some version of an expletive … and moved on. Nothing else to do in an Ultra than accept the unexpected turns and pitfalls and Godsends and roll with them. To do otherwise is to give up or to falter so that success is completely compromised.
4. Finish what you start… or else!
I have said it before, and I preach it again right now: Finish strong! It is how you finish that counts. It defines the race. It is your legacy! Finish well. You may utterly fail in your initial pacing, and you may bonk as badly as I did this past weekend. That happens, and it is your own foolish self to blame. BUT — no matter how you start, you can still finish. The caliber of the quality of your finish is completely up to you. Your destiny is in your own hands as long as you are on the course. To give up is to toss away your initial dream. To toss away your dream. Sounds pretty ugly, eh? Even if you have to walk and crawl — and slither — to the finish — or be pulled off because of a time line — walk, crawl and slither until they drag you off. In short, if you start a race, do everything in your power to finish that race. (I hope I don’t end up eating these words…:)
5. Keep moving forward … or else!
Related to Ultra-matum #4 is the principle of constant progress. No matter how bad it gets, remember that forward movement — at any speed — is getting you closer and closer to the finish line. Keep pushing. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. In this way, you will finish.
There you have it — 5 commands to help you persevere in your next ultra race. I gained a good bit of practical experience this past week as a result of a few mistakes, and I am happy to pass on my lessons learned.
Best of luck in your next effort!