An Ultra Waste Of Time

When signing up for an ultra, most ultra-runners will take a moment to hunt down the time limit for the race.  It’s funny because you almost never see marathon runners worrying about how much time they have to complete their next race.  However, Ultra-runners take in as much information as they can gather.  They look for course elevation profiles, how far aid stations are spread apart, where can we have drop bags and/or crews, what does the terrain look like.   They even hunt down finishing times of previous years runners, compare the finishing times of runners they know to ascertain how long it should take them to complete the race themselves.  Yes, we’re an obsessive bunch it seems… until race day.

It is very easy to let time get lost on us during an ultra.  There are quite a few things ultra-runners do during races which I consider to be An Ultra Waste Of Time.  Doing too many of the these things can really add up over the course of an ultra.  These numbers are most noticeable during 50s and 100s when we’re out there for much longer than 50Ks, so we have more of an opportunity to do them during the longer races.  Let’s take a look at some of these time wasting activities which can contribute to a DNF or coming in well after your time goal.

Beware The Chair
Joshua Robert, a seasoned veteran of ultra-running has a saying that he shared with me years ago; “Beware the chair, they’re the Devil’s work.”  That’s no joke and no truer words have ever been spoken.  Sitting in a chair at an aid station can be to the detriment of your race, when you’ve done so to give yourself a rest and recharge the batteries.  Sitting in a chair and putting your feet up helps lactic acid pool up in your legs.  It signals your brain to think that it’s time to be lazy.  It takes time to get out of the chair once you’ve gotten comfy in it.  It takes time to get your legs moving again after they’ve stiffened up.  I like to couple this up with wasting time in an aid station.  The more efficiently you can get in and out of an aid station during the race, the more time you keep in the bank.  Spend time staring at aid station foods, talking to volunteers, family and friends – the minutes just tick on by.  You can blow 10-15 minutes in an aid station without even realizing it.  Do it during the 3 times you see your crew during a 50 Miler and you’ve lost 30-45 minutes.  Do it during the 6-8 times you see your crew during an ultra and you’ll see hours escape you.

Too Much Talk = Too Much Walk
It’s a moniker of ultra-running that we runners actually take time to get to know our brethren out there.  It’s one of the big reasons that many of us run ultras over marathons and 10Ks.  Our community is a friendly one.  By the time we finish the ultra, we’ve made a new friend for life and have learned most if not all of their life story.  But let’s think about how much time we waste by talking to folks out there.  Many of us will walk and talk during an ultra because we do so at a pace we’re entirely too comfortable with.  We hit a hill and end up talking the entire way to the top.  Once there, we should probably start running again, but we’re loving the conversation so much that we continue to walk.  Let’s face it, spending energy to have a thoughtful and intriguing conversation with a total stranger takes a lot of energy. And lost energy = lost time.

What’s My Pace??
This is another area where lost energy = lost time.  I tell folks all the time to “ditch the watch.”  I tell them that because over the course of an ultra, time really doesn’t matter.  You need to get from A to B before the cutoff.  It really can be that simple.  Or we can obsess.  I think to my first 100 miler.  I wore a watch and would work out the math in my head as to what my last split was and what my average pace is.  From there, I took those numbers and predicted my finishing time if things continued to go the way they were.  I did this after every aid station up until mile 40.  It was then that I realized just how much energy doing the math and worrying about what time I’d finish was taking on me.   Besides, ANYTHING can and will happen late in an ultra marathon, essentially negating every prediction you’ve made for the last 10 hours.  So I’ll say it again, ditch the watch and just run.  Concentrate on getting there rather than what time it’ll be when you do.

Peeing On The Run
Jerry Armstrong wrote a great piece on this right here at TAUR so I’m going to send you there for this one. HERE is a link.   Bottom Line:  You really don’t make up, or save, any time by peeing on the run.  In most cases, you’re just wasting time.

Documentary Film & Photo
Many of us run with small point and shoot cameras and within the last year or two, we’ve seen more and more handheld or chest mounted video cameras out there.  I’m guilty as charged.  This guilty charge comes with experience in knowing how much energy and time is wasted to snap photos during the race.  How much time is wasted to slow down and snap a non-shaky video on the course.  The time lost to interview oneself on camera.  It doesn’t stop there.   We bring our photos and video home and rob our families of even more of our time (the time you promised them once the race was over) to edit the photos and videos into a 6 minute music video.

I’ll Wait For You Buddy
It’s evident that while out on the course we run into someone we know, or we’ve made that new friend we’ve mentioned above.  As we enter an aid station, we yell out, “I’ll wait for you bud!” or “I’ll walk out of here and let you catch up.”   Yes, community is an important aspect of ultra-running; but what if by trying to be communal, you waste a bunch of time when you could be doing your thing and getting on your way?  When you walk out of the aid station, you’re wasting time if you can run.  When you wait for “bud,” you’re wasting time.  If bud catches up to you and isn’t ready to run or you suddenly find yourselves running different paces…you’re wasting time.

Nap Time
This is a given.  Every minute you spend curled up on the side of the trail in the fetal position…you’re wasting time.  Instead of taking a nap, do some training runs at night to try and figure out what works in keeping you awake.  Is it caffeine?  Is it 5-Hour Energy?  A nap is a waste of time.  However, I’ll fully admit that taking that 5 minute cat nap can re-energize your batteries enough to allow you to pick up the pace.  So then, is it a waste of time?  I guess this one is in the eye of the beholder but it’s worth a thought or two.  And ask yourself the question.. “will 15 minutes really give me more than what 5 minutes can?”

Don’t Get Wet!
Look, a majority of ultra’s have stream crossings or opportunities to get your feet wet.  I’ve seen countless runners (including myself) waste more than our share of time trying to tip toe around a muddy section or saturated field.  I’ve seen runners sit on the side of stream crossings and take their shoes and socks off before crossing…then taking time to put them back on on the other side.  This is not only a waste of energy but a waste of time.  We spend many minutes trying to avoid getting our feet wet when the fact of the matter is, that before the race is done, they’re getting wet anyway.  Yeah, “our heels are our wheels,” and we’ll go to great lengths to protect our feet from blisters, skin fold pain or other debilitating injuries due to dampness.  We as runners must try to understand the time we waste in keep our feet dry when getting them wet is inevitable. Get a move on!

Perhaps you agree with only some of this.  Perhaps you agree with none-of-it.  My goal here is to just get everyone to think about all the ways they add precious minutes to their finishing times in an ultra.  How do you waste time?   Where can you shave minutes off of your time by being more efficient?  Think about it…before it all adds up to An Ultra Waste of Time.

Author: Sherpa John

See more of John's writting at sherpajohn.blogspot.com

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2 Comments

  1. A super article SJ! I have told everyone on my crew much of this same information about my first 100. In fact, I will send them this link! I am treating it like a race, so there will be no wasted time. I am planning to put in an iPod to zone out and just work — I don’t want to get caught up socializing with friends and forgetting the task at hand. There are ultras that I run for fun and there are ones I plan to race.

    The one area that you and I often get tripped up is ditch the watch. But I think our points here are different. I am going to wear a Garmin the first half to make sure I slow down and keep within an intended pace range that is comfortable, not to project failure or success. Likewise, I plan to monitor HR and make sure I am not overdoing it early. My Garmin will not last the entire race and I fully expect to run by feel/effort for the remaining miles.

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    • That’s great about using the GPS and HRM to slow down. You can really screw up 100 miles in just the first 30 by feeling so good that you let yourself surge a bit. For me it’s the same but a different methodology. I have constantly check in with myself and see if I’m running the race right. Did I eat? Drink? Am I pushing too hard? It’s like baby sitting a cranky 6 year old who hates to do what he’s supposed to.

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