Training for your first ultra marathon is sometimes an arduous task. It can be very overwhelming at first when you truly start to consider everything you need to consider on your road to personal endurance greatness. Thousands of ultra runners have been there long before you ever even decided to run one of these things. And during our time as ultra virgins, we’ve all had to swallow the same piece of humble pie along the road in order to see the light a little clearer. My goal here with this post is designed to truly lay it all out there and to help you get into an appropriate mindset in training for your first ultra.
“Get Started” Training Tips
1.) You are NOT Jurek or Karnazes
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen runners join the sport of ultra running with the frame of mind that they are as good, if not better, then DK or Jurek. They arrive at the starting line of their first 100 miler, that sounded like a great idea, with the idea that they can run this thing relying on their marathon training or because they read it somewhere in a book. Look gang, I’m sure you’re a talented runner and you can really take it to the road in that local 10K or marathon you’ve run every year for the last 10 years; But Ultra Running is a completely different animal that not only deserves your respect but your willingness to be a student before you can be a master. You are not DK or Jurek; so simmer down and get your brain in the mindset that you are essentially starting over from scratch again. Because… you are.
No, not the band. This is the Keep It Simple, Stupid! frame of mind. Look, running isn’t rocket science. It’s as simple as Left – Right – Repeat. Think about that for a few seconds and then continue reading….. ……. ……. …… Left – Right – Repeat…. ….. ….. …… ….. Ok, now stop reading your running porn about what shoe’s work best for you (the ones that fit), what kind of food the pro’s are eating (it’s different for you, eat what you can digest), what your splits were this weekend on your 16 mile training run (IT DOESN’T MATTER) and just K.I.S.S. ! Left – Right – Repeat. You don’t need to worry about anything else until you start getting the hang of simply finding the finish line a few times.
3.) Research, Research, Research
Yeah, a tip that contradicts the last. Something tells me you’ll get over it. But then again, I’m not talking about shoes or splits or food. I’m talking about the race you’re going to run first. What is your goal race? Find out as much as you possibly can about that race. The number of aid stations and how far apart they are. Are you allowed a crew or not? Drop Bags? What does the course look like. Once you have all of this information, it’s up to you to put it into practice. I learned long ago, “if you don’t do it in the game, don’t do it in practice.” I turn it around and say, “If you plan on doing it during the race, you better be doing it during training.” Find out as much as you can about your target race and mimic everything about the race as you can in training. Essentially, your training becomes actual dry runs of race day. Start experimenting with different food types. Start running at different times of day or even through the night. What headlamp fits you best and lights up your life like you hoped it would? What kind of butt lube keeps those cheeks moving without the deadly friction force of a rasp file against your cheeks? Find that stuff out!
4.) Mimic Course Conditions
Find a way to train on terrain the most closely resembles the terrain of your target race. Set up make-shift aid stations in the woods to simulate aid stops. A friend of mine was training to run a marathon completely barefoot. He actually put roofing shingles inside his shoes to simulate the abrasiveness of the pavement. He then wore these shoes to work, around the house, and on select training runs. This was all part of his plan to train by simulating the conditions on race day. If you’re ultra is on a road, you better be training on a road. If it’s on the trails, you better do most of your training on trails that closely resembles the actual course. Even better… GO SEE THE COURSE and gather your own recon.
5.) Ditch the Watch
It used to be in ultra running that the individual who finished in first place, got the same finishers award as the person who finished dead last. So ditch the watch! The very last thing you’ll hear an ultra runner ask another ultra runner is “what was your time?” That’s what they do in marathon land and below. In ultra world we ask “did you finish?” very few people actually care what your finishing time was, so in essence, neither should you. Ditch the watch and just run for the sake of running. This is your first ultra. Worry about interval training and getting faster at various ultra distances later after you’ve popped your ultra cherry. (See: Tip #1)
6.) It’s Not All Running
I’ve seen it a few thousands times at this point. First time ultra runners show up to the starting line thinking that they’re really going to run all 50 miles.. and I do mean run all 50 miles. That’s just not realistic. For your first ultra, you should definitely make it your plan to walk all the ups, run the downs and run the flats where you can. You’ll enjoy your experience much more and learn a hell of a lot more as well. Training your body to power hike and walk fast is some of the most important training you can do as an ultra runner. See how I emphasized the above point? Ask me how I really feel about the importance of what I just said. I’ll tell you more if you need it. Hey, you’re not going to run the entire thing; that’s actually a bit naive. So stick with the plan, slow it down Mr. Hall, ditch the watch, and practice your walking. “Mall walking” is not allowed! I know of 20 people who can actually run an entire ultra without stopping.
7.) You Are An Experiment Of One…Experiment
When it comes to everything else.. and even what I’ve shared with you here.. remember one most important rule; You Are An Experiment of One. What works for me may not work for you. What works for 150 other ultra runners, may not work for you. It is up to you to ultimately find out what works for you. What shoes work for you. What hydration pack works for you. What shoes work for you. What food you can stomach and actually works with fueling you. What kind of race strategy works for you. What kind of crew members work for you. What kind of pacers work for you. What kind of race works for you. What kind of skin lubricant works for you to prevent chaff. What kind of cartoon works for you after you’ve finished and are drooling on yourself. Get the picture here? You can ask a thousand ultra runners what works for them and you’re likely to get a thousand different answers. It’s up to you to utilize your training time wisely to figure all of this out for yourself. Use your time wisely and don’t look for handouts from others. And keep in mind… what you find works for you this year, very well may not work for you next year.
Hey, what do I know? I’ve been in this sport for 7 years. I’ve run in 38 different ultra marathons from 50K to 100 Miles. I’ve even run clear across a state, 125-miles, without stopping. I’m not here to lay it all out for you on a silver platter so I can watch you lick the butter fat from the edges of the plate when you’re done with the biscuits. Hell, my opinion is also one of a few thousand. But I promise you.. something you just read here, will help you be a better ultra runner.. guaranteed.
To Read More From Sherpa John visit his website at www.SherpaJohn.com