Everywhere you look there’s a new race popping up. More and more, those races aren’t the 5ks, 10ks, or marathons we expect. The ultra is gaining in popularity and accessibility. 30- or 50-mile treks are no longer reserved for race elites in obscure destinations. There's likely one on the calendar in your area, whether that’s San Francisco, CA, Oklahoma City, OK, or Lithia Springs, GA. Before you run out and sign up for a 75-mile race, we hope these pointers help you know what you need to know, pack, and eat for an ultra-marathon.
- It’s all (or mostly) mental: This doesn’t mean that any couch potato can cross the finish line of an ultra by irrational self-confidence alone. But, if you are a runner in good shape who’s trained for a race, don’t let the distance involved in these races dissuade you.
- It is not a 50-mile sprint – If you are going to cover 30, 50, or 100 miles in a race, you likely need to remember who fared better—the tortoise or the hare. Walk up a hill or two or seven. Maintain a slower than normal pace as you’ll be relying on that pace for longer than you’re accustomed to.
- Train for the goal – If you see an amazing 50-mile race coming up next month, don’t make that your first one. Give yourself a few months of training to make sure you’re as ready as you can be. Run some back-to-backs—two long runs on two consecutive days. Increase the distances of your daily runs. Cover more ground per week than you usually do. Remember your goal and adjust your regimen accordingly.
- The essential gear – Most races will have a required gear list, these are items you will need regardless of which race you choose: Vaseline or something else for chafing, spare socks, spare (broken-in) shoes, blister kit, rain poncho (watch the weather!), sunscreen, and baby wipes. You’ll also need to work out your hydration and fueling needs and pack accordingly. As with anything else, stick to the plan and pack some extra just in case.
- Fuel, fuel, fuel! – You’ll need all the fuel you can get, carefully planned and packed for convenience. Hydration stations serve up a carbohydrate-laden smorgasbord but you’ll need to have gels, energy bars, and plenty of electrolyte-loaded hydration to get you through the race. You will be burning calories and working muscles like never before so make sure you have plenty of replenishment.
- Prepare for pain – So the blister kit and BodyGlide/Vaseline will help keep some obvious ailments away. But if you run 30, 50, or 100 miles, you will hurt. Bring along pain relief meds, muscle-ache salve, and, if cramping is something you struggle with, HOTSHOT to keep muscle cramps at bay. You’ll also want to train in your full gear several times so you can adjust straps, shirts, etc., to make sure chafing and weight distribution aren’t issues.
Do some research and find a race that fits what you generally love about distance racing and sign up for something longer than your usual gig. Adjust your training, pay attention to your body, and prepare for a new adventure. Have you run an ultra before? What gear was absolutely a must? Any tips for first-time ultra racers? Leave us a comment or head over to share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. If you are one of those runners too often sidelined with muscle cramps, stop by and pick up your own supply of HOTSHOT and give cramp-free racing a try!
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