5 Considerations For Your First Ultra Marathon

5-considerations-for-your-first-ultra-featuredThe New Year is here. Gulp. This year you final­ly went for it and made ‘run an ultra marathon’ your big res­o­lu­tion. As if it wasn’t scary enough to put such a huge goal out there like that, now you actu­al­ly have to pick one, train for it, and…run it. Here are just a few impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tions you ought to make while select­ing which ultra to take on:

Ultras range wild­ly in how one gets to the start­ing line. Some are so easy going that all you have to do is show up and tell them your name, and they’ll give you a pat on the back and a paint­ed rock as a sou­venir when you fin­ish; oth­ers reach max­i­mum capac­i­ty every year, so a lot­tery is held to deter­mine who gets to run; oth­ers still have unique and exten­sive require­ments, such as vol­un­teer­ing at the race in a pre­vi­ous year, being a pac­er or fin­ish­er in a race of com­pa­ra­ble dis­tance, or rais­ing mon­ey for char­i­ty, among oth­er things. Make sure you qual­i­fy to apply before you set your heart on it. If you don’t meet the qual­i­fy­ing stan­dards this year, get start­ed on them pron­to so you can enter next year.

It’s vital to find out if the race offers sup­port, such as food and water stops and first aid sup­plies, or if you’ll need to car­ry your own. It’s not unusu­al for ultras to offer sig­nif­i­cant­ly few­er sup­port stops for run­ners than are typ­i­cal­ly found in marathons or short­er, more pop­u­lar, dis­tances. Run­ning with a back­pack full of race sup­plies requires practice—you need to become accus­tomed to the extra weight, ensure back­pack straps are cor­rect­ly adjust­ed for com­fort to avoid chaffing, and to fig­ure out what sup­plies are nec­es­sary ver­sus what are extra weight. When car­ry­ing some­thing 50 miles or more, every ounce makes a difference.

The num­ber of peo­ple who will race tells you a lot about what type of race it will be and how you’ll want to pre­pare. Is it so pop­u­lar that you need to enter a lot­tery for a chance to com­pete? If so, you’ll want to pick a ‘Plan B’ race as well. If it’s a small race, find out why; is it new? Is it hard­er than hell, so no one signs up for it? Is it a bor­ing view, so no one signs up for it? There’s a rea­son for every­thing — get to the bot­tom of it. If it’s a pop­u­lar race with thou­sands of run­ners, make sure that it match­es the envi­ron­ment you’re look­ing for. Unless you plan to be out there with the win­ners, where it’s usu­al­ly spread out a lit­tle, are you pre­pared and will­ing to run with packs of peo­ple, fight­ing for elbow room and wait­ing to pass some­one slow­er on a trail until the sin­gle track opens up?

Con­sid­er where the race takes place. If you live in Seat­tle and decide you’re going to go dom­i­nate the Leadville 100 in the Col­orado Rock­ies, you sure as hell bet­ter acknowl­edge the change in ele­va­tion. Train­ing for a high ele­va­tion race at sea lev­el isn’t the bright­est idea. You’ll want to con­sid­er get­ting in some alti­tude train­ing either by trav­el­ing to high­er ele­va­tions on the week­ends for your long runs, or trav­el­ing to the race a week or more before­hand to allow your body to cli­ma­tize. Alti­tude changes how your body reacts to every­thing, from how you digest your food, to hydra­tion needs, to the oxy­gen lev­els in your mus­cles; all fac­tors that can make or break your per­for­mance in an ultra.

What type of ter­rain does the race cov­er? Whether it’s for­est, desert, city, hilly, flat, or a com­bi­na­tion of things, you’ll want to get to know it as inti­mate­ly as pos­si­ble before­hand. Your train­ing should be on the clos­est thing you can find to the actu­al race ter­rain. Run­ning on pave­ment affects your body dif­fer­ent­ly than run­ning on rocky trails, and you’ll want the right mus­cles as preened as pos­si­ble come race day. Also, the more you train on race-like ter­rain and in expect­ed race day con­di­tions, the more like­ly you are to real­ize what you’ll tru­ly need, and what you can live with­out, dur­ing the race.

It’s total­ly nor­mal to have a mini pan­ic attack as you real­ize what you just com­mit­ted your­self to by sign­ing up for your first ultra. Take a few deep breaths, shake your arms and legs out, take a good long look at your­self in the mir­ror, and remem­ber that you’re a badass. That’s why you made this goal to begin with. You can do it.

By: Audra Run­dle