How to prepare for ultra running events
Former British ultra distance team manager Dave Walsh shares his five key tips on how to prepare for ultra running events.
1. Visualise the race on every training run
Many athletes plan for a forthcoming event by pretending they're going through the race on their training runs, thinking about lots of good things, passing people, even winning. Which is fine. The process is known as visualisation.
It is important, however, in ultra distance running, to try to see the other side of the coin. How will I manage if my split times are down, if I miss my feeds, if my legs won't work? These are also aspects which should be considered in visualisation, so you can be prepared for all eventualities and are able to respond positively to negative vibes.
2. Plan your food stops
Most events offer some type of basic nutrition to competitors, but what is offered can vary enormously. Some will offer just water, electrolyte and energy drinks. Others give a selection of foods as well. It's essential to check beforehand exactly what's on offer. If they're supplying Gatorade and you prefer Isostar you must take your own supply. From my experience it seems each country will usually supply a locally manufactured sports drink.
These may well be fine, but unless you have a comprehensive understanding of the terms used on the labels you may be better using your own preferred, proven drink. You should also check to see if the organisers are able to transport your food and drinks to the required place on the course. If not you and your assistant must do it.
3. Take regular breaks
In comparison with shorter events, it's possible to take breaks in ultra distance races and still perform to standard. A short stop to take on food or drink is preferable to half choking if your technique isn't up to scratch. A quarter of an hour for a massage on cramping legs may enable you to continue at a better pace than if you soldier on.
4. Think about winning
Most runners won't have to consider another potential problem, but it does exist. What happens if I win? How will it affect me? How will I cope with interviews, photographs, autographs, invitations to other events etc. Fat chance, you may think, but even at the highest level there are Olympians who win unexpectedly and are thrown into a cauldron which is totally unexpected. Again, simple visualisation will help if you daydream about these things whilst running.
5. Take time to recover properly
Although ultra distance runners seem to cope with the recovery phase more successfully than many marathon runners, in that they're able to run another ultra just a few weeks after a hard one, the fact remains that you may suffer from emotional problems after a long race.
What next? Why? These may be the questions you're asking yourself after draining both physical and emotional resources. For this reason it's well worth planning what happens after the run. If the run is all you have in your mind and don't see beyond it you may fall into the trap. If you've planned your season properly you won't have this turmoil, because your plan will have included a recovery, a rebuild, and the next event as part of a progression.
Enter the Ultra Tour of Edinburgh
Now put these tips into practice by signing up to Rat Race's 55K multi-terrain run around Scotland's stunning capital city, with 3,000ft of ascent and descent along the way.