Competing in ultra running events

Competing in ultra running events

Try visualisation when you are out on those training runs; make sure you've prepared for your food stops and think about what you'll do after the race. For more tips read the full article.


Many athletes plan for a forthcoming event by pretending, in their training runs, that they are going through the race, 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, I miss my feeds, my legs won't work? These are also aspects which should be considered in visualisation, so that you can be prepared for all eventualities, and are able to respond positively to negative vibes.

Food stops

It is essential to check beforehand exactly what food is on offer at aid stations round the course

Most events will 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 is essential to check beforehand exactly what is on offer. If they are supplying Gatorade and you prefer Isostar you must take your own supply. From my experience it seems that 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 in 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.

Take breaks

In comparison with shorter events it is 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 is not 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.

Think about winning!

Most runners will not 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 there are Olympians who win unexpectedly and are thrown into a cauldron which is totally unexpected. Again, simple visualisation will help, if you day dream about these things whilst running.

After the race

You could visualise winning the race! © Sarah Stirling
Winning a medalAlthough ultra distance runners seem to cope with the recovery phase more successfully than many marathon runners, in that they are 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 and why, maybe the questions you are asking yourself after draining both physical and emotional resources. For this reason it is well worth planning what happens after THE RUN. If THE RUN is all that you have in your mind and do not see beyond it you may fall into the trap. If you have planned your season properly you will not have this turmoil, because your plan will have included a recovery, a rebuild, and the next event as part of a progression.

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