The Ultra Runner’s Guide to Schoolboy Mistakes

I think one of the best things about our sport is the amount of mistakes you need to make before you kind of learn what works best for you. I love the concept of continually learning and in some respects, it’s all part of the process and part of the excitement of getting to where you want to be as an ultra runner and to start kicking some of your goals.

So with that in mind, I thought I’d cast my mind back to some of the schoolboy mistakes I used to make and indeed have heard of through the grapevines of single track trails. Some of these you might relate to a reminisce upon based on your own experience, others you might be doing right now or you might think, ‘what the hell was that idiot doing?’ I know I look at a lot of this with the latter in mind. I had no idea when I first started in this game.

These things are good and have lots of pockets, it doesn't mean you need to fill them up!
These things are good and have lots of pockets, it doesn’t mean you need to fill them up!

#1 All the gear and no idea – Do you really need that?

It’s true, when you first venture into ultra running you head off and buy all the gear, because well, buying gear is cool. But it’s not just about the trainers and the pack. No, there are countless other items that go on the trusty credit card as you start to imagine yourself as a real life Bear Grylls, running by day and camping by night.

Before you know it, you’ve signed up to a TNF100 training camp and your backpack weighs in at 9kgs (which we know is not far off the starting weight, given the ‘compulsory idiots gear list’), but still that’s a lot of swag to be hauling ass with up Kedumba Pass. Do yourself a favour. Lay your gear out on the table, grab yourself a mirror and ask, “Do I really need firelighters for that trail run when the nearest train line is 2kms away?” Then give yourself a slap around the face and remind yourself that you have a brain.

#2 Cut down on your pork life mate

If you’re from the UK and the 90s were your musical era, then you’ll know what that title is about. If you’re not, then click here (cut to 1min 1 sec). Anyhow, what I’m saying here is similar to the point above. The more ass you’re hauling, the slower you’ll be. I started out running as a former 110keg former blind side flanker in rugby union. I wasn’t fat, just big-boned as Cartman used to say 🙂

BUT I was very blase about the whole weight thing, thinking my rugby ‘power’ would see me striding up hills. Heck I even used to eat sausage rolls on long runs (now that really gives meaning to pork life!).

This guy had some pork for breakfast
This guy had some pork for breakfast

But after a few years of struggling to master the hills of the Blue mountains, I decided I’d better shift some lard – I could still do with shifting a bit now to be honest. But my word, it’s a lot easier to climb those hills now… so if you’re new to running and you’re carrying a few rubber rings and you want to run well, get a bit stricter with your diet. There’s a reason why 55-60keg whippets win races.

Before anyone asks, I’m not telling people to go out and lose weight – that’s a very personal thing and people have different motivations, but if you do want to shift some poundage, do it for the right reasons and don’t do it to extremes… it’s not heathy.

#3 Use a rocket launcher at night

I don’t mean a physical one, merely a headtorch that looks as though it could set a rocket off. Once again, I thought running at night would be a relatively easy thing to do, which required just a little light. I remember my very first 100kms and taking with me a nice 28 lumens pocket headlamp. “I’ll be fine with that I thought”… How wrong I was… in fact it was so bad, I had to wait for another runner to catch me up and run with them – that’s how I met Kevin ‘Brick’ Heaton for the first time.

Just for added warmth
Find a headlamp that can do this

The point here is, don’t mess about with all these fantastically light pieces of head gear. Go for the all out 400 lumen rocket launcher type head lamp. The more you can see, the quicker you’ll run at night – trust me. The difference of another 50grams on your head isn’t all that much and if it is, well do some neck strengthening exercises!

Since when did hydration become a strategy?
Since when did hydration become a strategy?

#4 Water, water everywhere

This is not intended to be a joke about incontinence. More so, this is about getting your fluid intake right, along with not carrying too much either. I still remember the very first trail run I went on here in Australia back in 2008. I carried 6 litres with me for a 30km run… six freaking litres, and you know the stupid thing? I actually drank the lot! Six litres is six kilos… which is minutes of added time per few kilometres of running. I thought I was headed into the wilderness that day and would need my bush survival instincts ready, incase the purple headed monster struck and I was forced to spend a night out in the bush.

Whereas the reality is that I just needed to apply a little commonsense to my running that day and not look like a fat kid with a water retention problem.

#5 Forget-me-not: Back to basics

Hands up if you’ve turned up to a training run or race with missing some item of gear. Believe it or not, I’ve turned up to a race with no trainers and had to borrow at the last-minute. My feet were a wreck some the end of the race. I guess what we’re saying here is, you use running to get away from it all, to turn off and switch out. You don’t need mountains of gear to do that, so much so that you bring the entire kitchen sink with you to a race, but forget the bare essentials.

At the very least, all you need is a pair of running shorts/skirt and some trainers. Some would argue you don’t even need the latter. Running, like life should be simple – the more shit you add to it, the more complicated it becomes. I hate excess (apart from around my midriff!) and clutter. Keep it simple and you’ll keep yourself happy.

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Dan on Twitter
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

4 thoughts on “The Ultra Runner’s Guide to Schoolboy Mistakes

  1. Parklife! (Didn’t even need to click the link) Really enjoyed this article, thanks. Could not be more relevant to where I’m at right now, ie. the mistake heavy phase of my Ultra journey (only two Ultras in as many years of running) I’ve always done around 75% of my running with a pack of some kind and am also trying to lose some bodyweight!

  2. Yes but ditching the firelighters in TNF100 can mean a time penalty if they are required at gear check! There would be a fair bit of face slapping if you copped a 30min penalty for not having them.

    1. Indeed it would Simone… but I didn’t say ditch them for TNF 🙂 I was talking about a training camp… Plus I’m sure most people took this in the humour it was intended 🙂

  3. Have done the headlamp one. Bit scary barreling down hills with a crappy camp headlamp, just hoping your foot lands on something solid (and in place)…. 400 lumens go for it!

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