Tips for Racing Ultras

With TNF100 / 50 just around the corner, we thought it would be a good opportunity to wheel out an article we did previously around how to approach racing an ultra. Some of your will have read this before, but for those embarking on the big one in the Blue Mountains the weekend after this, it could provide some timely advice for your run… enjoy!

A little while ago we ran a little feature that looked at ten simple tips for training late last year. That resonated so well among many of you that we thought we’d look at some simple tips for racing too. After all, we do all this training because for the most part, we like to test ourselves in races against one another, but more so in ultras, against the clock and ourselves. You may already do these… you may not. But it’s good to remind ourselves of the important things when racing…

1.) Align your expectations with reality

The mind is a funny object. How many times have you been on the start line with big expectations for your race, only to have them dashed by what you think is a poor performance? Alternatively, you might be the flip side of this thinking whereby your performance goes far beyond even your wildest imagination!

Expectations vs. reality is essentially all about getting to the start line with the proper training in place. Contrary to where you fit on the scale, when you look back at the cold hard reality of your race, you know why it has or hasn’t gone according to plan and that’s down to training. I’ve entered races in the past where my expectations have wildly exceeded my ability at the time of running. I’ve subsequently failed miserably and in some cases DNF’ed races as a result.

Gun it!!!!
Gun it!!!!

This often comes with over familiarity, which in turn can breed complacency. ‘I’ve done this race before and ran this time, therefore I can easily do it again and better.‘ WRONG.

My advice? When you’re looking at how you may perform in a race and setting expectations, really analyse your training and ask yourself the question: ‘Am I going to perform to my expectations based on the training I’ve done?’ If the answer is ‘yes’, good on you. If it’s ‘no’, then realign your expectations so that you don’t end up disappointed. So many times I hear people after races saying that they could have done better – if so, train harder to meet your expectations, or readjusted your expectations.

2.) Don’t gun it!

The start of races are always filled with excitement and adrenaline – our male readers will be all too familiar with this concept. I’ve always said that women have a massive advantage over men in ultras… no testosterone!

Ultras are a long way. Smashing the first 10kms is the biggest mistake you can make. I have a rule… my last 10kms should take the same amount of time as the first 10kms. If you’re running a 100km race, ask yourself the question in the first 10kms, ‘Can I run this pace at 90kms?’ If the answer is ‘no’… slow down!

3.) Eat early and often

Nutrition is a painfully hard thing to get right in ultras. There are so many factors that affect it, pace and temperature being just two of those. It’s very easy to get caught in the trap of not eating early enough when racing because you feel great at the start, there is no need to start piling the food into your mouth you think. Small and often is the key I’ve found. Work out how many calories you think you’ll need per hour to sustain you through the race. Most people tend to need around 250-350 an hour dependent upon body mass. Again, you should have practiced in training so that your race doesn’t become a disaster.

What food will you be eating in your race?
What food will you be eating in your race?

4.) Run your own race

Running with someone else in an ultra can be nice. You get to chat, as well as experience the race with them too. But that can go one of two ways. You could end up running beyond your ability, or you could be doing yourself out of a good time. The latter of course might not matter to you, it’s when the former happens that the trouble starts. Just because you can hold the pace with the leaders for the first 10 or 20kms, doesn’t mean to say you can do it for the next 80 or 90kms. Stick to your own guns and pace.

5.) Be accountable

Unless there is some huge cock-up by someone or a race organiser, you’re the one responsible for your race. It’s no use blaming the signs on the trail for not being there if you were given maps beforehand. Similarly you’re the one that should know how to look after yourself in a race, particularly if it’s in hazardous or mountainous terrain. Don’t go blaming organisers for sending you up a precarious trail if it’s documented in the race notes and you haven’t prepared for it. If you don’t know how to look after yourself, don’t enter. The age of entitlement is over 🙂

6.) Run with a smile on your face

We all do this sport because we love it – if you’re not enjoying it then what’s the point? A simple smile can help to change attitudes and your overall sense of how your race is going in an instant.

Don't be a GPS jockey
Don’t be a GPS jockey

7.) Run to feel – not to your watch

Setting splits is a natural thing to do – we all do it I’m sure. But it can be all too easy to get caught up in running to the digits on your GPS, rather than what your body is telling you. I’ve made that mistake countless times, and in the main it’s made me run beyond my own ability. Similarly, if you’re feeling good, push on and don’t get too caught up in slowing down to hit a time. The greatest indicator of pace is what your body feeds back to you. Your gut instinct is nearly always right. Go with it and follow it. Don’t become a watch jockey.

8.) Respect

By this we mean respect the organisers, respect the trail, respect your crew (if you have one) and respect your competitors. Running a race is far easier than organising, putting it together or crewing it. A simple thank-you to people goes along way towards making every involved in an event feeling valued, a job well done and a sense of community.

Those are some of our favourite tips, do you have any?

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.

2 thoughts on “Tips for Racing Ultras

  1. Good article – for managing to not mention Stu Gibson. He sounds like a great great great guy but I’d hire a P.I. if I wanted more news on him.

  2. Good comments. You need to separate your calories, hydration and salt intake as calorie needs are always the same per unit time, while water and salt needs VARY according to the weather.

    I also like to wear a heart rate monitor, because it allows me to run under control the first 10 miles of a 100-mile race.

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