The 7 Golden Rules of Ultras – Smash your Next Race

The 7 Golden Rules of Ultras – Smash your Next Race

A lot goes into running ultra running – way more than just turning up and running! You can get away with winging it for a 5k. If you want to run a succesful ultra though you’re looking at a whole other level of planning. Follow these 7 golden rules and you’ll be well prepared to have a great race and run happy!

1: Eat & Drink

Eat regularly and drink to the conditions. Nothing will shut a race down faster than a bonk due to running out of fuel. This should be a tried and tested strategy with nothing new on race day unless you are totally confident. By race day you should know what you like to eat and what works for you. You should have practiced fuelling on your training runs to train your gut for the constant intake of calories during the race.

Plan to drink more if it’s hot but don’t forget to drink if it’s cold. Know where water sources and aid stations are and don’t head out into long waterless sections without filling up first. A water filter or purification tabs are an excellent addition if your race has long stretches between aid stations. It’s not worth the risk of drinking untreated water from rivers and streams, even high in the mountains.

Eating and drinking are your bodies basic needs – deal with these and everything else can fall into place.

2: Stick to the Plan

Have a plan and stick to it – too many races are ruined by getting giddy and smashing it straight out of the blocks. Before the race you should have a plan of what pace you will be running at, maybe making a timing chart for the checkpoints to ensure you aren’t going to hard early on. Some people like to pace themselves by tracking their heart rate, and this is fine too.

You should know where your strengths are and where you can push on. You should also know your weaknesses and therefore where you’re going to ease back and be happy losing a bit of time.

Without a plan, it’ll all just be guesswork, and even with a plan, if you don’t stick to it, then you’re just winging it.

3: Know the Course

By race day you should know the course inside out. Recceing the route is the best preparation you can do. To actually get out there on the ground and see the route first hand will ensure you know exactly what’s coming up on race day. If it’s not possible to recce then at least make sure you study the map and get as much information as you can. The elevation profile, terrain type, distance between aid stations/checkpoints – these are all crucial information that will help.

4: Fix Issues Immediately

If you’re racing for an hour then it’s fine to sacrifice the soles of your feet for a faster time. Ultras last a loooong time though. Don’t let that hotspot become a blister, or that bit of a chafe turn into a searing pain that shuts your running down. Take the time to fix things earlier rather than later. It’s one thing to deal with an issue for a short time on a quick race, but over the hours and hours that go by on an ultra those small issues can quickly turn into race-ruining problems.

5: Read the Briefing

Ultra races will generally send out a pre-race briefing before the event. It’s your responsibility to know the rules, kitlist, start time, cutoffs, etc. Failure to do this will result in, at best, added stress on race day. At worst you could be refused entry or face disqualification. 

Don’t just rely on previous experience as all races are different, require different kit and have different rules. You want everything to go as smoothly as possible on race day so don’t let a silly avoidable mistake ruin your day.

6: Expect Adversity

Ultras are harrrddd! It’s rare for one to pass without at least one dark patch or a random issue to crop up and threaten to ruin your race. Go over all eventualities to be as prepared as possible. Expect the unexpected, and anticipate those times where you just want to curl up into a ball and cry. 

Being prepared for the inevitable lows that come with ultra racing will make a massive difference in how you cope with them. Knowing the lows are coming, and that they will (usually) pass is a great comfort when they do hit you. Expect to be questioning your life choices when you’re 50 miles in and wondering why the hell you’re doing this. Get your answers prepared beforehand. That way you can tell your mind to be quiet and get on with enjoying your race!

7: Enjoy It!

Above all, remember how lucky we are as ultra runners. The ability to get out there and race crazy distances in amazing areas is an absolute gift. Going into the race with a smile on your face, appreciating what you’re doing and soaking it all in is the best way I know of making a successful race that you’ll look back on with wonder. 

We obviously can’t enjoy every second of every race. However it’s crucial to learn to find the joy in the absurdity of this amazing (but also quite crazy) sport. If you’re not smiling then you’re most likely crying! It’s well known that a positive, happy outlook reduces perception of pain and effort. The more you smile, the faster you go!

Do you agree?

What do you think of these rules? There’s no way I could cover absolutely everything that goes into an ultra in just one post. Ask yourself what you’d add to this list, and what you think are the most important of these rules. Leave your comments below, or click here to contact me using the form below if you want help planning towards your next big race.

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