Ultra-runs have gotten more and more popular thanks to an increased number of race organizations and destination events around the globe — and maybe because more runners want that extra challenge. Yet even if you’ve been training for months, your first ultra might offer some surprises, especially if your race is in a new-to-you locale.
Here are seven ultra-centric tips, to help you prepare:
“I always advise power-hiking long, steep hills during a race,” says Fleet Feet Nashville Ultra-Dirtbag Head Coach (and ultra-runner) Malin Timbs. “Pacing is key, and it could be a good time for your heart rate to come down. You can also use the time to take in some nutrition.”
It might seem like a no-brainer, but it could mean the difference between finishing your race, or finishing off your feet from blisters. “Races often have water crossings, and wearing a synthetic or wool sock will not only help keep your feet dry, they’ll help keep your shoes from holding on to the water,” Timbs says.
“Many races start early in the morning while it’s still dark, so bring a headlamp,” Timbs says. Races can also last into the night, depending on your distance. “A headlamp also comes in handy if you need to visit the Porta Potty before the race,” Timbs adds.
“Trail races are known for their great aid stations with a plethora of food such as PBJ sandwiches, fruit, candy, chips and salted potatoes,” Timbs says. “Eating ‘real’ food is pretty common in trail running, but in case it doesn’t work for you, your standard energy gels and drinks can do a good job keeping you fueled.”
The key: Know what works for you before the race. “I always tell my group to practice nutrition during training, so they have an idea what they like and what works,” Timbs says. “A general rule of thumb is to consume about 200–250 kcal/ hour. It’s also good to eat early on, to stay on top of your fuel.”
While there are usually bathroom facilities at the start and finish, much like with your training runs, you won’t have the same luxuries on the trail. “It’s inevitable that you’ll have to duck behind a tree or a rock to take care of business,” Timbs says. “Pack some toilet paper in your vest, and make sure to follow the rules for proper disposal.” That means, you may want to also bring a sealable baggie if you need to pack it out.
Preparing for a race can help you handle any surprises, but it’s also good to stay relaxed. “Check the weather, study the course map, and make sure to check your bags before heading out the door,” Timbs says. “But try not to stress about the race. Enjoy the nature and keep moving forward, whatever speed you are going.” It will make your first ultra extra enjoyable.