On 15th July 2017, I was lucky enough to run my first ever ultra marathon: Race to the stones. In the months leading up to the race, I spent weekends testing out all the gear & nutrition while attempting to come up with some sort of pacing strategy for the big day. For those who are currently in preparation for an ultra or are just considering doing one, here are 10 things I wish I knew beforehand. More info on the race itself can be found here. Finally, keep your eyes peeled for a full blog post on the day itself later on this week. Enjoy!
1. Pack light.
I cannot stress this enough. Luckily, I made a last minute decision to ditch 50% of my snacks and unnecessary items as a result of a pack malfunction; and within 5 minutes of setting off, I wanted to chuck even more. Depending on the ultra, pit stops should be well stocked with all types of food and snacks, so other than a couple of emergency gels and a blister kit, you shouldn’t need to carry much at all.
2. Hydration systems.
Something you absolutely must pack. I carried 2x500ml pouches and a 500ml Lucozade bottle in a front pocket. Due to unfortunate positioning, I spent the first hour being walloped in the face by the bottle so eventually just downed it. While the pouches were super convenient, I had to refill nearly every pit stop, so next time I will be carrying a much larger CamelBak-style system.
3. Don’t overthink your pacing strategy.
It’s a fact: You cannot keep a steady pace over 100km. Slow hills, longer pitstops and toilet breaks are almost impossible to foresee, so try not to get too caught up over a specific time per km. An ultramarathon is an achievement in itself, so don’t stress too much about the time it takes. Just run as slow as possible. Think you’re running slowly? Run slower.
4. Walk every. single. hill.
Although I was a little surprised to see everyone walking within the first 40 minutes, luckily I followed suit. Especially towards the beginning, it is very tempting to sprint up some of the shorter climbs but DO NOT DO IT. You will hate yourself later. Towards the end of the race, I was looking forward to hills just so I could walk!
5. It’s gonna hurt. A lot.
This may seem like a silly one to put in… but was something I definitely wasn’t prepared for. I knew it was going to be hard and I knew my legs would ache, but not the extent they did on the day. However, if you’re head is in the right place and you have done the training, you will be able to do it. Pack some painkillers and just keep on goin’; I promise it’ll be worth it.
6. Prepare to spend long periods alone.
Luckily, I quite enjoy being on my own (Ima loser), and the race allowed me endless hours of thinking time. However, some of my lowest points of the race were those when I was on ma todd; with no runners either in front, or behind. In those moments, you have only yourself to rely on. Keep those legs moving, blast out some epic tunes (blog post coming soon) and stay positive.
7. Making new friends is the best thing you can do.
Talking to people is the best distraction in an endurance race. If it weren’t for my friendship with Nigel Douglas (established at circa. kilometre 75, see pic), I would have probably taken 2 hours longer to complete the race. This stranger made me cry with laughter at some of the most hilarious, random stories I’ve ever heard, and took my mind light-years away from the pain and reality of what we were trying to accomplish. So thank you, Nigel.
8. Establish groupies/a fan club.
Being surprised by my 3 best friends and my boyfriend at 50km gave me the most incredible boost. I had absolutely no idea they were coming and seeing them made me even more determined to get to the finish line and prove myself. Also, running down the 100m home straight was made all the more exciting having mummy & daddy K at the finish line (along with my two best furry friends).
9. Finish line flip flops are an absolute must.
I don’t know why I didn’t pack them this time, but it was one of the worst mistakes I have EVER made. Yes, you may think your runners are the comfiest thing in the world, but trust me on this one: There will be a long period of time before you want to see your precious running shoes again. Flip flops are the DREAM after long runs. Just try not to enter any confined spaces with any strangers/loved ones for too long…
10. It’s all about the mindset.
I’m not saying you don’t need to physically train for an ultramarathon (you really must), but your determination, positivity and motivation plays an absolute vital part in an endurance race. Of course, there are moments where you doubt yourself, but it’s what you do to bring yourself out of those moments, that determines what happens next. Stay positive, crank on some riddim and GET DAT ASSSSS MOVIN’