Any distance more than 42.2 KM falls under the Ultra marathon category. Once you have stepped up the marathon game, in order to push yourself mentally and physically ultra-marathon is the challenge for you. It requires more focused technical training depending on the type of ultra-marathon one decides to start the journey upon. Sand, mountain, forest, mix of trails etc. are the various types of UM races that once can participate.
As of today, I have participated and successfully completed two Ultra marathons- the first one was the 1st Edition Eco trail Al Ula 45kms, 2020 and the next was Ultra Mirage 52 Km in Sahara desert in Tunisia, 2021. Currently I am training for UTMB Nice 59 KM with 3300m of elevation, which will be at the end of September.
Based on my experience from the UM’s that I have done, here are the basics that I feel should be kept in line while training and on race day so that the UM journey is enjoyable right from training to crossing the finish-line.
Training period basics
Commitment, Consistency and Control
Stay committed to your training, be consistent and most importantly control the process by not comparing yourself with others. Start easy, take your time and do not rush. Each training plan is different and you will not have the same intensity all the time. Controlling the days of low intensity by being accountable yet relaxed will give the best result out of the training. Prepare your mind to stay calm in all the scenarios.
Nutrition and Hydration
Food, yes more food. Practice healthy eating by avoiding high sugars, junks and the likes during the training. We tend to be carried away after a long run session by indulging in calorie dense foods that do more harm than good. I have figured out that nutritious meals without empty calories in terms of fats, sugars etc. will make the training more easy giving out the best results on race day.
Hydration needs to be built over the period of training. Water is just 1 part of hydration; you need to make sure you are taking in enough electrolytes to keep the body stay aloof to avoid muscle cramping and fatigue.
Also, make sure to include some savory things like salt biscuits/pretzels to the race nutrition. Continuous sweet gels and energy bars may bore your taste buds in turn reducing your willingness to have them.
Effort based Training
For any UM, effort percentage will play a key role in pushing you closer to the finish line. Know your efforts during the training so that you can handle various different terrains and trails during the race. For instance, you might run on sand faster during training but on race day, the sand may be different due to various conditions. Matching the same pace like training may not be possible. Get used to train yourself on the rate of perceived effort and not pace.
Cross training should be one of the most important parts in your training. Remember, running alone will not help you to climb the mountains or run on sand. Strong muscles are the base of a strong runner. Add a good amount of runner specific strength training to increase your endurance in order to avoid muscle fatigue.
Finally, make sure to rehearse everything during your training. Race nutrition in terms of gels, snacks etc., the overall race gear and apparel. Never ever, try a new tee shirt, shoes, even a cap on race day. Get at least 3-4 runs done in the race clothes to get used to them. For shoes, run at least a 100 km in race shoes before you go to the race.
Race day basics
Start slow and Easy
Race adrenaline, the crowd and the freshness in the body will force the legs to move fast. Start on an easy yet competitive level of your base speed to give the body enough charge. Trust me; you will thank yourself later for this.
Plan Hydration and Nutrition
Carefully design your input for drinking water and consuming the nutrition. A little early or late might hamper the race progress. My usual technique is to sip water on a regular interval like every 0.5 kms and alternate sweet and savory nutrition to keep the taste buds alive. During the course of the race, it changes but it helps to keep the 1st part of the race in control.
Improvisation by moving forward
UM is all about improvisation. Anything can happen on race day. Stay calm; focus on fixing and improvising rather than staying stuck with the problem. Keep going, as each step will get you closer to the finish line. Rest if needed but do not ponder much over what has happened. Re-plan the remaining distance by sticking to the basics.
The most important part of any race- SMILE, ENJOY and IMMERSE in NATURE
Most UM’s are filled with natural sceneries and mesmerizing views, make sure you get enough of them to have excellent memories post-race.
Wave and encourage other runners, talk to a fellow runner for a small length of distance, walk if needed, push your pace carefully, and get to the finish line to live the glory of your hard work.
Get inspiration from the one in front of you and give motivation to the one who is behind you.
End of the day, we all need to push each other to cross the finish line.