Are you preparing to make the leap to an ultramarathon? Throughout this interview series, top ultra bloggers have shared their personal experiences and advice to help you accomplish your first ultramarathon. They have covered the most difficult aspects of running an ultra, debunked the common myths and misconceptions, and are now sharing their real, personal accounts of their first ultra. When asked “what do you wish you had known before running your first ultra?”, they each learned unique lessons during that first ultra experience.
What You Should Know Before Running Your First Ultra
Once you’ve gone to your other runner friends and have searched extensively through Google, you may still be left with some questions and surprises on race day. To help you have a better idea of what to prepare for and expect, we asked these top bloggers what they wish they had known before running their first ultramarathon. Each had unique experiences that stemmed into lessons learned:
“My first ultra was awesome, until it wasn’t… the first 50k was smooth, effortless, and exhilarating running 30+ minutes ahead of 2nd place. The kicker? I was running a 50 miler! I had gone out way too fast, been carrying way too much water, and I should have researched the course a LOT more.
I went off course around mile 37 and did an extra 5 miles. Not only did it frustrate me that I lost the huge lead, it also made me wish I knew the course better. Around mile (for me) 42 my hips
were killing me. I rarely trained with a pack or even a handheld for that matter, but on race day I wanted to “make sure” I had enough fluids. The added weight from my 100 oz H2O bladder threw my gait off and after 4-5 hours of running, I was paying for it.
To top it all off, the pace I was going was far from sustainable. It would have been great for a 50k, but the additional 30k (where the race begins for most in a 50 miler) turned into a struggle. I went from being on-pace for a sub 8 hour, 50 mile debut on a mountainous course to walking / limping / dragging my aching body across the finish line (55 miles later) in around 11 hours.
So what did my experience in that first ultra teach my now more experienced self?”
“When I ran my first ultra, I literally knew nothing about them. I was in my early 20’s, had completed a handful of marathons, and paced a friend running his first 50 miler and thought, “that was fun, I should try that.” Two months later, I had signed up for my first 50 miler.
I approached the start line with casual ease, wearing a cotton tank top and shorts, carrying a handheld water bottle and wearing a hat that I had worn during training runs. I didn’t have special trail shoes, a watch, or even a drop bag. It was just me, myself, and the trails. And honestly, I had a pretty great race. I was even decently fast.
That said, I did experience a pretty epic bonk around mile 42. It was purely a nutrition problem as I hadn’t eaten much at the start and likely wasn’t eating much during the actual event. I wish I had known just how important nutrition is when it comes to racing, and wish I had been more prepared when it came to taking in calories and drinking water.”
“I wish I had known how hard it can be physically and mentally for a long time. You know if you ran a 10k, let’s say you start to hurt with 2 miles left, so you are talking 10-15 minutes of suffering left? Even if you are only running 10 minute pace that is 20 minutes of mental and physical struggle.
In an ultra, you could be at mile 70 in a 100 miler and it is getting dark and you have 30 miles left to go in the dark woods, which equates to many hours of suffering. You can’t prepare for that, you just have to experience it.”
“I wish I had known just how important a strong crew team was. I had a last minute crew thrown together, wrong coordinates were handed out, missed crew stations happened, I ran out of water, it was a rough go of it. I wanted to quit the race. I had started walking, sat down for a long while, and had basically given up until a young lady, also named Katie, found me on the course. She gave me water and food and helped me get to the next aid station.
Once we reached the aid station, I stopped my watch, sat down, called my mom and told her I quit and to come and get me. As soon as I hung up, everyone at the aid station started cheering me on, saying I could do it, and that I should at least go to the next aid station. I called my mom back, told her to met me at the next aid station. Started my watch back up I ended up running with Katie the last 18 miles. I thought that time spent at the aid station, letting them convince me to continue on took forever. It turns out it was just over 1 minute according to my watch and official time. I never realized before how something as simple as a little encouragement can go such a long way, and that having the proper support can be a huge game changer.”
Regardless of the amount of research or training you do before your first ultra, there will inevitably be lessons you learn the hard way. Some things you just have to experience in order to know what you really need. From these bloggers’ accounts, though, you now have a little more insight into what you should know before your first ultramarathon. Their first hand experiences can help you better prepare when it comes to pacing, training, nutrition, details of the race, and a crew team.
MAKING THE LEAP TO AN ULTRA
Each ultramarathon racing experience will be different – for every runner and for every race. However, after reading this interview series and hearing what seasoned professionals have to say about the sport, we hope you feel more prepared and ready to tackle your very first ultra. It’s like any other endeavour – learn, plan, prepare. If they can do it, you can too!
THE ULTRA BLOGGERS
Thank you to all our bloggers that participated in this interview project and shared their knowledge on ultrarunning! If you’d like to follow them and read more about their adventures and experiences as ultrarunners, visit their websites!
Josh Arthur – www.runjosharthur.com
Katie Bassett – sunkissedredhead.blogspot.com
Will Cooper – www.willrunlonger.com
Doug Hay – www.rockcreekrunner.com
Travis Macy – www.travismacy.com
Thomas Reiss – thomasreiss.com
Jen Segger – jensegger.com