6 Steps to Achieving Your First Ultra Marathon

Posted on November 30, 2015 at 7:00 am by Neil Jones | no comments

On hearing ‘ultra marathon’ many a thought turns to a 100 mile race and the likes of the marathon De-Sables – ranked the toughest footrace on earth. It is true events like this do exist and are indeed grueling but on the flip side, there are now many ultra-races that are just a short step up from marathon distance at around 30 – 40 miles. Here in Yorkshire we are blessed to have a number of such events that take in some of the most stunning scenery in the UK. Here is my 6 recommended steps to help you achieve that first ultra!

 

1.) Pick Your Race

 

Choosing your first ultra can be a very tricky decision, there are so many variables to consider such as terrain, length, altitude and weather conditions. If you’re taking your first step-up from a marathon distance my best advice would be to choose a 30 mile road or trail ultra with little or no navigational skills and close to your own stomping ground. However if you’re an experienced fell runner, with navigational experience, you may want to set you sights a little higher with a trail ultra or ultra with multiple check points.

 

I have chosen to list a number of ultra distance races I have completed that are both local to Leeds and West Yorkshire and certainly achievable for a first attempt;

 

  • Round Ripon Ultra (35 miles) – October
  • White Rose Ultra (30/60/100 miles) – November
  • Frostbite (30 miles) – December
  • Haworth Hobble (35 miles) – March
  • Calderdale Hike (38 miles) – April
  • Hardcastle (6, 12 or 24 hour) – May
  • Osmotherley Phoenix – July
  • Ribble Way (34 miles) – Sept

 

 

2.) Training

 

The most important element for me and one that cannot be underestimated is what they call a ‘base mileage’ – I’ve found that this is the single most important factor to ultra- distance running and if neglected can be the end of your race. Most ultra-runners call this time on your feet, for example, in the build up to my recent attempt at the Liverpool to Leeds 130 mile race I incorporated training runs of around 6-7 hours and around 30 to 35 mile distances prior to racing.

 

One noteworthy point to make is the type of terrain you train on; it is important where possible to train on ground similar to your race route. If the ultra is to include a large number of hills, ascents and descents it would be highly recommended to head up to the Yorkshire Dales or Pennines to bag those all-important hill training sessions. Find these closer to home to Leeds in Otley or Ilkley.

 

Included below is a 10 week training plan that I followed for the recent White Rose Ultra event (30 miles distance) and was taken from – Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultra Running 2014.

 

 

Week

Mon

Tues

Wed

Thurs

Fri

Sat

Sun

Total

Week 1

REST

6

8

8

4

17

9

52

Week 2

REST

8

5

6

6

20

11

60

Week 3

REST

8

8

10

8

20

15

69

Week 4

REST

8

8

8

6

22

15

67

Week 5

6

REST

4

8

6

25

13

62

Week 6

REST

8

8

8

8

20

15

67

Week 7

REST

8

6

6

4

30

5

65

Week 8

REST

5

6

5

6

15

7

44

Week 9

5

REST

6

6

4

10

7

38

Week 10

REST

5

5

4

3

30

REST

47

 

 

3.) Race Kit

 

Test your kit and test it some more –  I have run with so many people whilst completing ultra marathons who have come unstuck by falling foul of this. I myself have suffered due to wearing brand new socks which resulted in a non-finish at the Lyke Wake Race in 2013 due to blisters!

 

A list of items and kit I would recommend for ultra running;

 

  • Good Trail shoes – Salomon / Hookas / Inov8s
  • Running Back pack
  • Good base layer
  • GPS Watch
  • Hat
  • Buff head wear
  • Head Torch – Hope / Pretzl are good products
  • Compression Socks
  • Gloves
  • Sun glasses  
  • Visor
  • Baby Wipes
  • Blister Plasters

 

 

4.) Diet & Nutrition

 

Now I am not an expert in this field and find it very difficult to say no to sweet treats but my approach is relaxed, a few treats when training is fine! For most races I run I will increase my intake of complex carbohydrates (brown rice, pasta, chia seeds) by around 80g a day in the week leading up to the race. This will be coupled with portions of fresh fruit and vegetables and lean meats and fish – chicken and Tuna do a good job. I tend to include recovery drinks post workout to replenish the spent nutrients.

 

On race day itself I play it safe and use energy gels, flapjacks and for longer runs jam butties.  Relying on race check points for food can be a bit of a gamble sometimes – from experience they have been well stocked and also completely bare, it all depends on the race so to be sure take control of this variable and come well stocked!

 

One important rule to take on-board is to NOT eat something for the first time on race day which could result in stomach issues or worse!

 

These products are tried and tested and work well for me;

 

  • Science In Sport Energy Gels
  • Cliff Energy Bars
  • Science In Sport Rego drink
  • Science In Sport Electrolyte drink

 

 

5.) It’s not just physical, it’s mental!

 

It is safe to say that if you have completed a marathon you are more than capable of completing an ultra–marathon. If you have dedicated the required hours of running (base training) to complete the marathon and have the desire to become an ultra-marathon runner you’re already halfway there.  Passion, belief, determination and smart training is the key to achieve this goal. It helps greatly to have a network of people and friends around you who can support your journey, many I have personally picked up along the many journeys of running these incredible races.  Once you have completed a marathon move on to a 30 mile ultra, working your way up to a 50 and then on to 100 – the holy grail!

 

 

 6.) Race Pacing

 

Race pacing or your pace per mile or kilometer is a big part of how you perform on the day of the event – I myself always tend to go off at the start a lot harder than I should but that’s my personal preference – have a plan, have a backup and stick to them!

 

At the start of most ultras you will find that there will be the usual fast start but my advice would be to settle down, race your own race, don’t get carried along by those around you. Use a GPS watch to keep on top of your pace and distance. A good bit of advice I’ve received from a fellow racer was to break the race up into small chunks of 5 or 10 miles – psychologically this allowed me to set a focus and mentally motivate myself without becoming daunted by the thought of running 100 miles.

 

Set yourself a series of realistic targets over smaller chunks of mileage and see how you fare from the get go. In past races I have written my split-times (times to mileage) to track my pace on my arm. Other runners have written this on a piece of laminated paper or even on the back of your race number, find out what works best for you.

 

A final point worth noting is around creating a support network – build a support crew with fellow participants competing in the same race and pacing at a similar time. Set a duration of time to rendezvous at checkpoints. In my most recent race I got almost 1 hour ahead of my split-times and it was left for my support crew to notify me and pull me back, avoiding a potential burnout towards the end of the race.

 

 

Want to read more on Ultra Marathon running?

 

https://runleeds.co.uk/r/ultra-marathon-running/

 

https://runleeds.co.uk/r/run-further/

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