Preparing for an Ultra Marathon

Preparing for an Ultra Marathon

When preparing for an Ultra Marathon I believe there are 3 areas that need to be addressed to help get the ball rolling –  Planning, Physical Training & Mental Readiness.

Planning – getting to know what I am training for, basically information gathering which covers  – the distance, elevation, terrain, nutrition, gear, support as well as the weather and time of year that I am going to attempt the Ultra Marathon.  I look at maps of the course, read previous racers blogs and accounts of the event, specific advice from the elite runners that have run the event (as well as anyone else offering it, it just seems the elites advice gets promoted quite readily). Doing all this allows me to gain as much insight about the course and what to expect, when it’s going to be tough, when is going to be a good time to switch to “auto-pilot”, the technicality of the terrain (sand, mud, rocks), the amount of vertical ascending and descending involved…  get as much specific information as possible to help with the preparation.

My good mate Kyle and I planning our next epic adventure.

My good mate Kyle and I planning our next epic adventure.

 As we all suffer from the human condition not everything that is planned or sounds good in theory is going to be the way it works on event day.  I use check lists when packing for an Ultra, especially one that I will be traveling for, this helps me to make sure that I have everything I need and covered all bases!  As much as that does help me the human element does creep in and no matter how much you plan, you should always be prepared to adapt to the situation you find yourself in.  I remember one the of the first few Ultra’s I attempted I forgot to bring my main nutrition fuel in the form of gels onto the bus that was taking us to the start line.  This threw me a fair bit and I was not in a great head space at the start, as I had trained with gels being my main calorie intake, but I knew that some of the check points would have gels and I did have some energy bars, not ideal and it did affect my race but I still managed to get through it.

 

Physical Training – This element of the preparation puzzle I base and adjust continually in accordance with the the planning element, my progress, my work/life/family commitments and many other variables that make up life.  When training for an event my aim is to make sure I get a good mix of long distance running (km’s/time into the legs to help with endurance and the sheer distance of the event), effort at higher intensity which will generally consist of speed intervals, hill repeats, tempo runs, etc as well as specificity for the course I will be tackling.  As the Ultra Marathons I do are run on trails I try to train on similar terrain to the upcoming event as frequently as I can, for example an event that is along the coast will inevitably involve some km’s on the beach so getting training runs done on sand is going to help condition the leg muscles for sand running come race day.

 

Putting the yards in at the gym to prepare the body for “battle”!

Putting the yards in at the gym to prepare the body for “battle”!

Another area I find critical in regards to physical training is resistance training, strengthening the whole body under a progressive load helps to bulletproof the muscles and ready the body for the battle it will engage during an Ultra Marathon.  I particularly focus on leg strength and core stability, in addition to addressing the often forgotten upper body and postural muscles.  Including training in an unstable environment as a regular element as a way to improve and enhance proprioception is a very high priority, this is crucial when training and racing on unpredictable surfaces such as trails.  I must admit though that I did let the resistance training slip in the beginning of my Ultra Running career, fixated basically all my training on the running aspect and I can tell you it was a hard lesson for me to learn, I should have known better.  I started to get knee pain which I put down to muscular imbalances which resistance training had helped rectify in the past.  I didn’t have the power on the uphill efforts and stairs that I once had and I would find it hard to maintain my form due to my core muscles not being as strong as they had been in the earlier stages of running Ultra’s.  So now I give resistance training a priority in my physical training plan for Ultra Running.

 

Mental Readiness – Any Ultra Marathon undertaken will consist of multiple highs and lows that will test your mental resolve time and time again, and then some more.  These will hit at unpredictable times, one moment you will be feeling awesome grinding your way up a steady incline, only to crash in a heap 5mins later barely managing to muster the strength to walk down a cruisey downhill.  I recall my second ever Ultra, a 50km Hilly course in Marysville, I had a tough day out.  I was hitting the wall over and over again from about the mid 30km point of the run, now this run can be very mentally devastating in the fact that you pass the start/finish area at the 40kms and you have to run past all the people that are enjoying the wonderful BBQ food you can smell a couple of km’s out to go and punish yourself for another 10kms starting with a steady uphill grind.  I remember the struggle I had going up that hill one moment I was great and running up the hill passing people, the next I was walking and felling deflated, this I thought was normal.  What really surprised me was on the way down the hill I felt almost flatter mentally (and physically) than I had on the way up and had to walk downhill, this was new to me and a moment that I had to dig really deep to continue on and finish the race.

 

I was tested mentally & physically during this race – totally spent!  However, the base I have built over time enabled me to get to the end.

I was tested mentally & physically during the Buffalo Stampede Ultra – totally spent! However, the base I have built over time enabled me to get to the end.

One tactic I employ is knowing I have done the above 2 steps to the best of my ability, knowing you are ready to tackle the beast at both these levels will pay dividends for you mental readiness.  That along with experiencing the highs and lows during training and putting in the hard yards, training when you don’t feel like training or not feeling 100%, training when you are tired, your muscles are aching or you have a headache…  Training when the elements aren’t ideal, it’s pouring rain, hailing, blowing a gale, scorching sun outside.  These variables will all simulate what you may experience on event day to some degree (possibly all during the same event), so show up, give your best and know that if the foundation is built strong in training the Ultra won’t reduce you to a pile of rubble at the first sign of hardship.

 

Race Hard, Train Harder!!!!

#backyourself