Ultra Marathon tips and tricks
July 24, 2017 7:07 PM   Subscribe

A friend is running her first ultra-marathon. Got any tips and tricks to share with her?

A friend is running a 50 miler soon. What do you wish you knew before running one? She's run reasonably long distances in the past, but things like "wear this...", or "put this in your drop bag..." would be useful. She'll be running in a forest, where there could be an assortment of wild life (rare but possibly moose and bears, plus smaller creatures).

Recommendations for what she should eat during the race? Before? After?
posted by backwards guitar to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
irunfar is a great resource and source of inspiration.

Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons is a pretty good book.

As far as eating, what to wear, what to put in her drop bag ... read everything she can. Talk to people. But MOST IMPORTANTLY, experiment on her longer runs. She needs to find out what works for her - after 4 hrs, after 8 hrs, after 10 hrs. Try things out before the race, especially nutrition and hydration wise. Learning by doing, and getting it wrong, and then tweaking and changing things, I've found by far to be the best form of learning for this.

A training programme can be a good thing. Also, try to train as much as possible on similar terrain to what the race will be held on - especially the long weekend runs.

She probably knows this, but it's very ok to walk during ultras. Most walk most/all of the hills. So with that in mind, practice walking. It's a skill to learn for ultras like any other. Depending on the terrain and if they're allowed, it may be worth thinking about trekking poles.

Feel free to memail if she's got any specific questions. Oh, and tell her to ENJOY it!! It's a great thing to do!
posted by maupuia at 12:33 AM on July 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Excellent advice from maupuia (who I had no idea was a MeFite, but I know from running and was crewing at an ultra I ran last weekend!).

A few cents from a relative novice:

- clothing depends on the course and weather conditions. If there's no compulsory gear, then just wear something comfortable. Chafing can be a problem - how will you deal with that?
- Food: anything you can stomach. Experiment. Gels, fruit, sweets, sandwiches, baked potatoes, potato chips, chocolate....
- Related: I trained myself to run soon after eating - this helped me avoid nausea in the ultra (which can be a real problem)
- Train on the terrain you will be running on (especially if she is switching from roads). You need different skills for uphills, downhills, rock, mud...Learn to run downhill fast (short fast steps) and uphill (power walk? Use poles?)
- Start slow. No, slower than that. It's a long day. Don't judge your pace off what others are doing, but what feels easy to you. Also, people's skills vary - I'm a lot faster uphill than down, relative to others at my ability level, so in a hilly race I pass and re-pass the same people several times. Don't worry about it.
- Have fun, chat to people. It's a great community.
posted by Pink Frost at 12:58 AM on July 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Has she trained for boredom? That's my biggest problem on long runs. Has she figured out how long she wants to take for the 50m, added some, and just gone out and walked for that amount of time, like ever?
posted by Etrigan at 3:55 AM on July 25, 2017

1. Fellrnr touches on all aspects of ultra work... training (importance of downhill running, high intensity intervals), blister and food care, and a zillion other topics.

Fixing Problems In Ultramarathons

2. The race / their local area might have a Facebook group or such. My local is Upper Midwest Trail Runners.

3. I finally figured out food FOR ME, I think :) 200-300 kcal per hour ALWAYS (for me), of which i eat: applesauce, nuts. That's about it. I personally prefer REAL FOOD rather than gels, but YMMV. I also love pickle juice, pb/j, salty spicy watermelon (!).

4. Re: boredom... Podcasts, broadway shows, music. iPod Shuffle is powerful and indestructable.

Good luck! 50M is plenty real!
posted by gregglind at 7:46 AM on July 25, 2017

While my stomach has handled all kinds of food and non-food calories (i.e. gu is not food), I've found that for distance I've felt best while drinking Go Juice. However, make it without salt, and take a salt/electrolyte pills on the side. I made it with salt as recommended, and it was too much. At about 60k into my 50miler I could *not* psychologically consider drinking it any more, and I'd just refilled my 2L bladder with go juice, so I was carrying 5lbs of useless drink on my back (yes, I should have dumped it). I couldn't stand the thought of eating anything salty from this point on at this point at the aid stations too.

There's some evidence (some, definitely nothing definitive) that consuming protein during endurance events might aid in recovery. Even for anything over 20miles, my legs seem to recover much faster if I have some protein during this. Hammer Perpetuem is a prepared carbohydrate/protein drink if she doesn't want to mix her own (it also has electrolytes, so be wary of additional salt). There's a number of carbohydrate drinks, Tailwind, Heed for example if she finds that her stomach won't tolerate protein.

I rarely chafe, and in the few areas I do, I've got that taken care of with band aids, tape and body glide. At least that's what I thought until I stopped running after my 50 miler (I felt nothing during, so yay for that). A fine application of body glide over any area covered by underwear, along the underside of the biceps and around the colarbone where one's shirt top is can hopefully prevent that.

I really love my vest. The soft waterbottles can be drunk while wearing the vest without taking them out. I can fit a 2l bladder in back. Plenty of gu on one side pouch, sandwiches and a phone in the other side pouch. First aid, TP (never needed it so far), duct tape and any thing else emergency-wise can be stored in the back. Water in the front bottles, go juice in the bladder. I was on a 12.5 mile looped course, and for each loop I consumed 2L of go juice (actually enough mix for 1.5l and I diluted it to 2L). During my first loop I didn't touch the water bottles. During loops 2 and 3 I drained them over the 12.5 . During loop 4 I had to refill both water bottles twice at aid stations. I think if I'd drunk more water on loop 1 I'd have been better on loop 4.

Most 50mile events I've looked at don't allow trekking poles - definitely check if they're allowed before looking to purchase and learn how to use them.

Definitely practice with your gear during a long run. I found that my vest shoulder straps are wider than my singlets, so I went with a standard technical tank top so that the vest didn't touch any of my skin. My sister has a vest (different vest) which is larger than all of her tanks, so she cut the sleeves off of some shirts so she gets coverage.

Make a list ahead of time of anything that you want to do at every drop bag (i.e. inhaler, chap stick, salt? caffeine? restock gels, reapply sun screen), and put everything needed for that into one plastic bag. At the loop, dump it out of the bag, use it and repack it - the repacking is an automatic check list. If she's planning to use fuel mixed from a powder, pre-package serving sizes into ziplock bags, and put all of the bags into a larger bag.

An easy way to dump mix into a bottle is to open the ziplock back, allow air in and reseal, then rip the corner of the bag. Shove the ripped corner into the bottle and start pour/dumping. This works much better than trying to get the open ziplock portion into the bottle. But this will only work for something with a ~1.5inch or larger opening. I mixed water/mix in a 1L bottle so I could shake it, and then poured that+water into my bladder - trying to mix in the bladder would have been awkward. The bladder will get stained; no biggie :) Have more bags of pre-mixed fuel than you'll likely need. I had 7, kept one in the back of my vest the whole time that I never used.

At the aid stations I stopped for food most times - I'd just grab 1-2 things eat anything first which had something to go in carbage/compost (i.e. watermellon rinds), and then continue on with anything that you'd fully consume. Even if you're just walking away as soon as you can that's good; lingering at the aid stations can really kill that forward momentum. I think in the future I'll consider not stopping for food, as I had plenty of calories from go juice, and 20-40 minutes after eating anything, I was re-tasting it via burping. The watermelon was more pleasant than the pepperettes.

If it's a looped race, have enough socks for once per loop. If it's point to point, have socks in every drop bag. It was a muddy day at my 50, and I adopted the strategy of just running straight through rather than trying to avoid mudd by going off to the side, or hopping via dry sections. I skipped changing socks after my first loop, and half way though my second, I was day dreaming about just how good dry socks would feel (hint; they felt *heavenly* when I finally hit the end of lap 2 and I'm a natural barefooter who view shoes/socks as a necessary evil). If your socks aren't specifically soaked, then it's probably not worth the time to change, but socks are something better to have and not need.

Smile while you run. Keep up the attitude and the mental game; you're kicking ass and having fun. Watch the scenery. You're doing this!

I didn't include painkillers in my drop bag and I'm happy with that. My legs *really* started to hurt at around 55km in, especially my quads on the downhills. But I didn't worry about missing any bad feelings and possibly giving myself a longer term injury by masking something with painkillers. The hurt is all just new definitions/levels for "sore" and "tired" in your book. You really need to be aware of non-sore and non-tired pain. After the race I still avoided painkillers. There's some evidence that ibuprofin inhibits recovery. I took three days off of no running, and then slowly started back in, but all runs were at recovery pace for a week.

Around the time that I couldn't keep drinking the go juice, I got nauseous and switched from running to walking, which helped. I'm told by others (a neighbor's done many 100's including Western States) that I should have just kept running, potentially throw up and gone on. At the time, I just had 50 minutes of unhappy walking until I realized a time goal (that I didn't believe I could meet going in to this and wasn't even an A goal) would slip away if I kept on, so I ran through the nausea intending to puke and continue on. Instead after 5 *really* crappy minutes my stomach settled. I could still only consume water/non salty foods, but that 50 minutes of walking probably was 25 minutes extra on my time.

Note, my ultra experience is from only 1 50miler (2400meters of elevation gain), and one recent 50km group training run, so I'm definitely a newb, but I was happy with all but the 50 minutes of walking in my 50 miler.
posted by nobeagle at 7:57 AM on July 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Thank you for all of the excellent answers. I'm not sure how many of these sites she's seen, but I'm going to send her to them all.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:50 PM on July 25, 2017

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