Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Ultra Running Advice

I love ultras. It's great to see more and more friends running them. I wish every runner would try an ultra. Seems we live in a world where people dream of finishing a marathon. It's a bucket-list item. That's fine, but finishing an ultra is actually a more pleasurable and meaningful experience. Not much difference in training either, just a different emphasis. Why you should run an ultra is a different blog post. Today is about HOW to run an ultra.

#1. Slow the fuck down! This isn't a short road race. This is an ULTRA race. It's a long way to the finish. No rush. You'll get there if you simply practice patience and determination. You need to dole out your energy in small doses. This applies to your training as well. Instead of fast short repeats, incorporate longer tempo runs. Go slower on long runs too so you can extend the distance.

#2. Walk the hills. Why do you need to run up those serious inclines? You are fighting a losing battle. Walk the hills and conserve your energy. Power walking will help stretch your legs, allow you to recover, and you'll still make good time. Remember, it's all about relentless forward progress. Keep moving forward. No need to rush on a hill. Pick up the pace on the downhills and flat sections.

#3. Practice eating and drinking during your runs. Have I already mentioned that ultras are a really long distance? You can't make it through one with just water and Gatorade. Consume real calories, lots of fluids, and electrolytes. Practice this during your long runs. Eat bananas, M&Ms, chips, cookies, sandwiches, etc. Gels are OK too, but real food will often work better. Spend time at the aid stations. Use drop bags if needed.

#4. Time on feet is the priority in training. The above three pieces of advice lend themselves to this rule too--it's not how fast or far you run in training, but rather how long you stay on your feet. Go out for really long 4+ hour runs/hikes/jogs. Mix up plenty of walking with the running. This provides the extended endurance you need, plus allows you to test out your shoes, socks, anti-chafe lube, eating, drinking, etc.

#5. Enjoy the hell out of the race. Ultras are special. Your ultra colleagues are special. The volunteers are special. Chat up the aid station workers. Assist your fellow runners. Share supplies. Enjoy the scenery. The camaraderie of ultra runners is amazing. You are competing against the course, not each other. You are in this together so cooperation and support is the norm.

Also, if your ultra is on trails (as most are), then practice on trails. You need to be comfortable jumping over rocks, side-stepping roots, wading through streams, and twisting and turning as the trail meanders across varied terrain.

Ultras are awesome. Enjoy.


trice said...

Fun read, Christopher. The key: M&Ms.

Chris Ⓥ said...


Indeed. M&Ms are golden. I particularly like the peanut ones--extra protein to go along with the sugar and fat!

Erin said...

I am going to memorize everything you say between now and mid-December. (kidding... kind of) anyway. this totally resonates with everything I've been reading or hearing from vets. right on, man. excited to be doin this for the first time, albeit for the baby ultra distance. :)

Chris Ⓥ said...


I'm really excited about you running your first ultra! Good luck. You'll have a great time. And you'll fit in well with the ultra crowd.