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Stepping up to an ultra

Photo courtesy of Dig Deep.

An ultra distance run is any run that's longer than the 26.2-mile length of a marathon. For anyone hoping to tackle an ultra race, here’s a few points to get you thinking:

  • you don’t run very fast
  • expect to walk a little
  • everything can, and probably will, go wrong
  • eating and drinking on the move is a real skill.

Considering the challenge ahead, speed isn't all that important. It’s the ability to keep moving that’s vital, even when you're fatigued. Enduring the aches and pains. Controlling your body's attempts to reject foods. Resisting temptations such as overtaking, resting, binging on sugar, over-hydrating. The list is considerable. When you're in your seventh hour, you could find yourself paying for the slightest mistake made in your first 30 minutes – so you'd best be prepared!

Training for your first ultra distance run

  • Start with long walks: time on your feet is a big part of the challenge. Rarely do even seasoned runners endure such demands on the human body. Don't take it for granted that moving slowly will make things easier – you still have the challenge of remaining upright and awake.
  • Experiment with foods on your long runs and walks. Bland soft foods like banana or rice pudding provide sugars that release energy slowly. Avoid refined sugars and energy gels, so you don't experience an energy ‘crash’. Baby food is a good bet. Don't change things right before race day and risk the unknown. Carry a couple of options, just to be safe.
  • Eat and drink little and often. Drink first and eat 45 minutes later, then roughly every 45 minutes after that. One of the most effective methods of fuelling on long runs is to drink a ready-mixed energy drink with carbohydrates, proteins and electrolytes (essential salts and minerals). Stock up a choice of flavours from good running shops.
  • Fatigue can prevent your digestion system from working correctly. From that point on, you won't be able to energise yourself with food, which will increase the fatigue, which further affects digestion. You need to stay hydrated for effective digestion.
  • Increase your mileage gradually. Train smart, building over time. Never get out of breath. Walk the ups and jog the flats and downhills. Spare your body anything resembling hard work as you continue to cover ground, and you'll find that you can still move, even when you've been out for an entire day.
  • Assemble your optimum kit, one that weighs as little as possible. Find a pack or running vest that's stable and gives you access to your essentials while you’re on the move. Wear clothes that fit close and won't chafe while wicking away moisture.
  • Finally: choose your ultra wisely. You don't need to tackle the toughest race on the planet. Many organisers offer a 30-mile ‘intro’ ultra – so even if your goal is to complete a much longer event, intro races can be a big boost to your confidence and a way of testing your current strategy.

Written by Chris Hough



Ultra runs in/around Sheffield: Dig Deep's Intro (30 miles) or Ultra Tour of the Peak District (60 miles).
The Tour of Bradwell (a 33-mile toughie).
​High Peak 40 (a 40-mile fave).

Useful links: www.runultra.co.uk

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