It’s the classic question: what would you say to your younger self if you could? Here’s my take on that, now as an ultrarunner in my 50s:
Make a plan and record your progress
Use whatever works for you: keep a paper journal, or start by reviewing your Strava data each week against your goals. For many years, I had good intentions but often allowed life – work, home – divert me away from actually achieving my goals. Making note of progress and having a set plan for how to get there is one of the ways a running coach can help – drop me a line on email@example.com if this appeals to you.
Know your ‘why’ and keep going back to it
Recognising your key motivations for running will help you to appreciate each run for what it is. And, when the going gets tough, returning mentally to why you’re there in the first place will keep you going. Your ‘why’ could be incredibly personal to you, or it could simply be to achieve a distance, tempo, elevation, or conditioning goal. Or, simply to run and to enjoy the journey.
Visualise the finish line
Is it corny? Yes. But going through how you’ll feel about finishing a target event, and how you’ll deal with the dark moments of an ultra (including how you’ll return to your ‘why’) could make all the difference. What will keep you going? A memory or thought, some chocolate, a favourite song…? Make sure you have your emergency trigger at the ready.
This follows on neatly from the previous two points. I’m borrowing it from XNRG’s head coach Andy Mouncey and it’s powerful stuff. List all the things that could go wrong, and write down what you’d do in each case. Then commit it all to memory. When something does go wrong on an event, you’ll be mentally prepared and remain in control of your race.
Get used to going alfresco
If you need to do a #2 on the trail, find a discreet spot and do it, rather than tying your insides in knots and making yourself uncomfortable. It’s also great practice for long ultra events. The real important thing here is that you need to keep eating to give yourself the fuel for endurance. If your bowels aren’t right, you won’t eat or hydrate properly.
Eating on the run
You need to keep eating – little and often. I tend to go savoury for the first half of a race and rely on sugar and gels to get me through towards the end. I love cheese (a personal choice), and I have a Prime Beef bar in my pocket to devour in two sessions sometime during the first half of an event. The trick is to experiment with your food in long training runs and find out what works for you.
Replace your salts
Andy Mouncey politely describes guys of my stature as ‘big units’, which politely means that I am heavier than your regular ultra-runner, and I sweat profusely. So, taking some form of salt replacement, ideally in one or both of your water bottles is really important.
When you find kit that works for you, stick to it like glue.
Have the self-confidence to set yourself really big goals
At XNRG events, there is such a brilliant variety of people and abilities but they all share the same amazing focus, self-belief and determination to achieve their goals. It’s pretty inspiring to be around!
Running really does improve our health and physiology
The health benefits and reward are immense, so the sooner you start the better!
What would you tell your younger runner self? Are there any tips you’d give someone who’s just starting ultras? Let me know in the comments below or drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org