The recently concluded Mt. Kalatungan Trail Ultra was by far my longest ultra-trail distance race. I have been in this trail running sport for more than 2 years now and have ran a couple of ultra-trail races – races that have taught me important lessons that I think are crucial in order to survive long and challenging routes. This kind of endurance race takes determination to a whole new level and I learned a lot about myself along the way.
While enjoying the trails during trainings and actual races, I have also met new friends who have been trail running for quite a while – those I call the experienced, some elites. Having the privilege to talk to few of them is equivalent to new learnings about the sport. Those are tips and tricks from planning/training to actual races that have helped me in so many ways.
As I have said, I consider myself a newbie in this sport and I am no expert on the matter, however, I would like to share 5 important lessons that I have learned from my first 50–miles mountain run race with the hope that it’ll also help fellow trail runners.
Train Hard, Bleed Less
There’s a saying that the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle. Whether you consider yourself new to the trail running scene or a seasoned trail runner, it is important that you prepare for your race no matter what distance you signed up for. Just turning up with a pair of running shoes, some water and a few gels on race day is setting yourself to a disaster, especially if you are running ultra. Ultras take planning and organizing your training. Commit to train for it and stick to the training plan. It starts the moment you decide to sign up. On race day, you should be having fun because hey! the race is supposed to be your reward for properly training. If you’re not prepared it will be a miserable experience and you’ll never want to do it again. You MIGHT finish it but it won’t be a pleasant experience, you’ll get to the finish line feeling all beaten up!
Keep Your Nutrition and Hydration in Check
No athlete should ever take this for granted. A lot of runners regardless of their status as an athlete suffer from issues related to nutrition that forces them to throw in the towel and not finish the race. Seriously consider your fuelling strategies while you are on the race and make sure to stick to it before exhaustion and fatigue gets the best of you while in the race. Be conscious of your feeding time and do not wait to reach the Aid Station before you feed yourself. Hydration is also very important as well as electrolyte replacement especially if you are running in hot and humid conditions or over a prolonged period of time. The key is to work out what works best for you. Use your trainings as an opportunity to practice event day nutrition to determine what sits well and fuels your body well. NEVER take anything new on race day as it may sabotage your chances of getting that Finish Line.
Run at Your Own Pace
You are out there to compete with your own self not with anyone else. Well, unless you are among those elite runners vying for that podium spot, or some very experienced athlete looking into setting a new PR. Run your own race, run at your own pace while being conscious of the race’s cut-off times and limits. Be in competition with your own self, do not care about what others are doing. It is best to run an even pace throughout a race as it uses up the least amount of energy. Don’t even attempt to “bank” time by running at a pace faster than your goal pace because if you do that, tendency is you will burnout early.
Now, you might be the competitive type and you have the tendency to give it your all early on the race. With your adrenaline pumping from the competition around you, and other runners throwing you off, it can be difficult to keep to your plan but again, practice to discipline yourself to run on your own pace, check your ego and run steady if you don’t want to end up getting burnt even before you get to the finish line. Bear in mind that the goal is to finish strong!
Study the Course
A lot of runners take this for granted. Usually we just ask for the distance, the cut-off times, and the total elevation, then poof! We get into it! Well, that’s good that we know all those, but knowing the course of the race is very beneficial for runners when race day finally comes. By studying the race’s course, your training will be more focused and you don’t waste time on unnecessary mileage and even training terrains. You get to plan where to train so it mimics your actual race course. By knowing what you will be going through you will be able to effectively pace yourself, you will know where to slow down and where to speed up without exhausting yourself too much. Knowing where the biggest climbs are will help you decide how much energy to save for the next one.
If it’s possible to practice or do a recon on the final parts of the route, do so! As you know, it is in the final parts of the race where the urge to quit is super strong so you are at an advantage when you already have a knowledge as to what’s to come on the final kilometers of the race. Also, knowing the course saves you from being surprised and discouraged when you encounter those tough hills followed by technical and steep descent. It is very important as well to know your Aid Stations (AS) distances as it will help you decide how much water and food to carry to sustain yourself until the next AS. Have a print out of the race’s course handy during race day to keep yourself posted on what to come next. Everything should be there, from course terrain, intermediate cut-off places and time, and the Aid Stations.
Ultras is a Mental Game, Don’t Give Up!
Unless you are injured, in serious pain, or suffering from something that will hinder you to continue the race (i.e. Acid Reflux, bonked, etc) you keep going. Endurance races such as ultra-trail running are tough and we need to be strong mentally to get through them. Beating the urge to quit in Ultra trail races is a tough mental battle to win after let’s say 8 hours of running, hiking, crawling, limping, even whining! The little voices in your head will begin to compete for your attention and you begin to question yourself, “why the heck am I doing this?” Moments like this,the thought of comfortable beds, clothes, and food will start to dominate your mind, and if you are not careful, you will end up quitting. When the urge to quit is strong, be quick to shift your thinking to combat that urge to quit! Remember that everyone feels terrible too! They too are tired, their quads are screaming in agony like yours, they too got blisters, the heat beat the hell out of them too! And yet they keep going, there’s no reason for you to stop too! Think of all the hard work you put into your trainings! All those weekends you woke up extra early to train, the extra effort you put on to squeeze in a training on those busy days, surely you don’t want to put them to waste by just declaring DNF! You are wayyyy tougher than that! And may I just mention, all the expenses for the race (registration fee, travel expenses, nutrition, etc.). So YES, Fight your way to the finish!
There are a lot more lessons and tips that I’ve picked up from seasoned trail runner friends but I think these 5 above are the most relatable to me as I’ve experienced them myself. I hope trail runners who are able to read this will find this article helpful and will remember these lessons for their next race. If you have ultra trail tips to share, please go ahead share them on the comment box below or drop me a line on my facebook page linked right at the upper right corner of the page.