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Race management: How to plan and race effectively

Photo credit: Cate McVeigh.

Race management: How to plan and race effectively


Last updated: 30-Aug-18

By Justin Bateman

When you tell ‘normal’ people that you’re running 50 miles, 100 miles or even further, all they think is how incredibly fit you must be in comparison to them and that’s why you can do it. While physical fitness is definitely a factor, much more important is how you prepare for and execute your ultra. How you manage everything in addition to the running will ultimately determine the outcome of your race. Justin Bateman, runner and coach, takes us through it.

Your goals

Even if your only goal is to finish the race, it's worth having some smaller goals in place to help you through to the finish line. Roughing out a time goal for each checkpoint might feel like too much pressure for some, but gives you a constant progress check, especially if you have a time-based goal, and crew or pacers to meet up with. I am not much of a planner, but I always have a schedule in place. Even if you don’t look at it once, just having it is often enough to keep you on track.

Better than having one goal, is having two goals. Or even three. Knowing you've got a back-up plan could end up proving invaluable, if something goes wrong. You don't want to be left feeling like there's no point in carrying on, if your sub-24 hour 100-mile race goes out the window, due to inclement weather or blisters.

Remember that your goals are yours and yours alone. Don’t get sucked into running someone else’s race unless you’re absolutely sure about it.

Your crew and pacers

Some races allow crew and pacers. Some people prefer to go it alone anyway. And while this is very much a personal choice, I’ve yet to hear of anyone who didn’t benefit from having one or the other.

The key is to know what you want from having crew and pacers, and briefing them accordingly. It might be as simple as having them remind you to eat, or it could be that you need constant encouragement, or even abuse. We all respond differently when the going gets tough, so figure that out and you’re well placed to get the job done.

Running the Picnic Marathon.


Your kit

Managing your race should start before race day. You won’t be able to control the weather but if you’ve got the right kit to hand, you will be prepared for all eventualities. On the day, you want as few things to think about as possible and this means being sure that you can handle rain, heat, cold, wind - anything that nature can throw at you.

It might seem obvious, but in an ultra it's important to be as comfortable as possible for as long as possible. There will inevitably come a time when some part of you will start to hurt - that's part of the challenge of running long distances after all. But minimising the pain goes a long way to keeping your race on track.

I'm going to stick my neck out and say the most important piece of kit for an ultrarunner is shoes. You're going to be spending a lot of hours in them and the entire weight of your body is going through your feet, so make sure you can run (and walk) in them for a long time. If you have the opportunity to change shoes at any point, take spares, just in case. Non-chafing shorts and backpack, as well as socks that don't wreck your toes are also crucial. It's an old one but as the saying goes, don't try anything new on race day.

Your injuries

Managing injuries mid-race will depend a lot on their severity. Blisters are almost a certainty so it's how you deal with them that matters. Do you have a plan to treat them or can you march through the pain? Cuts and bruises from falls can be minor or race threatening; only you can decide whether it's worth pushing through or living to fight another day without doing too much damage. Either way, you should have a clear strategy in place to deal with any scenario.

Golden rules:

  1. Treat any injury early. It’s unlikely going to get any better on its own.
  2. Be careful about using painkillers. It might mask the pain but if you can’t feel it, you could be making it a whole lot worse.
  3. Decide beforehand whether it’s worth ruining the rest of your race season to finish this one. It might be - just be clear in your own head.

Your nutrition

The further you go, the more important nutrition is. I’ve never heard of anyone overeating on an ultra so have a plan to eat very regularly, and from the start. You might not feel hungry but there comes a point where you can’t catch up on calories. This is a problem for two reasons. First, physically you won’t be able to function efficiently - and you’ll probably be tired anyway. Second, your brain will stop working properly, meaning you’ll either forget to eat or tell yourself you don’t need to because you’re not hungry.

So have a strategy. Eat on the hour, every hour, or whatever suits you. Stick to it and you won’t go far wrong. The same goes for electrolytes and liquid intake.


Photo credit: Justin Bateman.


Your head

This is where your race is won and lost. As part of your preparation - and while you’re running - you need to consider and have the answer to these questions.

1. Do you truly believe you can finish?

Part of the attraction of running ultras is to push yourself to your limits so unless you’ve done it before, it’s impossible to know for sure if you can do it. But you don’t need to be 100% certain you can do it, simply that you believe you can do it. Trust in your training and believe.

2. What's your motivation for finishing?

Whether it’s proving something to yourself, raising money for charity or simply making sure you don’t have to do it ever again, there will most likely come a time when you’ll probably need to remind yourself why you’re doing it. At 4am in the pouring rain with blisters the size of golf balls, it’s easy to forget that this is something you’re doing voluntarily and ostensibly for fun. Will you regret the misery or giving up more?

Debilitating injuries aside, most of the time your brain will give up long before your body. Managing your own brain is possibly the hardest part of running an ultra and it takes practice to train it to do what you want. If you can think as little as possible, that’s a huge bonus.

Having a plan, preparing for all eventualities and making the right decisions are all key to successful race management, and a successful race. Sort those out and all you have to do is run. Easy.

Justin Bateman is a running coach who usually enjoys the challenge of running ultras. But even when he doesn't enjoy it so much, he tends to learn something. Find out more at www.justinbatemanrunning.com.


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Read about how to find time to eat when you're training for an ultra.


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