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Race to your potential and execute your best ultra

10-Jul-18

Last updated: 23-Aug-18

By James Eacott

The best predictor of how well you might perform at your next ultra is your training. We believe – rightly so, to an extent – that the better we train the better we’ll perform. Indeed, the amount of work you put in generally equals what you get on race day.

But training is not the sole factor that determines the outcome of your race. You could have a superb build-up, but if you ignore some of these points below you will not race to your potential.

There are factors beyond training which hugely influence the course your race will take, but they’re often overlooked with devastating consequences!

It’s with that in mind that we wanted to share some tips on how to get the best from yourself on race day.

Step 1: Kit prep your way to happiness

This is one we can all nail with a little organisation. Get all your kit laid out and ready to go a minimum of 48-hours pre-race. Even if you’re totally convinced it’s all in your kit drawer at home, trust me: lay it out and have it ready.

I can’t be the only one who’s had to pay an extortionate postage rate to Amazon to get an item from the mandatory kit list delivered by courier the day before a race.

Step 2: Set realistic expectations of yourself

As your training progresses, you’ll start setting race goals for yourself. Even if it’s your first ultra, you’ll have some hopes and dreams of what you might achieve. Particularly for those who are tackling the distance for the first time, it’s very difficult to set goals.

With no experience of running this far, how do you know what to expect from yourself?

My advice is to be conservative. Setting ambitious goals is fantastic, but they can become all-consuming if you set the bar too high. If you go too high, you’ll start to feel the pressure and worst of all you’ll feel like a failure if you do not meet your lofty expectations.

Be conservative and if you smash your goal then that’s a marvellous feeling!

Step 3: Miracles don’t happen, so stick to your pacing plan

It might be controversial, but miracles don’t happen. Not in ultras, anyway. Sometimes you’ll see someone totally smash expectations but, by and large, that athlete will have trained for that result. Us onlookers might simply be poorly informed as to the preparation they’ve done and the form they’re in.

You won’t find someone run a 15-hour 100 miler on 3 months of 20mpw training. It won’t happen.

So, evaluate your training over the past few months. Look at the paces you’ve been running at, ponder how they feel and use this to devise a strategy that takes this into account. By all means, set a range of goals. I like to have ‘Ambitious’, ‘Expected’ and ‘Worst case’ plans.

Once you’ve set this plan, stick to it. I know how hard this is. I’ve been there, feeling so good at Mile 8 of a 50-miler and deciding that today was the day a miracle was going to happen: I had turned into Kilian Jornet, and I was setting the trail alight…only to be a shuffling, wobbly-legged mess by Mile 30.

Holding yourself back at the start of an ultra is a key factor in nailing a successful race. Of course, your 100-mile pace will feel super-easy in the early miles. It should do. But in a 100, you’re in the game of pace preservation.

Step 4: Eat your way to glory

Diligently prepare your nutritional strategy for the whole race. With practice and planning, you should be able to stick to this plan for most of the race. You should have a fairly accurate idea of how many grams of carbs, fat and protein per hour you’re aiming for.

What worked in training? Do you like getting this from fluids or solids? Research what will be at the aid stations.

Having said that, I totally appreciate a nutritional strategy is only good for as long as your stomach plays ball. At some point, it’ll give up and for the last 25% of your race it may be that you just consume whatever you can stomach (the body craves some unexpected things towards the end of an ultra!).

But sticking to the nutrition plan from the start should postpone gut-issues for as long as possible.

Step 5: Listen to your emotions…

Don’t ignore your emotions. If you’re feeling low mid-race, recognise it for what it is: in all likelihood, it’s your body telling you that you either need more fuel or that you’re running a little too fast.

You will encounter troughs and peaks through an ultra, but these are often linked to changes in physiology due to a lack of food or hydration or perhaps an electrolyte imbalance. Recognise the trough, address it as best you can and keep moving forward.

Step 6: …but don’t let them take over!

Take the pressure off yourself. All your training is done. Whether you’ve had a great training build or a bad one, what’s done is done.

Whether it’s your local 50k or the UTMB, ultra running is a special sport and we ultimately do this sport for enjoyment, so do your best to relax into the race and recognise that outcome is rarely life-or-death.

I find that keeping perspective leaves me relaxed and able to enjoy the day much more. Plus, I always perform better with this mindset.

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