September 09, 2022 3 min read

It’s imperative for athletes to hone in on the physical aspect of training for an ultra, but because of this emphasis on fitness and physical preparedness, the mental side of ultra racing is often an afterthought. Performance-wise, this can mean that a lot is left on the table. For anyone looking to do well in an ultra, mental training and tactics are very important pieces of the puzzle!

First thing’s first: You have to really want to do this.

Not much can get you through such a grueling event if pure desire and excitement don’t serve as the foundation. Think of the things that are truly motivating you to compete in an event like this. Is it the adventure? The time outdoors? The scenery? The challenge? Knowing why you want to run an ultra will serve as fuel throughout the actual race, especially when things get hard.

Personally, I find it very helpful to find meaningful lyrics to lean on as a mantra ofCali Schweikhart in VJ Shoes Ultra 2 in Spartan Ultra sorts. When I need to refocus or just need a boost, I will repeat the part of the song I chose that resonated with me in order to recenter myself.  This was a big thing for me during my first Spartan Ultra in Utah - I was literally singing “Higher Ground” by Imagine Dragons on repeat through multiple portions of that race! I found that this took my mind off of the things that felt hard and really helped time pass.

For Spartan Ultras in particular (or any ultra that follows a looped format), one mental strategy that comes in handy is taking notes of the course on your first loop and picking out the parts you’re going to aim to hammer/do really well on in the subsequent loops. You can also note things you would do differently the next time around. This could be a particular downhill that you aim to run strong every time. It could be an obstacle that you made a mistake on that you plan to get through differently when you get to it again.

Whatever it is - pay attention and stay engaged with the course!

Another big part of racing any distance is having contingency plans in place.Are you prepared for various scenarios? Do you have gear for each possible type of weather? For example, say your stomach begins to rebel and you can’t stomach the gels you usually rely on. A contingency plan that includes other sources of fuel that you know sit well would help you in this case. Even if you don’t end up using that extra fuel, you’ll be more at ease knowing you had it.

Finally, it is important to prepare yourself for some low moments. The longer aCali Schweikhart in VJ Shoes Ultra 2 on Mountain Top race is, the more likely you are to hit a rough patch (or a few). I know that I have personally faced weird mid-race niggles and have instantly gotten nervous, wondering if the pain will continue or progress. I have found that, interestingly enough, things sometimes seem to pop up out of nowhere and then go away as quickly as they came. If something starts bothering you mid-race, remind yourself that it might be temporary, and check in with your form to see if you can change the way you’re moving to help your body out at all. 

When it comes to pain from sheer fatigue, this is where I find that reminding myself of all of the work I put in to prepare for an event can be helpful. When I am tempted to stop as things get more uncomfortable, I ask myself how quitting  (versus gutting it out) would feel. One quote by Jim Rohn that resonates deeply with me is:

“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.”

As much as something hurts in the moment, it’s likely that giving up on yourself and your goals will hurt more. I have kept this quote on a note in my phone for years now and try to reread it before every competition.

If you can dial in your mental game with strategies like these, it can really make a huge difference come race day.

-Cali Schweikhart @cschweik