June 24, 2022 5 min read

Whether you’re an endurance athlete or a weekend warrior who wants the ultimate bragging rights, running your first ultra can be a memorable experience. It can be hard however to plan for an event lasting anywhere between 6-24 hours. If you want to stay ahead of the game and eliminate as many of those unknown factors then read these 6 tips for preparing for your first ultra.
 

Establish A Goal

This is the first priority. Why are you doing this? What do you hope to accomplish? It helps to come into the race with some sort of expectation for yourself. Do you just want to finish? Do you want to cover a certain amount of mileage for a 24hr race or is your goal time-based? It can be anything! For my first ultra, I looked at last year’s results of the top 3 men and established a time-based goal from there. This was also a qualifying event for Spartan Ultra Worlds so I used that as more motivation.

Fueling Strategies

I don’t believe there is one right way to fuel & hydrate during an ultra. It’s all about trial and error and seeing what works for YOU. Give yourself lots of options because at some point you’ll get picky. In my experience hydration drinks such as GU Roctane, which provide caffeine and a high-calorie content have worked for me. Gels are extremely convenient too and are also a quick source of energy. I like to use a 5-serving gel flask - that way I don’t have to worry about getting messy or stashing wrappers. 

 

Chews are another good fuel source however, they take more time to masticate so make sure to keep them warm. Some gels/chews have upwards of 100mg caffeine, so pay attention to caffeine intake. A good race strategy would be to wait until later in the race to start consuming caffeine. As for whole foods, one of my favorites is banana bread. Bananas are a great source of electrolytes and are easily digestible making them good for longer races such as a 12 or 24hr. Mike’s Mighty Good Ramen was also one of my favorite foods during my first 24 hour. The broth provided an adequate amount of sodium and kept me nice and toasty during the night. Just make sure to test your recipes or foods during training. 

As you already know, the body is comprised mostly of water so it’s also very crucial to maintain adequate hydration. I like to drink about 16-20oz of water per hour but that can change depending on temperature or whether I’m running at higher altitudes. Make sure to keep up on drinking because when you feel thirsty, it’s already too late! Take sips occasionally, and not gulps.  Yummy recipe ideas: Check out the book, “Run Fast, Eat Slow” by Shalane Flanagan & Elyse Kopecky.

Pace

Pacing in an Ultra isn’t the same as pacing for a road marathon, for example. The biggest thing to focus on is leaving yourself enough in the tank to last you to the end. It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement and go out hard towards the beginning, so getting yourself into a good rhythm right from the get-go may be the best strategy. Don’t worry about mileage or pace, focus on feel. It can even be beneficial to find someone of your ability level to run with. In my first 24 hour, I ran with a fellow competitor and we paced off each other for the majority of the race.

Shoes

Having the right pair of shoes can go a long way in an ultra. Your feet will take a beating so it’s important to give them enough support. When choosing shoes, the two most important elements to consider are comfort and durability. Might I recommend the Maxx’s or Ultras by VJ Shoes. They can comfortably handle all types of terrain and give you the absolute best grip for tackling those longer OCR’s or trail runs.

Environment

If you are racing at altitude, learn the course profile and its’ peak elevation. Ask yourself, How long are you running at that altitude or what is the average elevation? For example there’s quite a difference between running a marathon in Denver at 5,280ft vs running in Leadville at 10,000ft. The body will respond much differently, so be aware of altitude sickness and what that entails. Do not travel out too early because as the body undergoes acclimatization there will be a reduction in red blood cell production before they are replenished again. Therefore arriving 1-2 days before the race should ensure that red blood cell production is at a more optimal level and not yet reduced.
Running in the mud can also create certain challenges. My first 50k was the Spartan Ohio Ultra and due to the rain the course changed from flat and fast to technical and tedious. Pace and stride slowed significantly, and towards the end my stabilizers/ hip flexors were shot. In this case it would have been best to tie shoes extra tight and reconsider wearing anything white! 
Tyler Veerman Moab 55K
Running in the desert also poses other challenges.
During the Moab Red Hot 55k my feet became extremely worn and blistered from running on the uneven “slickrock” surfaces. Rubbing Vaseline on the bottom of my feet would have been a good pre race strategy for this situation. Learn the landscapes you’re running in and visualize the various elements you will encounter. Develop a plan B just in case something does happen.

Mental Strategies

Coming into the race with a strong mentality is key to finishing any ultra. As mentioned before it can be very beneficial to have some sort of goal. At some point it will get hard and you have to find ways to keep yourself on track in order to achieve that goal.  
While running my first 24hr race, I started making little checkpoints throughout the course. That helped break up the race and distracted me from the miles that lay ahead. I also made time to chat with other competitors which helped take my mind off the task at hand. Another strategy is to think back on your previous successes and how hard you’ve worked to come all this way. Most likely you’ve gone through other hardships in the past so tell yourself that you have the capacity to endure. This is just another chance to prove that to yourself! 
Lastly many ultras are hosted in very remote & beautiful locations. Take appreciation in all of the natural surroundings around you. This can be good motivation! If you’re looking to build more mental fortitude, I’d suggest reading “How Bad Do You Want It” by Matt Fitzgerald.

 

Now find a race and get out there!!

-Tyler Veerman @tveerman_ocr