Six Quick Tips to Prepare for an Ultra
By Evan Perperis
With races getting canceled left and right in 2020, athletes are looking for new ways to push themselves. Running a Personal Record (PR) time for shorter distances is hard without other athletes nearby to pace off of and push you towards your goal. Where does that leave you? For many, the answer lies in going long, specifically ultra. Virtual Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) events like Virtual Toughest Mudder, Spartan’s Virtual races and Virtual World’s Toughest Mudder provide you with that opportunity.
Here’s a couple of quick tips to help you prepare for those events along with a couple more that will help you get ready for Ultra-OCRs once full on race season resumes.
Don’t neglect the long run:Long runs take a lot of time and energy. You may be hesitant to skip the longest run in your training plan but that is the worst thing you can do. The long run followed by recovery periods develops the systems in your body to allow for success on event day including building muscle, efficiency, bone density, more capillaries in your legs and stronger ligaments/tendons. Your body needs to the long run so it is more capable of handling distances slightly longer on event day.
Build up to doubling down:Long runs are important but there is a limit to how far you should run in preparation for your event. This will largely depend on your training history, current run volume and length of event. Rather than just continuing to extend your long run indefinitely week to week, start doubling up on long runs on the weekends. In practice this looks like on Saturday you run long, then follow it up with a run of similar distance on Sunday. This back to back long runs will get your body used to running on tired legs and will simulate many of the conditions, problems and challenges you will face on event day. It is better to double down on the weekend and resume normal training after a rest day then to run a monster distance on one day requiring a week or more to recover.
Fuel consistently:For every minute you go past an hour of your event, the requirement to fuel becomes more and more urgent. To be able to run to your maximum potential, you want a mix of carbs (for fast-medium burning fuel), fat (for slow burning fuel) and a small amount of protein (to prevent your body using your muscle to fuel). Products like Hammer Nutrition’s Perpetuem provide all three in a single drink mix allowing your body to use every pathway for energy production. You can also get similar nutrients from solid food but I prefer fuel that is designed for endurance, will be something consistent from race to race thus eliminating as many variables as possible and is easily digestible in liquid form.
Run in comfortable shoes:Your feet will lead you to success or failure. Running in a pair of shoes that is going to cause blisters or lead to foot pain is a quick way to end your race. VJ Shoes offers a wide variety of options of shoes, but all with the grip you will need. For most people, the MAXx will be your best option. For those that prefer less cushioning and less weight on your feet, the XTRM might be better. If you are going to run your ultra on trails (which will lessen the impact) but also mean more uneven footing, you are going to need good traction and now company gives you a better grip than VJ. There is an unseen cost of poor traction that causes waste in energy per foot strike and increases the possibility of an injury.
Mindset is important:When you are along with your thoughts for hours on end logging miles, your mindset will likely determine how far you can go and not body. To get ready for running long, I highly suggest using audiobooks to get you in the right mindset pre-event like Matt Fitzgerald’s “How Bad Do You Want It” or biographies of ultra-athletes like Dean Karnazes “Ultra-Marathon Man”, James Lawrence “Iron Cowboy” or my book covering events like a 48 hour OCR “Ultra-OCR Man: From Special Forces Soldier to Record Setting Obstacle Course Racer”.
Train Upper Body:For most virtual events, you can realistically get away with zero upper body training since they usually just turn it into a straight run format with no obstacles. However, if you are looking to translate your virtual success into PRs and podiums back on the race course in 2021, don’t neglect upper body training. Your upper body training should have these three principles: Specificity, Progressive and Enjoyable. Specificity meaning it simulates the actions and movements you will have to do during the race. Progressive means it gets harder as you get better to allow for continuous adaptation. Finally, it should be enjoyable on some level because you will naturally try harder at something you enjoy rather than something you hate.
Preparation for Ultra-OCR is such a broad topic I could literally write a book about it…and I did, Mud Run Guide’s Ultra-OCR Bible, so if you are looking to really maximize your potential, I would pick up a copy in hard copy or digital. Regardless of how well or poorly you prepare, be prepared to go deep into the pain cave on event day. However, you shouldn’t start going there until the second half of the event. It is much better to start out too slow than too fast. Train hard, work consistently, get outside and enjoy yourself. You’ll find the world of ultra can take you far beyond what you ever thought was possible.
About the Author: Evan “Ultra-OCR Man” Perperis is an athlete on the Conquer The Gauntlet Pro Team, National Strength & Conditioning Certified Personal Trainer and the owner of Strength & Speed. His tips that have led him to more than 50x Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) podiums can be found in his six books on OCR. You can learn more about his mindset, nearly four years of cumulative combat deployments and his multi-day record setting OCRs for charity in his book “Ultra-OCR Man: From Special Forces Soldier to Record Setting Professional Obstacle Course Racer.”