The lessons that ultramarathon runners can teach all runners
Ultramarathoners are, in my own opinion, freakin’ crazy humans. They’re willing to go beyond what’s already considered “not-normal” – 26.2 miles – and push their bodies to the brink of failure.
As I look back at my marathon experience earlier in 2019, I can almost fathom running more than the marathon distance.
Reflecting on the training I did in the lead up to the Atlanta Marathon I can begin to imagine that if I had to run more I might have been able to do it.
Despite having little experience training for or actually racing an ultra, I reread an article that gave me confidence there is a great parallel to ultra runners (as crazy as they are) to runners who “only” want to run shorter race distances.
9 tidbits we can steal from ultra runners
Below, I’m going to be examining the 9 suggestions ultra runners can teach us about running and racing.
Idea # 1: Pacing
In an ultra, there’s nothing worse than hitting a wall with 25 miles still to go. In non-ultra races, pacing is still very critical to having a good race. Speaking from experience, I know that it’s completely possible to “bonk” in any race distance from 800 meters up to the marathon. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to be the runner who is catching slower runners ahead of me instead of the guy being passed.
Idea # 2: Effort
Training by perceived effort will lessen the need for relying so heavily on a GPS watch. While running, our bodies don’t recognize the difference between 8-minute pace and 8:30 pace.
If runners are able to control their efforts on a daily basis and run what their body is asking for, then yes, I believe using a GPS is good. I’m on board for GPS use as long as we can run by effort. As a coach, I can get good feedback from my athletes, which is why I’m a big fan of runners using a watch. Again: if you can monitor your running effort through perceived output, know that every run will not be blazing fast, and keep your pace and effort level in check, then I’m all about using a GPS watch.TrainwithMarc, GPS Watches: Good for Running?
Moreover, when training, especially if you’re not on a treadmill, the pace will vary wildly depending on your terrain. Our GPS watch and our body might tell two completely different stories: what might feel like a very hard effort will show up as a slow mile. Why? Hills, wind, elevation. Keep this in mind and don’t be afraid of running by effort/feel.
Idea # 3: The Course
There is nothing wrong with doing your homework and knowing what the course might look like. For shorter races – 5k or 10k – I run the last mile of the race course as my warm up. I like knowing and being able to visualize the end of the course when I’m more likely to be tired and not thinking straight.
You may not be winning the race, but you’ll still want to know where you’re going and when you should time your kick.
If you aren’t prepared for hills, trails, or turns on the course, knowing the course beforehand can help you mentally prepare for what lies ahead.
Idea # 4: Excuses
If a run is getting away from you, there might be a good reason to cut it short. If you’re hurt or in danger of getting hurt, stop running. There’s something to be said about being smart and bailing on a run or race if you’re risking further injury.
If, however, you’re being mentally weak or unstable, try to focus on the positives and keep plugging away. Take it one tree, one lap, one mile at a time.
Remember, once you drop out of a race, it becomes a lot easier to do it again next time when the going gets tough.
Idea # 5: Socialize
Race day is supposed to be fun! Do your best to keep everything in perspective and have as much fun as you can. You’ve done the training, it’s time to reward yourself with a fun experience. Warm up or cool down with someone new to you. Exchange contact info and hold each other accountable. The company will give you added motivation or an ear to listen to!
Idea # 6: The Unexpected
Regardless of what race distance you’re competing in, there’s always the possibility of something going wrong. The longer the race, the more likely something will happen. It’s ok! Plan for it, practice it, and move on from it! Plan for what you can and that’ll be a good experience for you!
Idea # 7: Experience
When things go wrong, you file that away in your memory and learn from those experiences. A seasoned vet has an arsenal of experiences that he or she can draw on to combat the fresher, faster, or stronger younger competitors. Use the skills you’ve learned from years of racing to your advantage
Idea # 8: Mental Toughness
The more miles you have in your legs, the stronger your mind becomes. Your toughness will exponentially grow as you’ll be able to handle more adverse situations. When things do go wrong, you’ll have the grit to persevere AND you’ll have experience on your side to help you.
Idea # 9: Be Happy
No matter what, at the end of the day, you have to do what makes you happy. That might be running short races, it might be going out for a 3-hour run or taking an extended break from running. Only you’ll be able to tell what will truly make you happy. That’s what you should do.
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Marc is a USATF Track and Field & Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT O2 certified running coach. I have more than 19 years of experience running and more than 10 years of experience coaching runners. Click for more information!
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