9 Pieces of Advice from Ultra Marathoners

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.

What an ultra marathon runner can teach any runner
What we can learn from ultramarathon racers

As I look back at my marathon experience earlier in 2019, I can almost fathom running more than the marathon distance.

Almost.

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.


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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.

9 tips we can learn from an ultra marathon runner
9 ideas we can steal from ultra runners

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.

Find Trainwithmarc on Instagram
Find Trainwithmarc on Instagram

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!

9 tidbits we can learn from the ultramarathon community
What we can learn from the ultramarathon community to help our running

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.

Tips taught from ultra-marathon runners
9 tips that an ultra marathon runner can teach us

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.


Did you find this article helpful? Let me know by leaving a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.


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Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach
Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach

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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4 thoughts on “9 Pieces of Advice from Ultra Marathoners

  1. deborahbrooks14 July 3, 2019 — 8:32 AM

    Hmm don’t think I ever see an Ultra in my plan but super supportive of those who do!

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  2. The unexpected is one of the things we need to be prepared for in almost any distance race. Sh*t happens and it’s good to be prepared.

    I have never done an ultra and don’t intend to but I have many friends that I admire who do them. Including my Ragnar trail teammate Sean (@ultrarunnerSD) who finished the Western States 100 last weekend, has a 3000+ day run streak, and told me during our relay race that he once took a wrong turn and ended up adding an extra 20 miles to his 160 mile run. Like it was no big deal. Yeah, they’re a bit crazy!

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  3. Holy crap! I just followed him – he looks like a complete badass. I’m pretty sure I’ll never do one, but the tips were pretty spot on to all distances I’ve come across.

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  4. I know that I’ll never run an ultra but all of the ultrarunners that I know are super mentally strong.

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