1. DON'T GO OUT TOO FAST.
On a flat course, " your best races will be done on as close to even splits as possible," says Howard Nippert, who boasts four top-10 finishes at the world road 100K championships, as well as a 2:19 marathon PR.
2. RACE ACCORDING TO PERCEIVED EFFORT.
While even splits (Lesson No. 1) are great in theory, they can't be expected in most ultras; the terrain is generally too varied and/or the mile markers too infrequent or imprecise. Ultrarunners, therefore, aim mostly to maintain a steady, sustainable perceived effort.
Paul DeWitt, a 14:44 5K runner with several 100-mile victories to his credit, believes that other runners should pay more attention to their perceived effort. Even in short races, he says, many factors--hills, changes in weather, misplaced mile markers, lost GPS signals, slight illness--can make splits difficult to collect or misleading.
3. PRACTICE SPECIFICITY OF TRAINING.
"In ultrarunning, particularly on trails, courses vary greatly in terrain, weather, topography and distance," notes three-time Western States 100 champ Nikki Kimball. "If one plans to run an extremely hilly race, she must train both for downhills and uphills. For instance, if one's body has adapted, through treadmill uphill intervals, to intense climbing, she will climb well early in the race, but likely trash her quadriceps so much on the descents that she can neither climb nor run flats well later in the race."
4. DROPPING OUT CAN BE HABIT-FORMING, BUT CAN ALSO BE SMART.
The temptation to drop out of a race can be especially overwhelming for ultramarathoners. Imagine feeling terrible and still having 40 or more miles to go. The decision to call it quits shouldn't be taken lightly, says ultrarunner Brian Morrison, owner of Fleet Feet Sports Seattle, because "once you drop that first time, it gets easier and easier to throw in the towel."
The key is to have a clear understanding of what your goals are and why they're important to you. If you can keep that in mind during your darkest moments of racing, your decisions as to whether to continue will probably be the right ones.
5. ENJOY THE FELLOWSHIP OF OTHER RUNNERS.
In some ways, ultramarathons are particularly conducive to social interaction. They often are all-day or all-weekend events in remote locations where there's little to do besides hang out with other participants, many of whom have wildly entertaining ultra stories to share. Also, the easy paces of the early miles permit extended conversation.
In contrast, many of us treat short, local races as "drive-thru" activities. We check in, warm up, do the race, cool down, grab some refreshments and leave. Why not slow down a bit and interact more with our comrades-in-legs?
6. "PREDICTION IS VERY DIFFICULT, ESPECIALLY ABOUT THE FUTURE."
Physicist Niels Bohr could have been talking about ultramarathons when he said that. The longer the race, the more room there is for unexpected twists and turns to throw the outcome into doubt.
7. MENTAL TOUGHNESS IS A TREMENDOUS ASSET.
In navigating the uncertainty of long races (Lesson No. 6), "attitude and mental toughness play a strong role in success or failure," says five-time national 100K team member Anne Lundblad. Her experience at the 2005 World Cup 100K illustrates the point vividly.
"I went out too fast and didn't drink enough for what turned out to be a hot day, and by 30 kilometers, I was exhausted, dizzy, experiencing GI problems and seriously contemplating a DNF," she recalls. "I talked to the team doc, who advised me to slow down, drink something and continue onward. I followed his advice and also began to repeat the mantra I had used in training ('I'm healthy, strong and tough'). Miraculously, things began to turn around. I regained my energy and motivation, picked up the pace, and began to pass people, ultimately ending up with the silver medal and a PR."
8. YOUTH ISN'T EVERYTHING.
As you age, speed fades more quickly than endurance. This partly explains why elite ultra-runners in their 40s are often a threat to win races outright. In fact, 50-year-old Meghan Arbogast was the fifth female finisher at the world 100K championships last fall.
9. IGNORE THE RULES AND DO WHAT YOU LOVE.
Almost by definition, ultrarunners disregard societal norms. We do races that 99 percent of people consider absurd. With few exceptions, we don't expect widespread recognition for completing or even winning an ultra; the races are their own reward. We run ultras mostly because we find fulfillment in them.
But isn't that how all runners should operate? To run the runs that enrich our lives, regardless of what society tells us about running? To run the runs that are special to us, whether they be short or long, fast or slow, competitive or social?
Read the complete article by Greg Crowther which is featured in the May 2012 issue of Running Times Magazine
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