3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Running My First Ultra

Hey there, WILDR folks!

I think a long trail run is a phenomenal way to push yourself, realize what you’re capable of and explore an area that you love. That said, when I took my racing from the road to the trails for the first time, there were a few things I wish I would have done differently. So learn from my mistakes and remember these three things before running your first ultra race.

Mistake #1: Not Studying the Trail Enough

The first ultra race I did was in Helena, Montana. It was a super low-key event and a really fun atmosphere. It’s a trail that I highly recommend! 

However, my first mistake was not checking out the course map and profile closely enough when I was planning my training and then when I was actually doing the run. 

I like to say that I survived the distance. I didn’t get lost or anything but I definitely did not feel good at the end of it. This pain could have been avoided by knowing what type of 50 km this race was, and training for it!

One thing on the course I did not expect was the number of climbs on the trail. I had anticipated a couple of big climbs but that was it. However, there was a lot more up and down than I had expected. 

Another mistake I made on the trail was watching my watch and reading the GPS as I got closer to 50 km. Mentally I was prepared to be done right at that 50 km mark, but my watch read 51 km. And then 52 km. And by the end, I was at 54 km. That last four kilometres from 50 to 54 felt harder than anything I’ve done in my entire life!

When I sign up for an ultra race now, I immediately look at each leg of the race; what are the distances and elevation profiles. Then, I use my mapping resources to try out other trails like the one I’ll be racing. If you can train on similar trails, that’s going to help you big time when it comes to race day!

Mistake #2: Not Fuelling At The Right Times

The second mistake that I made during my first ultra had to do with fuelling.  When I did my first 50 km, I didn’t eat until like three hours in because I figured I was working at a lower intensity. When I did my marathon, I did it in about three and a half hours, and I didn’t fuel at all. So I just took that logic to the trail. 

And now I can hear you saying, “that logic doesn’t work!” And I know that now! I had a very hard time in the second half of the ultra race with feeling like I just totally was out of energy. 

When I’m training now, I’ve usually already had around 60 grams of carbs, 35 grams of protein, and a bit of fat as well. And I plan to have a lot more before the trail is done.

And so if you fuel early and often and you do a calculation or do some training runs and test what kind of fuel feels best for you and you are going to rock that first ultra.

Mistake #3: Making Some Equipment Changes

The third mistake that I made during my first ultra was equipment-wise. Now I have strong opinions on equipment and I believe that it’s the way the craftsman uses the tools as opposed to having the best tools.

I believe that if you want to run an ultra, you don’t need to run out and buy all the fancy gear for your first run. I ran my first ultra in a pair of roadrunners and what my friends affectionately called my ‘school backpack.’ 

I used it as my school backpack, my skiing backpack, my hiking backpack, my running backpack—I used it for everything! The thing I didn’t anticipate was with a big pack like that,  the chafing I would have on my lower back and shoulders! So if I was to go back and do it again, I would borrow a friend’s running vest maybe, or from the last aid station to the finish line, I’d dump the pack. 

But, use what you have to start and see if it works for you. If you’re going to do big wilderness runs, you want the right equipment for that so that you can be safe, but remember that it will be your fitness as opposed to your gear that will help you be successful. When you do decide to invest in gear, make sure to support your local gear store!

So those are the three mistakes that I made during my first 50 km ultra. I’m sure there are lots of mistakes in my future as well. 

But if you can learn from those mistakes and realize that you’re probably going to make mistakes yourself, even if that means you’ll look like you’re heading to school with your school backpack, it’ll be fun to try anyway!

Have a WILDR week!

If you’re wanting to jump start your trail running routine or train for your first ultra, get started with our WILDR Trail Running Ready 8 Week Dumbbell Program.

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