Ultra running is no joke, but it’s the training that really shows you what you are made of. When I set myself the goal of running 100 miles (160km) I knew it was going to be tough as nails, I thought yeah I will learn so much running it (and I am sure I still will when we toe the line in September at the legendary Karkloof100) but it is the training that has been something of a revelation for me.
Don’t let the vert hurt
Depending on the type of terrain your goal race is you will naturally train accordingly. If your race is over smooth jeep track and clean forest trails spending hours in the rocky technical mountains every single run won’t necessarily benefit you as much as flat dirt road running will. I’ve had to force myself to walk the hills, and hey it’s OK! No one is going to be laughing at your Strava laps because you walked the hills. Saving energy on the ups means you run the flat and downhills when others are forced to walk later in the race.
Don’t waste tired legs
For years I have tried my best to make sure I am as rested as possible before the weekend long run, but a few weeks back when I was slogging through a 4 hour run feeling like death warmed up all I wanted to do was stop. Then it suddenly hit me, I worked hard to get this tired and I am not injured, so just keep running. Running your long run on tired legs is a great way to simulate a possible race day environment when you start to feel tired towards the end of the race. This can be applied to any run distance training. It not only teaches you to run on tired legs but builds some serious mental fortitude because we are never as tired as our brain tries to tell us we are. You can always go more!
Train at goal race pace
This has been by far the toughest part of my training. Not counting the very little speed work I do, most of my runs have tried to be at goal race pace for the karkloof100, which happens to be almost 3 minutes per km slower than the average I am most comfortable at. Training slow takes proper discipline, having people pass you while you are walking is not good for the ego but training at 4min/km will have zero benefit when you are running for 24 hours plus at 7mins/km. Training the slow twitch muscle fibres and building endurance is a patience game. One that you will reap serious benefits from if you can get right.
The hunger is real
It’s true what they say, training for an ultra puts a fire in your belly. The proverbial fire of passion and zeal to go further than ever before, but more importantly a literal fire that burns up anything you eat in 30 seconds flat. The fight for clocking as many miles as you can without getting injured before race day is only surpassed by the fight to consume as many calories as humanly possible, and hope it’s enough.
Make sure you like being with yourself
For the most part running is a selfish sport, especially ultra running. You will be spending hours out there, mostly by yourself. If you don’t like your own company you will have to quickly learn to like yourself. Ultra running for me is about self-discovery (among other things), if you feel like you don’t know yourself very well just enter an ultra. You will get acquainted very quickly. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable and still being patient with yourself when things don’t go according to plan is a skill that is learnt and one that can benefit in all spheres of life.
Spotify will change your life
If you still don’t like yourself after training for an ultra just register on Spotify. Podcasts and playlists for days that will keep you entertained. I try not run with music mostly but there are some days when you are just so flat and can’t bring yourself to have to process any thoughts while running. It’s days like these when a Spotify “Lazy Weekend” playlist serenading you through your long run makes you feel like you are running on cotton wool.
Find an understanding spouse
I should have lead with this because it is probably the most important part of training for an ultra, especially if you would still like to be married when you cross the finish line. Don’t forget to put that quality time into your spouse / partner / significant other on top of all the hours you are hogging to clock the miles. Making them feel special and that they are still the most important goal of your life goes a long way to helping them support you in your goal to reach that finish line. You might be so focused on the sacrifices you as the runner make in your pursuit of your goal, that you haven’t seen the sacrifices the love of your life is making.
P.S. Loni if I hadn’t said it enough thank you for letting me train for this. Thank you for having yummy suppers ready when I get home late in the week from long runs. Thank you for understanding and support me in this. I couldn’t have / can’t do it without you