Are you new to the ultra scene? Here are a few things to consider as you prepare for an ultra race or an ultra training run. I’ve learned these things through my own experiences and from others along the way. Incorporate these things into prep so that you can get to the finish line!
I would start with “have great shoes”. You will want to put a decent amount of time thinking about what type of shoes you will want to run in. Your shoes are meant to protect you and provide other important aspects like traction on dirt or muddy paths. There is a difference between dirt ultras and road ultras. In a road ultra you could get away with a nicely cushioned road shoe but a dirt trail ultra be more comfortable with a shoe that has some water proofing and added traction (more rubber). Obviously, off road trail shoes do weigh more. Think about having at least one other pair ready to change into. In some races your feet will get extremely wet (creek crossings or lots of sweating) so having extra socks and shoes might be a smart idea. I also find that in really long races some shoes begin to pinch and chafe your feet in certain ways so a change in shoes halfway through might ease some of that discomfort or stop a major problem from developing. Think about shoes that give you plenty of room in the toe box because your toes need some space to splay and swell in long races. If your toes and feet are already fairy tight in your shoes then you could have issues in a really long race where your feet may swell some.
One of the first things you’ll notice in an ultra is possible “chafing” issues. Bad areas include feet, waistline of your shorts, nipples, your man parts (if you are a man), and shoulder and neck areas where the shirt or singlet moves or race vest moves. The longer the race the more you are going to battle with chafing because the build up of “salt” and just the constant rubbing of body parts and fabric over time will cause irritation. A smart idea is to sponge off and clean these areas at aid stations. Therefore, you can have your crew or have in your drop bag a sponge and water to wash. I would have a couple different types of chafing solutions. I use Chafe X (lotion based) and Body Glide (a stick). I also have “wax” based and petroleum jelly. When you body is wet or already irritated, rolling on some “stick” based chafing does not work well. This is where putting on the lotion based or some petroleum jelly is better. I can easily “roll” on before in a race and then add on the lotion based chafing solutions from my crew bag or drop bag later.
Another area of chafing I account for is my nipples. I use NipEase because they are easy to put on, easy to take off, and stay put. They also are breathable! Again, over a really long distance something like your nipples may get chafed! It’s better to be preventative in these areas and not have to deal with bleeding nipples later.
A lot of ultra runners and triathletes will put wax on the bottoms of their feet even with anti-blister socks on. Double the protection! If your feet go bad, you are in trouble! Take care of your feet and have them prepped for the long haul. In off road races you might consider “gaiters” to help prevent small rocks and other debris from getting down into your shoes.
Compression is helpful! I use calf compression and wear shorts that have compression built into them. Compression helps with blood circulation and helps dampen muscle vibration. Every little bit can add up in keeping your muscles in a state to push further and go faster.
Other items you would find in my race first aid and drop bags include water proof band-aids, muscle rub (for sore and cramping muscles, anti-cramping aid like Hylands Leg Cramps or Hot Shot. I have tubes of Himalayan Pink Salt for electrolytes in my runs that are super long and I know that sweating and salt loss will be huge. Some races require you to have a collapsible “cup” to use in aid stations to save on trash.
Fuel is very important. Pack plenty of your favorite sports drink and mixes ready to add to water. Also, find what gels or gummies work best for your stomach and digestive system. Do not be afraid to eat solid foods, especially earlier in the race when your body isn’t as stressed and your body can handle it. Common items you might crave include potato chips, nuts, peanut butter sandwich, banana, etc. I like to eat protein cookies called “Clara’s Cookies”. A local lady near me who is an ironman triathlete makes them and they are perfect for endurance athletes. You can buy them online at http://www.claracookies.com and they help support adoption! A broader fueling and food option is important in ultras because you might become sensitive to certain foods and it becomes harder to keep food down. For example, a lot of endurance athletes begin to get nauseas at the idea of eating anything sweet after having hammered on sports drinks and gels for awhile.
Other items to have ready include a good headlamp with extra batteries in your drop bag or gear bag. I would also have KT tape. I made the mistake of not having this in my race kit and won’t do that again. KT tape is helpful to add support to muscles like around the knees or ankles. You’ll want to learn how to self “tape” those problem areas. Just know that a lot can happen to your muscles in a really long race so KT tape, athletic tape, and other wraps or sleeves are helpful.
I always have extra clothes and layers ready if I am crewed. You never know what the weather will bring or what may feel more comfortable down the road. Days can be warm and nights can be really cold. Off road ultra runners also have trekking poles for the longer ultras ready to help with the steep ascents and descents. Hats, sunglasses, sunblock, bug repellant, toilet paper, pain medication, ice, windbreaker jacket, bath towel, foam roller and percussion gun are other items I might have my crew have in the ready.
It’s a lot! Ultra runners have a lot more to plan for and to be ready for. If you are out there all day, all night, or even all weekend, you don’t want to be underprepared. In fact, this blog is not an exhaustive list of what you might need or consider. Every runner and every race is different. I hope this blog helps you in your race prep! Go knock out your ultra and share your experience and wisdom with others.