Running your first ultra: tips from the pros

By September 21, 2015Run

Congrats! You did it! You took the leap to run your first ultra. The hardest part is over! Well, maybe. 

Even an experienced marathon runner will need to take extra steps to ensure success in an ultramarathon. So where do you start? Swiftwick athlete and ultrarunner Majo Srnik gives his top tips on transitioning to the longer distance for first-time ultrarunners.

  1. Train your mind
    When transitioning from marathons to ultras, the first thing to train is your mind. Although it seems totally logical to do this, your typical marathon time shouldn’t be used as a benchmark for your ultra. If you run 10 km an hour and complete a marathon in over four hours, you could be considered slow. But when you run 100 miles in 16 hours, you would actually be ahead.

  2. Stop checking your watch
    You have to forget about checking your pace on your watch all the time, especially if your first ultra is a trail ultra. Most ultra races are on a trail with some elevation gain and variable terrain, so you have to adjust your pace to the trail conditions, terrain, elevation and weather.

  3. Don’t push yourself too far
    You might not be able to run up all the hills, and that’s okay. A good strategy is to power-walk uphill and run downhill.

  4. Nutrition
    Running ultras depends so much on choosing the right fuel and planning it wisely. On a first try, even a 50-kilometer (31.07-mile) ultra might take up to ten hours, so you are pushing your body to a maximum potential and need to be ready for it.

  5. Get the right gear
    My sock of choice for ultras is the ASPIRE ONE in Halo Green. They keep my feet blister free, and I rarely have to change my socks when running 100 miles. Works even wet and does not twist on my feet. Even in running in them daily, I am very impressed with the durability and comfort level. In addition, makes sure you choose the right shoes and the right size of your shoes. Note that when running for a longer period of time, your feet will expand. In my opinion, blisters and losing toe nails should not happen with the right footwear, even when running an ultra.

  6. Talk to others who have gone the distance
    If you can, talk to as many ultrarunners that have done the distance that you are training for, and take in the little things that you feel would work for you. You will learn with each ultra, and your body will tell you when you need to adjust.

  7. Select the right ultra
    In my opinion, the best first ultra is a 24-hour event. This way, you are not under pressure to run a specific distance, and you can focus on doing your best in the 24-hour time slot. In doing this, you can build up your confidence to enter a specific ultra distance. 24-hour ultra events can be on a track, but the most enjoyable ultras (especially for a first-time ultrarunner) are in parks or woods.

Majo’s Training

“My training varies through the year based on what type of a race I am preparing for. Living in Canada, you are limited to indoor training for six months due to snow and cold temperatures, also plays a big part. In the winter months, I use tempo runs and tabatas on treadmill, combined with long runs, usually running up to 80-100 miles a week. I also cross train during that time with ski touring, ice climbing, swimming and riding my road bike on an indoor trainer.

As soon as the spring hits, I am out in the mountains, picking up longer runs with good elevation climbing. My weekly mileage is a bit less in the summer as I need time to recover between races.

Two weeks prior to a big race, I lower my mileage and focus more on biking, giving my legs bit of a break from hitting the ground all the time. I am a big fan of Phil Maffetone’s training method, so I am following his 180 heart rate formula with some customization. I am also a big believer in natural movement such as barefoot running, focusing on perfect running form and being the most efficient you can be.

Read more about Majo’s ultrarunning adventures and training on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram.