After years and years of wanting to do an ultramarathon, I finally succeeded with the Vermont 50k. With lots of friends who run ultra’s, I felt like I had a good idea of what to expect from the race thanks to their war stories and advice. But there’s some things that I had to learn on my own. I’m by no means an expert ultra running now.
These are just my thoughts after my first ultramarathon.
Strength training is necessary.
This past year, I really upped my strength training game. I did at least 2 sessions/week of Bullet Proof leg circuits in addition to upper body. I honestly think that helped me tons not only in the race but with recovery.
Never ever did I feel relatively back to normal on day three after a marathon. This time around, I could have gone out for a run on Wednesday if I really wanted to.
Don’t carry too much stuff with you.
I packed my hydration vest with all of the stuff that I took on training runs. I made sure I had enough for at least 13.4 miles where I’d swap out for more from Ron. It worked out well, but looking back, I could have gotten by with less.
You don’t need to run mega miles like every generic training plan says.
My 50k training plan was WAY different than a traditional, cookie cutter plan. I really didn’t “officially” start training until mid July after spending March-early July focusing on shorter distance mountain races like Mt. Washington and Loon Mountain. My midweek runs were never over 60 minutes and my long runs slowly build up with plenty of cut back weeks. I didn’t do any back to back long runs. At first I was stressing about that but I decided to trust my coach and it paid off. I felt strong and ready for the distance.
Don’t worry about time
Based on my training runs, I had a general idea of when I’d finish. Truthfully, I thought I’d be on the lower end of my estimate. It might have come true if the bees didn’t get me but the second half of the course was a lot more technical, which slowed me down, too.
Power hike the hills
I was told by all my ultra running friends to power hike the hills, run the downhills. I thought that was general knowledge. Imagine my surprise when I saw many people who continued to run the hills even when I was passing them by power hiking. Why blow through your energy running if you can walk at a slower pace?
Stick with your hydration/nutrition plan.
An hour into the race, I overheard some ladies talking about their nutrition plan. They were eating every hour. I started eating something 30 minutes in. I momentarily started to think I was going to over do it and was going to back off. But then, I reminded myself that was what worked in training so stick with it. Eat early, eat often.
Boiled potatoes and salt are life.
How did I live so long not knowing this? Fun fact: I hated potatoes of all kinds as a kid. I would gag on mashed potatoes. Now I love them!
You will cycle through feeling good and feeling not so good multiple times.
As multiple friends told me prior to race day, the good thing about the distance is that it’s long enough to feel good again after feeling bad. Don’t feel like the race is donzo as soon as you start to feel poorly. Assess the situation (usually it’s an eating or nutrition issue) and take care of it. You’ll probably feel better in a few miles.
Repeat your positive mantras throughout the race – even when you are feeling good.
I had three things I told myself on repeat:
I will not fall.
I will not sprain my ankle.
I am strong.
I can’t tell you how many times I said those words during the race. I started repeating it early and said it until I crossed the finish line. When a negative thought would pop up, I’d replace it with a positive.
Remember: The physical side of running is tough but the mental side is what’s going to get you across the finish line.
Running an ultra with a friend would have been much more fun.
I saw quite a few groups of friends running together. I got a little bummed out missing all of my running friends, wishing that I had someone to hang with for all the miles. For my next race, I’d love to recruit a similar paced friend to do it with.
Having family/friends at aid stations helped so much.
With the Vermont 50k, Ron and the kids could only see me at two points along the course. I basically broke the race down into two parts based on when I could see them – Start to mile 13.4 and then 13.4-28.5. In addition to counting down the miles until the next aid station, it also gave me something to look forward to. Seeing their faces made me so happy and a nice burst of energy.
A 50k felt easier than a marathon.
Now don’t get me wrong, it was hard AF to do but there was something about it that felt easier to me. The softer terrain, the slower pace, feeling like it was OK to take walk breaks, the relaxed atmosphere…I don’t know. I had that thought come up multiple times out on the course and afterwards.
Never say one and done before you’ve done the one.
The last few miles of the race, I had an internal debate of whether I’d want to do another 50k. I was tired, my hips were starting to ache, my quads hated every downhill, I never wanted to see another switchback and I just wanted to be done. I was leaning towards the never side.
But then I crossed the finish line, laid down in the grass for 10 minutes and let out a word vomit to Ron of all the things that happened in the past 7 hours while I was out on the course. Ron could tell instantly that I was not one and done. I had way too much fun.
Just like childbirth, you forget all the bad points and remember all the good.
I’m not done just yet.