Always wondered what lies beyond a marathon? Here’s your first tip: pain. Anika recently ran her first 50k and she learnt a bunch along the trail.


What’s an ultramarathon? Well, it’s any running race longer than the marathon distance of 42.195 km, and participation in these events has increased significantly over the past 20 years.

This rise in popularity is largely the result of people like me (women aged between 40-50) deciding it’s a great personal challenge for the bucket list. Most of the time ultramarathons are off-road, on trails, which makes for an excellent adventure, but ups the difficulty level of the event.

After much doubt and deliberation, I finally signed up for the Surf Coast Century 50km, which starts and finishes in Anglesea on the Great Ocean Road in beautiful Wadawurrung Country.

Whilst many of my nearest and dearest questioned my sanity, I absolutely loved it! That’s not to say it went without a hitch, just ask my knees! There were areas for improvement and lessons learned, so I bring you my top ten tips from my first ultramarathon.

1. Training Plans Are Good, Follow One

What’s the saying? Fail to plan, plan to fail. Training plans are great for guidance, incorporating variation, and building training sustainably.

Events generally provide access to a plan, and there are also many experienced ultra-runners out there sharing their own. I used a combination of two plans covering 5-6 months of training, a good amount of time to gradually build the endurance required without overtraining and causing injury.

Adapt the plan to best suit your circumstances. If running five days a week pushes your body over the edge for example, swap out a run for cross-training like cycling or swimming.

Read more: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide To Trail Running


Take training as an opportunity to get outside!

2. Don’t Overlook Nutrition and Hydration

So much focus is placed on race day, but you need to support your body through all stages of the journey. Talk to fellow runners, listen to podcasts, read blogs and books. I learnt about things like when you should pull out the caffeine gels, and that it’s important to consider electrolyte ingredients, for example, get your sodium needs through hydration, and your carbs through gels/food.

I found my preferred gel brand and electrolyte mix well before race day, trying them out several times on long training runs. You don’t want to surprise your body on race day by trying something new!

Also, as your training runs get longer it’ll become more and more important to fuel yourself before, during, and after your run. It makes a big difference to your recovery time and how enjoyable the training runs can be.

Nutrition will save you on race day. Make sure you don’t hit the infamous ‘wall’

3. Gear Can Make or Break Your Day

Carefully check and re-check the event information and any mandatory gear lists. Ultramarathon courses often go into remote areas, so there are very good reasons to carry a bunch of safety gear.

Plus, many races give time penalties or disqualification for missing items. Research what the weather might be like on the day and think about what you’ll be most comfortable wearing. You could be out there for a long time, so be prepared.


Test out your gear. See what works and what doesn’t


Obviously, shoes are an important piece of kit but sometimes they’re hard to get right! You want happy feet, so allow yourself time to find the right shoe. Also, consider what the trail conditions might be like.

How technical the terrain is, will you need aggressive lugs on the sole for mud? You may want to have a second pair of shoes waiting at an aid station if you know your feet will end up soaked and/or muddy.

It’s best to get your shoes fitted at a specialty running store where the staff understand what is needed from an ultra running shoe. Also, if your shoes aren’t working, don’t ignore it. Bite the bullet and try something different, it could change everything.

Pro tips: Toe socks, a tri-belt for your race plates; and anti-chafing cream applied liberally to hot points you’ve identified in training.

4. Strength and Mobility

Trail running can have your body moving along all the different planes of motion. Whilst I find trails to be much kinder on my knees than pavement, the varied terrain activates different muscles most notably in the ankles and feet.

Strength and mobility work will complement your training program by strengthening those muscles, maintaining flexibility, and working on your core. This will help keep you upright and prevent injuries such as rolled ankles.

Strength work is also brilliant for all the vertical ascending you’ll be doing in a trail race. Some of them climb thousands of metres, so strong quads, glutes, and hamstrings will all help out on race day.

I do yoga for mobility and pilates classes for my strength work, as I find committing to a class is the best way to make me actually go through with it!

5. Enter Other Events

If they fit into your training schedule, why not? It’s a good way to test gear, get trail variety, and race experience. But consider that you’re more likely to push harder in an event, which impacts your recovery time compared to a regular long run effort.

I thought I’d rolled my ankle in a bad way in an event three weeks before my ultra. Fortunately, I pulled up ok. Moral of the story, keep your eye on the ultra goal, but don’t be scared of planning some smaller events along the way.


Use other races as dry runs for the big day!

6. Maintain the Bod!

We’re all busy and probably guilty of skipping warmups and cool downs at times. I used the following to keep my body happy:

  • Foam rolling each evening (usually). Set a reminder and don’t ignore it like I sometimes do, it doesn’t take long!
  • Regular remedial massage. If you don’t have a person, ask your running friends for a recommendation. Get niggles sorted sooner rather than later. This also goes for the physio.
  • One weekly rest day and every 4th week taking it a bit easier in preparation for a harder effort to follow. Your body needs rest and recovery to make the gains you’re after.
  • Watch your sleep habits. I’d aim for at least 7 hours a night but prioritising it is best.

7. TOF – Time On Feet

Rather than train by distance, switch to Time On Feet. If you’re getting faster as your training progresses, you’ll cover more distance in less time, and this won’t help you build the endurance required to be on your feet for several hours. Also aim to get as much time on trails as possible, if your body can take it.

Read more: 13 Trails and Waterfalls in the Otways,Victoria


Hours on the trails will prepare you like nothing else will

This is where I could have improved. My longest training run was 30km in five hours and it just wasn’t enough. When I reached this point on race day, I essentially asked my poor body to just smash out a half-marathon. No wonder it started to get cranky at 40km and then said NO to running downhill for the last 6!

Pro tip: Instead of one massive run on a weekend, doing a long run on both days (whether evenly split or with one clearly longer) can help you get a lot of time on feet without being so draining.

8. Slow Down!

The best advice I received was this: ‘Don’t go out too hard, slow down, and don’t get carried away. Walk the hills, run the flats, and don’t hammer the downhills as your knees won’t like you!’

I paid attention to all of this except maybe the last bit. I love descending and there was this one section that was so much fun, and I paid for it later. However, I don’t think that was the only reason my knees blew up (see #4 and #7).

A lot of people get excited on race day and run fast early, only to slow down or blow up completely later on. If it’s your first ultramarathon a good starting pace will probably feel ridiculously slow, but it’ll be worth it at the finish line.

9. Support Crew

Rope in some family or friends to be your support crew. Spend time planning out race day with them – where should they be and what do you want them to do? Communicate this clearly and be very specific. The pre-race briefing will cover important instructions on when and how support crews can assist their runner.


Get the fam involved, they’ll be your cheer squad when you feel like quitting!

My crew were at the main aid station around halfway. They refilled soft flasks and topped up gels whilst I wolfed down 2-minute noodles and changed socks. They managed to find me another three times by tracking my phone, and those later meetings really gave me a lift.

10. Enjoy!

Reviewing your expectations and mindset beforehand will determine how much you enjoy the experience. My main goal was to finish, and I had a rough estimate of how long I thought it may take, all going well. Even with my complaining knees, I crossed the line smack on that estimated time. But things don’t always go to plan, so consider how you might respond to challenges on the day.


Above all, enjoy completing a goal months in the making!

Once out there, chat to other runners. The trail running community is awesome! You’ll probably end up running with the same people for large chunks of the race and it helps pass the time, especially if you’re running solo like I was. And take in that amazing scenery. This is a large part of why we trail run right? To immerse ourselves in nature.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the run. Yes, it was hard, but I loved the slower pace that allowed me to connect with others, with my environment and with myself.

Would I do it again? Hells yeah! When registrations opened for this year I’d signed up in the first week and (all going to plan) will toe the start line with a friend attempting her first ultramarathon.

The Surf Coast Century is a great event for those attempting their first ultra. It takes place this year on the 16th of September 2023, offering 50km and 100km courses (solo or relay team options available for the latter).