Running 100km is definitely not an easy task and planning for your first attempt can be almost as intimidating as the race itself. Explorer Ben knows the ups and downs, downs and ups, highs, lows and mental battles of ultra running and is ready to share his experiences from his time on the trails.
Before my younger brother ran the Gold Coast’s Kokoda 2018 96km trail ultra he asked:
“What are some tips no one told you before you ran your first 100km race?”
I quickly penned a shortlist and sent him the bullet points and since then it’s expanded a little to share my experience. Experience is a hard teacher, first you get the test, then you get the lesson. Hopefully I can help you ace the test!
1. Put in the Work, Nothing Comes for Free
Trail events, no matter the distance, are difficult. You need to train, especially for longer events. Training isn’t only for fitness, it’s also for what you will learn about yourself during a very long run.
“The work” is not just about getting faster through fitness. A byproduct of the training is learning all the small details. Working on the kinks and figuring out the things that may unhinge your big day on the trail. Learning how much your feet swell after a few hours on the go. Gels might work fine in a road marathon, but how do they sit after hours in the saddle on the trail? Does that new vest get too hot or chafe? Is that headlamp bright enough at night? What’s it like training with the same weight expected during the event? All these details should be considered and worked on so that come event day, very little is left to the unknown. Most big adventures have come undone from the small things going wrong!
2. Beware the Chair!
A personal point for many, but I can’t help but look back at an event and notice how much time I give away at an aid station. Granted, sometimes your race is unravelling and you must stop and eat, rest, recover or treat yourself, but if everything is going well and you have a time goal, then stay out of that comfy chair, stay away from that warm alluring fire and get going. A slow walk is faster than sitting down. The minutes just tick away at aid stations. Keep the stops as short as is practical and then every step is towards the finish.
3. Feel bad? Don’t worry, it’ll pass. Feel good? Don’t worry, that’ll pass too.
Irrespective of the trail distance, everyone will have a doubt, or down part. In a sprint event, it may be a few seconds, in a 100km ultra they can come in waves. You feel down, slow down and find yourself feeding the “bad wolf”. I find recognising and accepting this emotion helps it pass. Feeding it helps it grow and that’s the last thing you need. Accept that you feel bad, understand that it will pass, and it will. Step 5 will help cover this in more detail.
Most of the times that I have experienced this downward spiral have been due to one key point — not understanding what’s wrong. This can happen when your emotive brain runs away with you while your logical brain goes all fuzzy.
We need to process what’s wrong and address it if we can or accept it if we can’t. My go-to response for feeling bad is to slow down and eat something. Sounds simple, but it’s often what’s wrong. I simply slow down, eat some quick calories, have a drink and force myself to think and problem solve why I feel bad. When was the last time I ate? How much have I drunk? Have I managed my layers for the current climate? The list goes on based on all the things you learned while training.
4. Positive drowns out negative — use that as a tool
Very talented West Australian ultra runner Bernadette Benson once said, “Positive thoughts will drown out negative ones”. I didn’t really understand that until I used it as a tool. You simply can’t have both kinds of thoughts at the same time. If you’re trying to keep the bad wolf at bay, think happy, sing out loud, laugh, force a smile, run like the race photographer is at the bottom of the next hill. Flood your brain with positive and before you know it the bad wolf retreats. Enjoy your adventure!
5. Run to the Conditions
The Australian climate is known for being great one day and perfect the next but any adventurer knows better. With the increased effort of running vast distances, changes in weather conditions need to be not only considered but adjusted for on the go. While extreme heat and cold present their own challenges they can both result in your special day ending sooner than planned.
With heat, the regular precautions of more fluids and electrolytes are required but the first step to success is slowing down. It seems simple, but people have often been running for hours barely considering the heat creeping up when suddenly they feel terrible. As the day warms up, keep your effort balanced. Stay feeling good to make the finish at the cost of pace.
Conversely, the cold can draw energy from you very quickly, particularly if stationary. Manage your layers for the speed you are travelling, more light layers are better than one thick one and don’t be shy about breaking out that rain jacket when the rain starts!
Photos by Chris Ord