5 Must Read Tips for Running Ultras

If you are considering entering an ultra, or even contemplating your first marathon, these tips from the GRTW ultra coach, Sarah Sawyer are well worth heeding…

Be a Tortoise not a Hare

There’s a reason why you’ll often see female runners perform better than men at ultras, and that’s because we pace ourselves like tortoises and not hares. My 100 mile PB is faster than some of my male friends who are sub 3 hour marathon runners, and that’s all down to pacing. I tell coaching clients that they should get to the halfway point of a 100 mile race feeling like their race hasn’t even started; do this and in the second half, you’ll tortoise picking off all those hares who have gone off too fast.

Learn how to walk

Don’t be afraid to take walking breaks in ultras; even the elites walk at times. On a hilly course, you’ll get natural walking breaks on steep up hills; on a flat course, I always take a short walking break every 30 or 60 minutes which uses different leg muscles and refreshes my running legs. However, when I say walk, I mean ‘power hike’ and not a Saturday afternoon amble round the shops! (anyone who has taken Sunday runs with us will be familiar with our ‘Be in control of that walk – stride it don’t slump it).

Eat little and often

After pacing, the second biggest mistake I see people make in ultra marathons is not getting their nutrition right. My rule of thumb is to start eating after 30 minutes and eat little and often from there onwards. People often make the mistake of waiting until they’re hungry before they start eating, but this means they’re going to be in a calorie deficit and will be trying to play catch-up all day. I aim for a minimum of 200 calories per hour and I get this from a combination of Mountain Fuel Extreme Energy drinks, Longhaul food pouches, GU Stroopwafels and 32GI Sports Chews. However, one size doesn’t fit all, so test out different things in training and find what works for you. And whatever you do, don’t try anything new on race day…..I’ve done that and it wasn’t pretty!

Deal with problems straight away

Things might go wrong in ultras. You can train and prepare, but there may be things that are outside your control on race day, such as adverse weather conditions, stomach issues, blisters and more. In an ultra marathon, everything is exemplified. So however much the temptation is to wait until the next aid station, where you can, deal with things straight away.

I ran the CCC (100k mountain race in the Alps) this summer and as I was climbing up to the highest point, the weather turned and I was subject to strong winds, freezing rain and snow. I wanted to keep moving and the last thing I wanted to do was stop and get my warm top, waterproof jacket and gloves out of my rucksack on the side of a freezing cold mountain, but I knew that if I didn’t, I’d be cold, wet and potentially hypothermic by the next aid station.

Ultras are like life

Sometimes everything ticks along perfectly, and other times, curveballs get thrown at us. As in life, the most successful ultra runners are those who deal the best with what ultras throw at them when things go wrong. I’ve had races which have gone like a dream and I’ve finished on the podium, and I’ve had races which have fallen apart and I’ve had to slog out a finish. In the latter, the easiest option would have been to quit. However, sometimes the races which go wrong and we have to slog it out to the finish are the ones we learn the most from, and the ones we end up ultimately the most proud of.

Sarah Sawyer is part of our coaching term and can provide one to one virtual coaching and mentoring for ultra marathons wherever you are in the world.

How to plan your running season

Autumn is here and most of us are fully in the swing of running now but now is when a little strategic thinking about your running ‘season’ is vital, particularly if you’ve  signed up to a Spring Marathon (London is 24 weeks way come November 6th!) ….

 

So, you’re a busy woman, juggling a career, social events, motherhood, or ALL of the above plus more. Running? That’s your way of keeping fit, having some me time, socialising and blowing off steam right?

But within this mix of factors as to WHY we run, how many of us enter races left, right and centre, particularly when fuelled by post race endorphins (or wine?) or because your running buddies are doing them?

I put my hand up as having done this in the past. And I understand it. It’s fun to have things to aim for, to motivate and inspire yourself (I once found myself signed up to five marathons in 14 months, from a trail race to road marathons spanning the globe from Mumbai to Istanbul and Italy). But it is when our running goals and targets end up injuring us, leaving us chronically fatigued, or always feeling like we’re not doing enough, that it becomes a problem.

How many times, for instance, have you run yourself ragged training for a race, trying to fit it around work, family, and generally having a life? You end up feeling guilty when you are running and guilty when you aren’t running. Or, perhaps you are someone that finds yourself limping from one race to the other, never quite recovered, carrying an injury or running through it until finally, it takes you out. Sound familiar?

To help you avoid this – and to ensure you end up a stronger, happier, more fulfilled runner, these are our tips to ensuring you have a fantastic running season or year ahead.

 

  1. First, pick your goal race. You can have more than one of these per year, but make sure you follow the principle of progression for each of them. If you can’t, it means you are entering too many of them close together.
  2. For every goal event, have a training plan. It can be one off the internet, designed for you personally, or  one that you’ve written from your own experience. Whatever it is, here’s what we’d recommend in general; 8-12 weeks for 10km, 12-16 weeks for a half marathon, 16-24 weeks for a marathon and 24 weeks plus for an ultra.
  3. And within EACH of these plans, they should have three components;
    • Base phase – 4-8 weeks focusing on endurance/strength and conditioning to prepare you for harder workouts and help you prevent injury.
    • Race specific – 4-8 weeks where workouts become more difficult and specific to your event. So, if doing a marathon, runs including faster sections at race pace, if doing a hilly trail race, runs that replicate this.
    • Taper period – this includes 2-3 weeks of reduced mileage and increased intensity.
  4. Plan in ‘tune up races’ – once you’ve chosen your ‘A’ race, you can and should enter other events but these should be events that help support your main goal, where you can practise pace, your race strategy etc. For marathon runners, this should be a half marathon 4-6 weeks from your race, for a  half marathon, these could be 2-3 races of 10km to 10miles in length, while 10km runners can choose some park runs.

And most importantly, within your training cycle for an individual race – and over a year, there should be recovery periods. If you keep on racing, or have events after events, your body has no time to recover. And it is in this recovery period that your body builds and gets stronger. Ignore this – which is what happens when you follow a scatter gun approach to entering races – and you will eventually find yourself injured. Perhaps not in the first year or even the second, but it gets everyone in the end.

 

Does this ring any bells with you? What’s the most events you’ve ever entered in one year? We’d love to find out so comment below.

 

If you are interested in our mentoring and training plan service, click here to find out more.

5 Running Hacks

Whether you are a seasoned runner or just starting out, sometimes it’s all to easy to allow your mind to talk yourself out of running and then staying the course when you finally are out there… Not with our clever running hacks that will help you reach your endorphin post run high

Barcode laces

So, how many times have you done this? It’s Saturday morning, you’ve got about ten minutes to spare before you absolutely HAVE to get out of the front door if you have any hope of making it to parkrun but you can’t find your barcode? Or even worse, you have to get online, find your login details, download it and print it out.

Sounds familiar? What’s worse is that deep down, you kind of now that you may have thought about this the night before but leaving it until the morning means you have a get out clause if you want to. It’s crazy isn’t it? You know that you LOVE parkrun when you do it and feel fantastic afterwards but still we sabotage it. Well, here’s a way you simply can’t.

Invest in a Parkrun barcode, which costs as little as £4.26 for three and thread one through your running shoe laces. That way, you have no excuse and you won’t spend ten minutes storming round the house in a flap getting even more anxious.

 

 

Work to Run Wear

If like most women you are always  having to rush to either pick up the kids or to work via a commute, chances are that fitting in a run before or after work/school drop-off can seem impossible. The whole thought of having to schlep in an entire change of wardrobe to work or going home, changing and then heading out is just a no-go. But nowadays, it’s so easy to wear something that will pass as office attire and all you need to do is to have a sports bra and trainers to hand so that you can run home from work, or at least be changed within 30 seconds when you get home so  you don’t give your brain enough time to self sabotage.  Check out the range of running leggings at www.hipandhealthy.com, which come in a range of great prints which could be teamed with funky pumps or boots and a plain top and jacket. Obviously, if you work in the financial sector then perhaps not so easy to get away with but there are options.

Make it playful 

We hear from so many women that they get out to run and just can’t seem to get past running for two minutes or that it never gets any easier. The trick is to switch up your workouts and don’t think of it as  ‘Oh, I’ve got to run for 10 minutes non-stop.’ It’s actually far more beneficial to your running development to have a mixture of running workouts, such as a long, slow steady run (and long can be whatever that is to you – one mile or ten) a short, sharp run where you try to run 3-5km as fast as you can at the same pace. And then you can also do Fartlek runs, which simply means choosing a landmark – it could be a lamppost or a bin, and sprinting as fast you can to it (warm up first!) and then recover and repeat 10 more times. In between, you can do bodyweight exercises like push ups or step ups on benches, anything to just make it a little bit more interesting.

Relive the Summer of Love

OK, we don’t mean that literally! But why not try listening to music with a 120 beats per minute or higher. Studies have shown that makes exercise seem easier and elevates your mood as you run. Use SongBPM to work out the BPM of your favourite tracks.

 

Start using Strava

Unlike other running apps, Strava is fantastic at adding extra motivation. It not only keeps track of your own personal records, providing a first, second or third best time notification on any routes or parts of routes that you run regularly but you can also compete for crowns (Queen of the mountain) or cups on parts of routes that everyone else on Strava has run. You may not think you are that competitive but you’ll be amazed at how motivating it becomes once you start using it. Plus, you’ll get to be part of the Girls Run the World UK 900 member club on Strava too where you could find more runners local to run with and some extra motivation from us.

What are your best tips to make running easier? Share them by commenting below.