Sunday, 18 September 2011

My tips for running your first Ultra

A friend of mine is thinking of signing up for the UTLD Lakeland 50 next year. It will be her first Ultra and whilst out running on Friday I started compiling a list of tips that I thought would be most useful for a first timer, stuff that i would have found handy, but ended up learning the hard way!

Here they are:


  • Shoes: I wear Inov-8 Roclite 317. They have seen me through all of my training up to and including the L50 last year and I'm still wearing them now (although investment in a new pair is probably best)!
  • Pack: get a good lightweight pack with a hydration system. I use the Inov-8 Race Pro - ideal for me but it does chaff my back over longer distances, so Bodyglide is also a must.
  • Waterproofs: go as lightweight as you can. Unless it's pouring down you'll be carrying them in your bag, and if you are wearing them, you need them to be soft, comfortable, and as much like ordinary technical running tops/trews as possible. I opted for some OMM gear - the jacket is fantastic.
  • Kit List - you'll need to get all the other stuff on the kit list, so check the list and buy everything you need early on so that you can get used to carrying it all around when you're training
  • Luxuries: I love the Freeloader solar chargers and carry three on my pack so I never have to worry about my gadgets failing (I love gadgets!). Three chargers keeps my iphone (which also doubles as my GPS) and my Garmin watch running for 17+ hours.


  • MAPS: Use OS maps to plan your training runs and get used to using a map and compass whilst you're on the go. This will give you confidence to be able to get yourself out of a tricky situation should you need to. 
  • GPS: I never leave the house without my iphone, and I use the Memory map app to plot routes and to navigate. Don't buy the OS Outdoors app - it used to be great but they upgraded it and it just doesn't work anymore - you can't load routes on to it and it's very expensive. With MEMORY MAP you can buy sections of map by the grid square. It's my favourite and most used app. 


For me, as soon as I start any event, my mind is on finishing as soon as possible, so running as much as I can helps psychologically. Having a good base of running fitness means you have the opportunity to make swift progress and keep the mind gremlins at bay. I built up my long road run to around 18 to 20 miles, but then did up to 40 miles on the trail in preparation for the L50.


Seek out routes that offer the opportunity to cover really rough ground. The L50/100 has long sections over horrible ground. Get used to turning your ankles over! It will make them stronger in the long run.


Plan to get out for long days on this hills in the run up to the event. Build in as much ascent and descent as you can. Even training on the Brecon Beacons I couldn't get near the 9728 ft of ascent in the L50.

Also, if you can, build in a training session at night. I didn't do this and I dreaded the night section and the thought of running in the dark. It's just about building your confidence where ever you can.


Build in plenty of opportunity to test yourself in events on the run up to the race. The LDWA events are great and there's always a running contingent. I love our local events. You get to know the active members, and becoming a member is worth while for the discounts you get in various outdoor shops.


You can't be too familiar with the race route. Get to know as much of it as you can especially the night sections. It gives so much confidence and lifts your spirits when you are running over familiar ground, especially as the light fades.

In preparation for the L50 I made every trip away a trip to the Lakes. I got to know the night section like the back of my hand, knowing where the boggy bits were and taking the longer line to avoid them. I hadn't covered the first 20 miles so I was a broken woman up until Sadgill, then I was on familiar territory and my confidence came back when Imet with familiar ground


Play around with the equipment - how will you carry your liquid? I use the bladder that goes along with the Inov-8 pack above, but I also carry 1 bottle on my chest strap. Get used to running with these. The bottle was uncomfortable first of all, so I had to experiment with elastic bands to secure the holder as firmly as possible stopping the bottle bouncing around on my chesticles!

Play around with what you drink too. I like SIS Go Electrolyte tablets which are easy to drop into a water bottle when you're on the go. I then use my bladder for water. Full fat, sugar, caffine etc Coke is also very good.


Practice eating on the run and experiment with what you eat. I use Gu gels a lot, but they are no good for me after 20ish miles. I get an upset stomach and so found that using Gu's along side real food suits me better - pasties and lots of salty food. The soup they provided on the L50 worked really well for me because after 30 miles I couldn't face anything solid. I'm still trying to figure out how to make soup the meal of choice when I'm out on a long training run - no room for a kettle or a flask!


Prepare to say goodbye to them! They will fall out. I have just 3 in tact after the summer's shinanigans!


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