Running an Ultra Q&A’s

While I’m not new to trail running but new to the ultra running world, I asked my fellow squaddies if they had any questions they would like answered about what it takes to run an Ultra.

Deciding to run an ultra is no easy task.  It will take mental, physical and emotional strength. The thing to remember is:

Remember: this won’t be forever.  It is a season, and it will be over.  You will need to manage your time and decide what you will need to give up or put on pause.

You will learn a lot about yourself and what you are capable of when you run longer distances.  It’s a huge learning experience and different for everyone.

Question & Answers

1. How do you organise your training schedule? Strength training days/training runs etc?

The training program I chose lasted for 16 weeks.

Using a spreadsheet I imputed all the runs on the plan, then worked in what days I would use as strength days.

I looked at the overall plan every week, then broke it down to every month, and then every week.

At the start of the month, I would input all my training runs into my watch, so I always knew what I was doing.  This would then get tweaked each week to accommodate any appointments or family commitments.

A mobility workout would follow after every run.  It would be a minimum of 10 minutes.  It would also change depending on what I needed on the day.

There were more strength workouts at the start of the training plan than there were at the end.  My aim for the weights wasn’t to go heavy and then wear myself out, but to focus on my form.

2. Did I run every run on the plan?

I don’t know anyone who has followed a plan 100%.  For me, I most likely did about 80% of the plan.  There were modifications to allow for extra rest days, mental health days and family days.  Your rest days are just as important as your run days.

3. What is one thing you wish you knew before you ran your ultra?

The amount of time it would take up.

It is one thing to see something on paper, it’s another thing to see it in real life.

On paper, you see a 60-minute training run. In real life it is more like this:

  • 15mins to get yourself out of bed and get dressed
  • 60-minute training run
  • 10-minute mobility cool-down
  • 10-minute faffing on social media
  • 10-minute shower, getting clean and dressed
  • 15 minutes for breakfast
    • Total time: 2 hours

And that’s just the short days,  it’s longer when you take in your long run days and you have to add the time to drive out to the trails and then back home.

4. What do you think was the most difficult thing for you about running it?

The first 30km is all legs.  The last 20km is all mental.  If you aren’t in the right mental headspace for that last stretch it will be hard.

If your first ultra is Surf Coast, then be prepared to have relay runners passing you.  It will feel like they are flying by, and the reality is, they are.  You just need to remember that you are running your own race, and you have my’s in your legs.

I packed my iPod knowing that I would want it towards the end.  I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t use it until I got near the lighthouse.  I made it to the bridge before the 77km checkpoint & aid station.

Having music in my ears took out the noise in my head.  It gave me something to focus on, one song at a time.

Just put 1 foot in front of the other

Photo Credit: Rapid Ascent Ultra Running Facebook Page

There will be hundreds of runners out there, and for stretches, at a time you may never come across anyone.  So it can get surprisingly lonely out there.

Runners will pass you, and you will pass them.  A word or two may be spoken but unless you have a running friend running beside you, you will be on your own.

Be prepared to have conversations with yourself.

5. What would you do differently in your next ultra?

Eat more for sure.  While I was consistently eating and drinking every 45-60 minutes, I think one of the reasons why I cramped going up the stairs getting off at Urquharts Bluff was because I wasn’t having enough magnesium/salt.

This threw me off my mental game, as it made me realise that I was not finished yet, and I still had at least another 10km to go.

Next time, I will add more food items in to my drop bag. Especially lunch.  While I enjoyed my whole potato, a cracker sandwich would have gone down a treat.

6. If you started to doubt yourself out there how did you combat that?

Getting the cramp going up the stairs and coming off Urquarts was my tipping point.  It made me realise how tired I was.  I just wanted to finish.

Fight off tears, I thought about all the people behind the scenes who were cheering me on.  I thought about all my ultra friends who have done some crazy adventures and channelled their energy.  If they could do it, then I could do it.

7. Training – The Longest Run

The plan I had chosen had 3 weeks of 4-hour long training runs.  I chose to do 4-5-4 instead.  I felt that I needed that extra time on my feet.  Doing that cement that this Ultra was in the bag.

Ideally, I wanted my training run to be out on the trails.  A polar vortex had other ideas, and instead, I ran it on the streets around my home.  You can read that adventure here: The one where I accidentally ran a marathon.

Running Wonderland threw a spanner in the works.  That ended up being my longest training run based on time on feet at 5h49m.  With the event at 36km and elevation over 700m, the elevation was more than what I would be needing at Surf Coast.  My legs were smashed after this event, and I had to modify the training plan to allow for more recovery time.

8. Recovery – Was it what you expected? Did you feel better or worse than you thought you would?

Anything that had a down angle was not my friend for 3 days after the Surf Coast.  Going up, is not a problem.  Down, was slow going.

While stiff in the legs, and my shoulders tight from my pack, I was in surprisingly in good spirits.

Taking the week off after the event and spending quality time with the family was exactly what I needed.

Taking the Ferry from Point Lonsdale we spend a week over the bay on the Mornington Peninsula.

The only thing I wasn’t able to do was a book in a massage.  The only available date was the day we were leaving.

I’m still yet to have my post-event massage.

9. What would your advice before someone who is attempting their first trail ultra?

My main advice would be the following:

  • Walk early and often
  • Eat & drink regularly
  • Work on your mental strength
  • Train on similar terrain with similar elevation
  • Trust in your training plan
  • Get sleep

10.  When did you decide it was something that you wanted to do?

The seed was planted after running leg 3 of Surf Coast back in 2017 for sure.   Having just run the furthest I had ever run, I saw the possibility, and I was excited about what I could do.

Being involved in a running community with friends doing some crazy things, it gets you inspired.

One thing for certain, I did not have the same feeling after finishing the 50.

So before you ask:


11.  Did you get sore feet? 7-8 hours is such a long time to put force through the balls of your feet while running. 

The job I have means I’m on my feet for work quite easily for 8 hours.

When you take in training as well.  I would have averaged at least 10-11 hours on my feet for 5 days of the week.

My body had already become climatised to the stress of being on my feet all day, there is no doubt that this certainly did help with me being able to be out there for over 7 hours.

12. What’s next?

It’s officially the offseason.  It’s nice not to be committed to any events.  That being said I will implement an aerobic base training plan, so I don’t lose everything I’ve worked towards.

I have some ideas/goals for 2020 which I will announce in good time.

But for now, I’m just enjoying spending time with my family and having fun.

Got any more questions? Then shoot me a message.

Be Bright, Be Kind, Go Seek Adventures!


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