Running long-distance races is very challenging physically, but also mentally. Physically our body can sustain an average of 50K, but after that distance, our brain has to be stronger to keep us motivated and going, to make it to the finish. Running a full road marathon is not easy as runners tend to push and run as fast as they can. On the other hand, running longer distance races can be more challenging, ultra-marathons are different from any other endurance event; expect the unexpected. During Ultras, things will go wrong, and things will go right. Runners will go through many ups and downs physically and mentally during an ultra-marathon, but if we are able to stay motivated and keep moving forward, we will finish feeling good. By training our mental strength, and avoid some common mistakes, the finish line is absolutely achievable.
Common mistakes that can lead to DNF
- Starting too Fast- At the start of a race, it’s very common to get a rush of adrenaline, and sometimes we may not even realize it. Following a fast pace at the start of a long-distance race will affect the energy levels drastically. At the start, remind yourself that you need to follow a comfortable pace, and listen to your body. For very long-distance races, using too much energy too soon will lead to exhaustion too early and cause a DNF.
- Sitting Down- On race day, it’s very important to always try to move forward and refrain from sitting down if you can avoid it. Walk if you must. When you stop during an ultra-marathon, the body starts to feel weak, stiff and tired. Starting running again takes a substantial amount of energy. Avoiding sitting down, especially at checkpoints will help prevent muscle fatigue, shutting down our brain and avoiding DNF. Unless it’s a very long distance race, over 100K then getting a few minutes rest can be helpful if your body needs it.
- Experimenting New Fueling- Having access to foods and fueling you’ve never tried during a race or training, may cause some major stomach issues. Most runners can’t run an ultra-marathon by only using gels and sports drinks for fueling, eating whole fresh foods is very important to refuel the body properly. But eating whole foods you have never tried while running might lead to nausea and vomiting. If nausea is unavoidable, try to take ginger chews or soup to help settle the stomach. Trial and error during training will help you find great new fuel sources.
- Not Using Anti-Chaffing- Chaffing can be a big issue during an ultra-marathon, if you did not prepare and apply anti-chaffing in many areas of the body. If at some point, you get a lot of chaffing in an area, add some sports tape to protect the area so you can keep moving and avoid DNF.
- Spending too Much Time at Checkpoints- Try to avoid spending too much time at CP’s, it can start shutting your brain down, and the muscles will start to feel more tired and stiff. As you run to a checkpoint, have your mental checklist ready, grab what you need, fill up your water, eat some food, and start walking as you organize your fuel. Once everything is organized, get right back to running.
- Dehydrating- It’s important to manage the balance between your water intake and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium etc.) When your electrolytes are out of balance, it can lead to cramping for some runners, fatigue, dizziness, and even stomach issues. To drink plain water, and electrolytes drinks is very important, at checkpoints if you have access to salted potatoes, rice balls, crisps, soup, go ahead and grab some to sustain good electrolytes. An electrolyte imbalance can be dangerous, monitor your intake, make safe choices so you can cross the finish line hydrated and healthy.
- Ignoring Minor Irritations or Blisters- Small irritations can eventually get worse and cause major pain. If you get a small rock in your shoe at some point in the race, make sure you remove it quickly to prevent any blisters. If you feel some blisters, try to re-tie your shoes and once you get to a checkpoint ask for some anti-chaffing, Vaseline or tape to cover. Finishing an ultra-marathon is not about how everything goes according to your plan. It is more about how well you do when unplanned issues occur. To be proactive, prepared and mentally strong and motivated will get you to the finish line feeling strong and proud.