Since the HUFF 50K was my first ultramarathon, I knew that it would be a great learning experience. With that being said, here are some of the lessons I learned.
Stop when you need to. Often in road races, we push through because it’s probably only a mile or two until we can get what we need. In trail running, if you need to use the restroom you better stop because there might not be another one for 4-8 miles. Same if you need to stop to eat or stretch.
Do Trial Runs. Yes, I meant to say trial not trail runs. Test out your race outfit, preferably on a trail with similar weather conditions at your race pace. Learn if your hydration bite valve will freeze and how to thaw it out. Find out before race day if your gel, chew or bar will freeze and become impossible to chew. Learn what modifications to do with things happen. If the weather gets colder do I have to replace my either outfit or just my socks; if it gets warmer what is the first layer I take off?
It’s Okay to have Music, but it’s probably best to leave one ear bud out. Going into this I read repeatedly that you don’t listen to music on trails because they are narrow, people need to pass and because of safety reasons. While all of that is true, I was surprised to see the number of runners bust out their headphones as we approached the start line. I was thankful I had packed mine just in case (because I train with music), but I left one headphone out. Music doesn’t take away from the beauty of running trails, you’ll still see and experience it, but it was nice when I passed the mile 15 marker to have a great jam to rock out to as I headed in towards the finish.
If you bring it with you, Take it with you. When you’re out in mother nature, you don’t litter. If you have trash, you dispose of it properly. After the second manned aid station, I was surprised to see the runner-related trash on the ground in the coming miles. I started to stop and pick it up but really it was too much. Sometimes we might accidentally drop a wrapper, but remember that this isn’t a road race that has a clean-up crew to pick-up those gel packs.
Plan for the Weather. You’ll be dressed to run for hours, but don’t forget to check the forecast and be prepared. If there’s a chance of rain, pack a poncho or rain jacket. If it’s supposed to be hot, you might want to change out of sweaty clothes if you plan on running after the sun goes down. I wore layers and ended up taking off my Buff and Gloves after mile 2 to avoid overheating and sweating. But I carried my gloves for the remainder of the race because they helped warm me up quickly when I got cold in the shade or wind conditions.
Pack Accordingly. If it’s summer, you might want to include some bug spray or sunscreen (to reapply due to sweat). If there’s a chance you’ll run when it is darker, you’ll want to pack a headlamp (and batteries).
Don’t be afraid to Walk. Especially on trails, the hills can steep. There is no shame in walking them because it saves your legs for the rest of the course.
Watch your Step. In road races, we look ahead; keep our eyes on the horizon. If you do that (and I did) on a trail run, you’ll probably trip over a root hidden under the leaves. And on downhills, you don’t want to roll an ankle.
Eat and Drink Early and Often. Also known as the Eat-Drink-Repeat plan. This concept is still hard to grasp after finishing my first ultra. In a road race, I’m intaking about 100 calories every 45 minutes and grabbing sips of water every two miles. It’s similar to how I train as well. But during a trail run, your body is doing much more work and needs the extra fuel and hydration.
Plan your Fuel and Hydration. Similar to the tip above and below. Know at which mile or time marker that you will consume your goods, or what and how much you will consume at an aid station.
Remember to replenish your supplies. I ran out of water at mile 25. I barely downed half a liter during my last 20 mile training run, and here I am out of water. Well at least I was hydrating through out the race. But unfortunately the next aid station was unmanned and it had run dry, so I was without until the finish. It was a scary place to be for 6 miles. But I was thankful that I had brought my own water and was able to drink when I needed to during those first 25 miles, instead of only relying on aid stations for hydration.
There is no right-way. I’ve read a few bloggers who take that a hydration pack is unnecessary for a 50K, but I saw plenty of runners out there with them (myself included). Some runners relied solely on the aid stations and others were completely self-sustaining. Then there was a mix that did both. Because I train with a full hydration pack, I didn’t feel that there was any extra weight to carry during the race.
Lastly, Rest and Recover. Make sure you have a detailed plan for how you will recover. Includes making sure you refuel your body, and rehydrate as well as when you will do body maintenance. I included some simple stretching and foam rolling, plus wore my ProCompression socks. I scheduled yoga daily after my race, and knew when I would take my first recovery run. But most importantly was my hydration plan especially in the first few days.
NOTE: Keep in mind that that every race is different, and many factors will change based on the season in which the race is run. So try to learn the special considerations to the conditions you will encounter.
Question: What was the biggest lesson you learned from your first big race?
Thanks for reading!