11 Things To Consider Before Signing Up For An Ultra Marathon

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Signing up for your first ultra marathon? Or maybe your first race didn’t go so well?  Whether you are brand new to ultra running or you are an experienced endurance athlete, here you will find a helpful guide with 11 things to consider before signing up for an ultra marathon. There is a whole lot of training that goes into such a challenge and signing up is also part of the preparation. This guide will bring you one-step closer to the race of your life and quite possibly the finish line of your dreams.

Mileage

First things first, you must decide on the mileage you wish to run and choose a race that meets that goal.  When you first begin browsing through the various assortments of races, you will find yourself choosing between 50ks, 50 miles, 100ks, 100 miles, and even longer.  In addition, there are timed events, multi staged events, and random distances with no particular rhyme or reason. Furthermore, you may consider strategically choosing a hand full of ultra marathons throughout the year increasing the distance with each new race. This will surely keep your momentum firing ahead as you gain motivation from each new finish. 

Date

Be sure to pick a date that works best with your schedule. We all have many different commitments and obligations in our lives that may possibly clash with our running schedules. An ultra marathon requires focus so try to steer away from scheduling a run that conflicts with any upcoming responsibilities or engagements. Personally, I completed my first 100-mile ultra marathon while my wife was pregnant with our first. Surely enough, my training consisted of running back and forth to the supermarket every day for pickles and ice cream. All jokes aside, I made sure race day was nowhere in sight as we approached our due date. Furthermore, some events in our lives are uncontrollable. While considering this possibility, it is best to have a backup race in mind. Last year I ran an ultra marathon with a fever and developed a case of pneumonia from it, cancelling and choosing a replacement race would have been much wiser. We live and we learn. 

Location

If you are lucky enough you may locate an event close to home. However, for the majority of us, ultra marathon weekend is jam packed with suitcase wheeling and windshield time. Without proper preparation, you may find yourself hunting for a healthy meal from the local town gas station. Unidentified spinning meat on a heated roller is not exactly what I call a hardy pre-race meal. In addition, most ultra marathons take place on trails deep within the woods creating issues with GPS signals and cell phone reception. Rest assure there is still plenty of time to Tweet on the way home!  So try to navigate the route beforehand or depart early for the race leaving time for navigational errors. Viewing directions for the first time on race day morning often leads to disorganized rushing and costly pre-race mistakes.

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Terrain

It is crucial to review the description of the terrain you will be running on.  Is the race going to be in the mountains?  If so, you most likely are dealing with high altitudes and elevation. Is the race going to be at a national park? Then you may be preparing for technical trails and many rocks. Are you running along the coast?  If so, there are probably flat straightaways with excessive sun exposure.  A great deal of ultra marathons occur on some kind of trail so read up on the terrain and become informed.

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Elevation 

Elevation is a key factor to consider while choosing between different ultra marathons. Running a comfortable elevation may be the way to go for your first ultra marathon. If not at least you know what you are up against and can plan your training accordingly. Most race websites will contain an elevation chart to display their accents and descents throughout the course.  An elevation gain of 30,000 ft. proves to be much more painful in person. 

Layout

Different courses have different distances in different forms.  There are point to points, out and backs, loopy loops, figure eights, and “where in the world do I go next?” layouts. When understanding the layout of the course one should prepare mentally, strategically plan the supplies, and reduce the possibility of becoming lost. 

Weather 

Weather proves to be one of the biggest factors that make or break a runner on race day. Consider the time of year and the geographical location in which the race takes place. Analyze the typical weather patterns and research the average temperatures.  Furthermore, check for record lows and record highs.  Sure, you never know what the exact weather conditions will be until that day; nevertheless, by staying informed, you can play it safe and stay prepared for the worse. There is always extra room available in a suitcase and you can always remove layers on the trail. 

Popularity

Does the race sell out each year? If so, then be sure to mark the registration date on your calendar. Is there a lottery? If that is the case you will absolutely want to designate a backup race. In addition, how many entrants do they allow? The course may be anywhere from packed on a single track to a spread out small low-key event. There is a noticeably large difference when participating in a mainstream ultra marathon with 300 participants versus a local one with 10.  Whatever size suits your needs, the information is always available online.

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Rules

Each individual ultra marathon has its own set of rules, some are universal but others are uniquely tailored to the event. First, determine if there are any pre-qualifying races required. Every 100-mile ultra marathon that I have seen makes it mandatory to have at least one 50-mile race under your belt before acceptance. However, for the more difficult ultra marathons, they typically highlight a list of specific pre-qualifying races. Furthermore, for the toughest ultra marathons in the world they may only accept a resume, which a panel reviews for acceptance.  Other rules may apply to headphones, headlamps, pacers, and crews. 

Aid Stations

Look at the aid station descriptions, calculate the mileage between them, and determine what each one will stock. This research will certainly aid you in deciding what gear to bring, what fuel to carry, and when to strategically use a drop bag.  Additionally, find out what aid stations allow crewmembers. The event could also be self-supported with zero aid stations so it is important to read the descriptions, especially for the longer and more difficult events. 

Start time

Start times can range from anywhere between early in the morning to late at night; however, the most common time seems to be within the 7:00am to 8:00am range.  In like manner, there will typically be a separate time for a pre-race meeting and bib pickup. Ultra marathons with multiple distances will have multiple start times. If your start time is before sunrise, you will want to bring along a headlamp. 

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Preparation is opportunity, preparation is success, and preparation is achievement. Focusing solely on the distance without properly planning, especially for your first ultra marathon, is a receipt for a grueling day of running. When barreling down a tough and rigid trail as we put our bodies through an intense energy consuming experience, preparation can unquestionably soften the blow. The day will not go perfect; sometimes all plans will fly right out the window. But by knowing the 11 things to consider before signing up for an ultra marathon, you will be able to make quicker and more effective decisions on race day and have a potentially smoother run while promoting a well-deserved finish and a immeasurably sized achievement. 

 

 

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