I’m training for my first ultra-marathon, 33 miles of scenic Perthshire Scotland in the Glen Ogle 33 on the 5th November. It’s mostly cycle paths, forest paths and some B roads and a great race to pop your ultra-cherry….so I’ve been told!
I was out running 18 miles on Wednesday and followed that with another 10 miles yesterday and I was thinking about what knowledge I have built along the way that I would offer others who are thinking about taking on this distance. Here goes my top tips:
- Run on the terrain that you are running on race day. I have tried to train on a mixture of road and trail with plenty hills as this reflects Glen Ogle 33. It helps build confidence and prepares the feet, ankles and legs for the big day. My shorter runs I have picked hilly road routes and the longer ones used local trails such as Mugdock, West Highland Way and Kilpatrick Hills.
- Knowledge is power! Talk to as many, more experienced runners as you can and take from them what you will. Runners love to talk running so listen to the guys that have experience in this field; it’s a unique talent. I found that most ultra-runners have tried various foods, hydration methods, clothing and footwear and it takes time to establish what works as it is very personal. What works for one doesn’t always work for another however you need to be open minded and give tings a try early in your training.
- Having a good training plan is vital to achieving the distance and time that you want to do on the day. 33 miles is not much more than a marathon so you can train similarly to that of 26 miles or back to back training. I chose back to back training as this suited my lifestyle. I love spreadsheets so I planned a training plan over 12 weeks where I mapped an ascending pyramid of miles up to 50 miles per week with my long run on a Wednesday followed by half the distance on the Thursday and two shorter runs throughout the week. I was already running an average of 30 miles per week before I started training.
- Don’t neglect strength training, stretching and your roller. Training for an ultra is about being on your feet for as much as possible and getting used to long distances however you are more likely to pick up injuries along the way. Squats, lunges, dead lifts and core has been centre of my strength training once a week. Additionally, after the shorter runs I have been stretching my hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes and hip flexors as much as possible and using my roller – it helps and doesn’t actually take too long to do!
- Practice eating and hydrating on your long runs and start early so you get the right fit for you. The perk, for me, running for hours is eating. I have tried rice pudding, bananas, dried fruit, cereal bars, sandwiches, specific running powders and gels over the weeks and think I’ve settled for bananas, rice pudding and gels. Additionally, electrolytes in my water are vital to keep your mineral balance correct like sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphate and magnesium. How much water? That has so many variable factors and is unique to the individual. I like to weigh myself before and after my long runs to check my consumption has been adequate.
- Practice wearing your race day kit and make sure you have the right shoes for the terrain. There is nothing worse than having blisters from poor fitted shoes or clothes that rub; think of that over 33 miles! Weather can be unpredictable in Scotland so preparing for all seasons is vital, especially for a race in November. I’m wearing road shoes that have ran 300 miles; they still have adequate support and a better match than trail shoes for the terrain. Is inevitable that blisters and sweat sores will happen for most runners but try and minimise this happening early on by making sure you are wearing the right gear.
- Have a picture of the elevation and course and split it into sections. On the wall in my study is a picture of the elevation, sectioned into 5 mile splits with an average speed for each split. It will allow me to visualise the route on the day and make it more manageable mentally. I always go to fast at the start of my races and by doing this it has helped me pace better and prevent burn out. If I don’t stick to plan A I have a plan B so I don’t get disheartened if I don’t achieve my goal.
- Read The Chimp Paradox: Steve Peters. A more experienced ultra-runner told me to read this book when I told him I was doing my first ultra. I have read the book before and it helped me in the past with a very difficult time in my family life. It has helped again! When I have struggled on the long training runs and wanted to cut them short I was able to box my chimp (I named him Charles) and carry on; when I didn’t want to get up early to run and wanted to stay in bed, I boxed my chimp! There are some very useful methods of coping in this book for all walks of life.
- Enjoy it!