If you’re signed up for your first ultrarun, you can skip ahead a couple of steps by learning from other people’s mistakes… like I’m doing with my own! This weekend, I’m heading into my third 50K trail race down in NJ. The last two have been SO much fun—North Face’s Endurance Challenge in Bear Mountain, NY, and Under Armour’s Mountain Run in Killington, VT—and I’ve learned SO much each time I’ve done this distance. So, I wanted to drop onto here and just share the few things that I’m taking with me to the start line this weekend. Being a beginner at this distance is freaking awesome, since every race is a huge learning experience.
Chafing is real
Chafe prevention sticks are NOT just for triathletes. I used one on my upper thighs and underarms before my second race (and wore a tshirt) and ended up so much happier the next day. No matter how smooth your stride or how low your body fat percentage, at some point, you will be rubbing something in a way that’s uncomfortable.
You will be hungry
Duh. But also, wait, what?! My last race, I had loaded my hydration pack to 1.5 liters full with Tailwind the night before the race. Then, I dumped out probably .5 liters because #weight. Bad move—by 5 miles from the finish, I had drained my pack and had to waste time (and add some minor gut issues) by relying on the last aid station (3 miles from the finish) to get me through. It wasn’t just that I was physically thirsty or hungry at that point: not having any water on me made me feel stressed and panicked, which I think led to a slight slow down in an attempt to pace myself to make it through. (Not necessary, but it was more about feeling than logic at that point.) I also actually ate the three spare gels I had packed—I knew I would do one, but assumed the Tailwind (about 600 calories worth in that liter of water) would sustain me, since I don’t eat a ton in runs normally. I was STARVING. This race, I’m doing 1.5 liters of water with Tailwind and packing a couple gels plus a couple of Gu waffles, so I have a couple of options. I don’t love aid stations as someone with a picky stomach, so I carry what I need. And now I know I need to plan to be hungry!
A hydration vest should fit properly
I finally settled on the Osprey Dyna 6 Hydration Vest, but finding a vast that fit right took a lot of trial and error. And that really, really matters.
The Osprey pack (the black one) clearly fits a lot better: it’s not swinging around, whereas the other vest is practically sliding off. That’s NO offense to the other vest (Camelbak makes great stuff!) but that pack in particular just didn’t fit me. I didn’t realize how crucial that would be, but since switching, it’s so much easier to run without feeling like it’s going to jostle off. Those minor things really help avoid chafing issues (see above) and increase comfort.
You will need to self-motivate
I’ve done a lot of solo 16-28-mile runs in the last two months, and all of them will lead to one thing being a lot easier: Self-motivation. Long trail races spread out after the first mile, and often, you’re running solo or you’re getting passed or passing someone. There are some occasions where you’re with people, but over the course of 50 kilometers, most are spent in your own head. Even when you are running with someone, they don’t always want to chat with you. So, what I’m realizing as I do more of these is that it’s not just about being able to run 50 kilometers, the training is also helping me learn to run 50 kilometers being internally motivated. During all of the races I used to do, there were always people around cheering, working aid stations, or just in the field of competition because it was a shorter race, or in the case of Ironman, a bigger field.