Race Like An Ultra Veteran (Part 2)

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(More) pro tips to help you race your best this year

Sally McRae’s tips might help you feel this happy during your next ultra. Photo courtesy of Sally McRae/Nike

This is part 2 of a two-part series. Read part one here.

Recently, we published a list of tips from top-tier competitors to help you achieve your race-day goals. The response was so good that we reached out to a few more top ultrarunners for further guidance on how to race your best, whether you’re a rookie ultrarunner or an old 100-mile hand.


The Experts:

Kaci Lickteig, 28, Omaha, Nebrasksa. Lickteig burst onto the national racing scene at the 2014 Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas, where she placed second in a national-class field, then placed sixth at the Western States 100 (WS100) last summer.

Sage Canaday, 29, Boulder, Colorado. Twice champion of Utah’s Speedgoat 50K and New Zealand’s Tarawera ultra, Canaday also won the super-stacked 2015 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 in San Francisco. He offers coaching at sagerunning.com.

Sally McRae, 36, Aliso Viejo, California. McRae, who placed 10th at the 2014 WS100, is the Nike+ Los Angeles Head Masters Coach and also coaches runners through sallymcrae.com.


1. Prepare Physically

Get strong. “A key to succeeding in ultras is having a body that can endure the climbs, descents, varied terrain and the overall breakdown our bodies experience towards the end of a race,” says McRae. “By incorporating core and strength training into your program two to three times a week, you’ll not only be a more solid, balanced runner, but you’ll also avoid injury.”

Train for the course. “In training, have key long runs on trails that mimic the course profile of the event,” says Canaday. “Get in some short and steep hills if that is the profile of the course. Practice running on technical rocks and roots if that is the nature of the trails on the race course.”


2. Prepare Mentally

Hold a dress rehearsal. Having your race routine down can give you more confidence during the race itself. “During long-run workouts, practice your nutrition and hydration plan a few times,” Canaday says. “Take in the brand of gel that will be at the race or which you will bring, and use all your gear so you can get everything dialed in weeks before the race.”

Set a few different goals. Everyone has that dream goal, whether it’s finishing in a certain time or place, or simply finishing. But it is important to set a secondary goals, in the very possible event that things don’t go as smooth as you hope come race day. An ultra, after all, is a huge commitment of time and energy, and by setting fallback goals you can have a less-than-ideal race that’s still a positive experience.

“Make at least three race goals,” Lickteig says. “For example, your ‘A’ goal could be to finish [a 100-miler] under 24 hours; your ‘B’ goal could be to finish in the top ten; your ‘C’ goal could be to finish and hit all the time cutoffs.”

Expect the unexpected. If your racing mentality depends on you having a perfect day, you’ll likely be disappointed. Avoid that. “Be ready to be flexible,” Lickteig says, so if something goes wrong—blisters, blown quads, a bonk and so on—you can deal with it instead of panicking.

Count on pain. “I highly recommend doing long runs that will take you out of your comfort zone,” says McRae. “If you don’t know how to operate when things start to fall apart, or when everything in your body is aching, then you’ll have a tough time digesting the aches and pains of ultra racing. Ultras require mental strength, so train in the rain, the wind, at night, when you’re unmotivated, when it’s hot, when your legs are heavy… I guarantee you’ll recall the experience when you’re racing and you’ll be stronger for it.”


3. Execute on Race Day

Study the course. “Learn the course, aid stations and cutoff times,” Lickteig says, so you can anticipate when you should carry extra food or water, and where you’ll need to push the pace or hold back.

Eat and hydrate. “Early and often,” says Lickteig. If you get into a hole, it’s tough to get back out.

Don’t linger at aid stations. Aid stations are a sight for sore (and hungry) eyes. But it’s easy to get too comfortable in these little oases. Spending just one extra minute at each aid station will add up—a lot—and tack minutes onto your time.


4. And Don’t Forget …

Finally, Lickteig offers perhaps the two most important tips for any ultra:

Be gracious to the volunteers and thank them. The best-laid race-directing plans wouldn’t work without volunteers. It’s easy to be cranky in the middle of an ultra, especially if someone takes a little too long to hand you that cup of Coke, but remember that the aid station workers and other volunteers have given up their free time to help you.

Have fun! Ultras are hard, and you’ll be reminded of that every step of the way. But just think: is there anything else you’d rather be doing?


Part 1 has even more tips for racing like an ultra veteran. Read it here!

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