At Berghaus we’re renowned for working with credible world class athletes, like ultra runner Steve Birkinshaw, to deliver performance product. But gear is only part of the story of success, the same as ultra marathon training, a big part of whether you’ll rank where you want or beat your PB is being able to cope with what happens during the race.
Whether you’re putting in the miles ultra distance running for a UK ultra marathon or even a mountain or desert ultra marathon there are some training tips that are more valuable than others.
In this fascinating article Steve Birkinshaw walks us through 10 ways to keep going while ultra distance running when every part of you is screaming to give up.
Ultra running is hard! There will be times when you will feel awful. Every step you take will be agony and you just want it to finish. If you have done an ultra and never felt like that then I would suggest you are not trying hard enough.
So the question is how do you cope with the pain and carrying on running to the end. Here is a list of 10 ways of coping. I use a mixture of them and it is worth seeing what works best for you.
10 ways of coping with the pain of Ultra-running
1. Enjoy the scenery/views
Ultra-running generally takes place somewhere really beautiful. Instead of feeling really sorry for yourself it is great to get out of that mindset and focus on the surroundings and feel privileged or lucky enough to be running in these places. Dawn and dusk are usually the best times of the day
2. Short term goals
This is a method I often use. Instead of focusing on the whole run and thinking this is going to be agony for another say 10 hours you focus on a short term goals.
For example on my Wainwrights run I was OK on the climbs but the descents were agony on my blisters, so I would think about getting to the bottom of the descent and then the next climb would be OK rather than thinking about the next 20 descents. Similarly I will often look at the map and set myself a target of being at a particular location (say a path junction) in the next 10 minutes.
3. Know the pain is temporary
If you are going through a bad patch you sometimes think it will stay as painful for the rest of the run. This is particularly true of your first ultra. However, everyone has dips and you usually get through them so that a couple of hours later you often feel good again. I often think of times I felt even worse and come through the other side feeling OK again.
4. Focus on the positive
Ultra-running isn’t just painful physically it is painful mentally. As well as the physical downs you get the mental downs. The worst I have had was an unsupported Ramsay round. It was night after going for about 16 hours and I got really negative.
My father had recently died and I started to think about my own death and why I was risking my life and the happiness of my family being up on a mountain for some small personnel satisfaction. However, I managed to turn it around. Actually I was safe- I had plenty of good kit with me to survive and the weather was OK. I also rationalised that running is what I do and what makes me happy and so my family happy.
5. Final goal
An ultra-run is not a single activity. It is the culmination of months/years of training. To stop running would not just be a waste of that run but of all the training leading up to it.
6. Be happy that you are able to run
Ever since my younger sister was diagnosed with MS then I can remind myself how lucky I am to be able to run. There are millions of people like her that would love to have the chance to do an ultra-run but are physically unable to do it.
7. Listen to music or talk to people
Listening to music is a technique that works brilliantly for some people but I have never tried it – I personally do not like wearing headphones. Instead of focusing on the pain it helps to concentrate on something else. Similarly talking to your fellow competitors can also help you forget about the pain. On my Wainwrights I found people around me talking helped lots, even if I was too tired to have a conversation.
8. Count to 100
This is another great technique of removing the pain from your mind by focusing on something else. This is a technique I have seen Paula Radcliffe recommend.
9. Commitment of others
To become a good ultra-runner usually is not just a personnel thing but requires the commitment of family/friends. For me giving up would be a waste not of my own time but the time and commitment put in by others in helping me.
This obviously works brilliantly. However, unless you are injured or ill then stopping is a really bad idea. Firstly, as soon as you recover you will regret it. Everyone else will be at the finish talking about the race and you will be there trying to justify why you dropped out.
Secondly, once you have dropped out once it is a lot easier to do again. So in my opinion having a bad run or feeling tired is no excuse to drop out, you should just grind it out to the finish and do your best.
If you still need a bit of motivation here’s a great quote from Steve for when you are finished: