Race planning is a crucial component of ultra running. The longer the race distance, the more important your plan becomes.
Race planning typically involves studying elevation maps, involving your crew, knowing where aid stations are located and ensuring your kit is ready to go.
While all of those items are important, there is a 30,000ft view of a race that helps to sum up a basic race strategy. I heard this a few weeks ago on Trail Runner Nation podcast and fell in love with it’s simplicity.
First Half: Don’t be an idiot.
One of my favorite saying at the beginning of a race is “Everyone feels great at mile two.” A few weeks ago in my 50k, no less than 20 runners flew by me at Mile 1.5. All 20 of them I passed later on during the race.
Managing the first half of the race is the most important tactic you can do to have a successful ultra marathon. You can always go faster later in a race, but you can never get back the energy that you expend in the beginning of a race.
Don’t fall into the feeling good trap. Of course you feel good. It’s only 20 minutes into the race. Any move made before the second half of the race is silly. Bide your time.
The first half of the race, it’s important to take a good body check and see how you are feeling. Do you notice any aches and pains? Is anything tight? How are you feeling with regards to your expected performance?
So many runners neglect the beginning of the race and attempt to run a pace or effort they are simply not trained for. I recommend going out even slower than normal to ensure you have enough left in the tank for the second half of the race.
Which leads me to…
Second Half: Don’t be a wimp.
You’ve made it to Part Two of your race. It’s an ultra marathon. It’s going to hurt. You will be sore. You will be fighting off your urge to quit, to sit down, to take a break, or to take a DNF.
This is the time to put all you have into your mental toughness. Don’t be a wimp. Don’t leave anything out on the course. As you progress through the second half of the race, check in with your body and make sure you are still following your race plan and fueling strategy.
At this point, you’ll be ready to call it a day. Look back into your training and remember your toughest runs and your toughest races. Remember the times you woke up at 4am to get your time in or the days you ran at 11pm after a long day at work.
Don’t be a wimp. Go out there and get it. Embrace the suck and you’ll find the finish line.