Once the province of a select group of eccentrics, the sport of ultrarunning has caught on in recent years, as more and more runners decide they want to be in it for the long haul. Last December, the lottery for the Western States 100, which takes participants 100 miles over spectacular, rugged terrain in the Sierra Nevada, had 2,566 applicants for roughly 400 places. These days, it seems, a lot of people want to run for a really long time.
If you’re one of them, you’ll want to check out our previous advice for aspiring ultrarunners and listen up to Patagonia-sponsored athlete and all-around badass Jenn Shelton, who was about to go “off the grid” in Mexico when we contacted her. But before she did, she emailed us five indispensible tips for taking on an ultra. Presenting her advice, in her own words:
Train Your Stomach
GU makes you gag. Solid foods make you cramp. Sports drinks give you sloshy belly. As Drew Carey says, “There’s a support group for that. It’s called ‘Everybody.’”
Plain and simple: Eating while running sucks. No one is predisposed to eat and go running; it’s a learned and valuable skill. The only way to get a rock-solid stomach on race day is to train your stomach the same way you train your legs—with hard-fought practice. Instead of limiting yourself to the foods you “handle,” train your stomach to handle anything. Be a human trash can. The more you can adapt, the better you’ll be. Which brings me to…
Have a race plan. Visualize it every day while running. Take your training and your race seriously. And then, come race week, chuck it out the window. Relax! The months of training and visualization will still be with you, and muscle memory will take you a long way. But ultras never go according to plan, from the day and night before to mile one to mile 99. The more you try to force your plan on the race, the harder the race will fight back with a plan of its own. So embrace the shit show and you’ll have a lot more fun out there, waste less energy fighting lost battles, and run faster.
No one gets to the start line (or the finish line, for that matter) alone. Along with the friends and family who supported your crazy dreams, the race volunteers are saints. They are there to help, sometimes all night, despite the rain, the cold, the mosquitoes, and on and on. But—and hear me out—resist their coddling. Fill your own water bottle. Empty your own trash. Refill your own pockets with nutrition. Lube your own thighs. Pop your own blisters. Change your own socks. You are a strong, beautiful ultra endurance athlete! You are not an invalid! Don’t be tempted to slip into that mindset of helplessness, because it’s a slippery slope toward self-pity. Stay in control out there, smile and thank every single person you see, but take care of yourself. You’ll finish a lot faster.
Be Your Best Self
A lot of times in a race, my number one goal is to have a good attitude. My best races are when my primary goal is to race with a fuckload of grace. Sounds cheesy, but it works.
Eat a Big Brunch the Day Before
Brunch or a big lunch the day before a race has always served me better than a huge dinner the night before. Those carbonara pasta meals at the prerace meetings always leave me tossing and turning in bed with the meat sweats. Plus, it’s almost impossible to fully digest that big dinner when you have a 4 a.m. start time. I focus on a big midday meal, and then relax for the rest of the day, knowing my crucial fueling is taken care of.