7 Things I Learned From Running an Ultra

I signed up for an ultra-marathon [for those of you who do not know what an ultra-marathon is, it is anything over 26.2 miles… #ouch] on a whim. I had done a handful of half marathons, but never anything over 13.1. Sure, I was nervous. But, I had come to the conclusion over the past year that it’s okay to be afraid. It was okay to be uncomfortable. This was something that I wanted to do for me, + me alone — so much so that I didn’t tell anyone besides my boyfriend + good friend until 3 weeks before the race.

Call me crazy, but I’m so glad that I signed up. I learned so much about myself, my body + my strength in that one afternoon. If you have a goal, I suggest diving in head first. But, if you want to run an ultra, read the 7 things I learned… + then dive in head first : )

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#1. IT ALWAYS GETS BETTER.

I’m not going to sugar coat it. There are parts that absolutely suck. There are times when you do not want to take another step, let alone run 10 more miles. Times when the trail will break you — it will show no mercy. Just when you want to cry, quit + throw in the towel with this *ultra* thing… you’ll have a change of heart. Maybe it’s a stretch of downhill. Maybe it’s an aid station with ginger ale + turkey sandwiches. Regardless, there will always be a time when it gets better. The lows, they get lower. But, the highs, they get even higher. Whenever I was having a rough mile, or hour, I kept repeating “it will get better” in my head. Sure enough, it did. With anything in life, you have to keep pushing through the bad to get to the good. There will always be good.

#2. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.

One of the trickiest parts of running an ultra is becoming in tune with your body. You have to learn your body’s cues + honor them at the first opportunity. Tired? Pop a salt capsule. Groggy? That means I needed to eat more. Headache? I probably need more electrolytes. Stay ahead of the game by listening to your body’s signals.

#3. THE RIGHT GEAR CAN MAKE OR BREAK YOU.

After running 34-point-something miles, you would think that my feet would be blistered + my body chaffed raw. However, I made it through the ultra relatively unscathed + with only a few blisters + minimal chafing. I attribute it ALL to my gear. I tested out a lot of different gear during my training runs to find out what worked for me. In the end, I think it comes down to 4 essential things…

// Shoes, Shoes, Shoes — Find a pair that works for you + stick to them. I love my New Balance Fresh Foam 980 trail + have worn them on every trail run I’ve ever done.

// Socks — Sorry, but cheap socks won’t cut it. Invest in a good pair with cushioning around the heel//toes that aid in blister prevention. I’m a fan of the Experia by Thorlo socks. They’ve never steered me wrong.

//A Good Pack — I usually run with a Camelbak, but knew I needed something a little more heavy-duty for my ultra. I ended up borrowing a friend’s Ultimate Direction pack + stuffed my 1-liter Camelbak bladder in it. I became obsessed with this pack during my race + highly recommend it for anyone who ventures into the outdoors often.

// Layers — It doesn’t really matter what they are, but be sure to bring ample amounts of layers to cope with the finicky weather. I suggest running in a tank//shorts//capris, + bringing a jacket, beanie or headband + gloves. You don’t want to be stuck 20-miles from the start line without a jacket when it starts raining!

#4. TRAIN YOUR MIND MORE THAN YOUR MUSCLES.

You can run for hours + hours during training, but nothing can prepare you for the actual race. You can’t predict how the weather will be, how your stomach will feel or what random things will go astray. This is where mental toughness is crucial. If you remember one thing from this entire post, remember this: you are so much stronger than you think. It’s okay to be uncomfortable. It’s okay to be afraid. It’s GOOD to be afraid. It means you are venturing into uncharted territory. Don’t let your mind get in the way of your goals. Think positive, + realize that although the journey is long, it’s always worth it. There will be highs, lows + everything in between. The difference between a DNF [did not finish] + running across that finish line with a smile is whether or not you let your mind get the best of you.

#5. EAT ALL THE THINGS!

When I went to go pick up my race packet, I was told that ultras are just an eating contest with a little bit of hiking thrown in. Now, while that’s a bit of an exaggeration, there’s some merit in the fact that you have to eat a boat load of food to maintain a happy smile during 30+ miles. At every aid station, I paid attention to what I was craving, + then presumably stuffed my face with those items. During the first 14 miles, I wasn’t eating nearly enough. I would pop a couple sour patch kids or gel every 60//90 minutes. By the time I got to 14 miles, I was sleepy + a little cranky. The fix? EAT MORE. I was told my aid station volunteers that I should be eating every 30-45 minutes. So, eat I did. Turkey sandwiches, ginger ale + quesadillas were my go-to. It’s so weird saying that I ate picnic food during my race, but it sure got the job done. Oh, + I have to gush on all the amazing food at aid stations. Whatever your body was craving — seriously, whatever — they had it. Chicken broth, fruit, hummus, candy, soda, turkey sandwiches, cheese quesadillas + gels. It’s an all you can eat buffet + an every ultra runner’s [or should I say every human’s] dream.

#6. DON’T WORRY ABOUT YOUR PACE.

Your trail pace is going to be lightyears behind your road pace. To give you an example, I usually run a 2:10 half marathon on the road. On trails, I cover about 8 miles in that amount of time. The elevation gain is a kick in the pants, + you can’t worry about how fast you are going. Hike the steep hills, run the downs + the flats. Ultra runners all around will tell you — be conservative. You can’t go balls-to-the-wall the whole time like you can on most road races. You have to pace yourself + be ready for 6-10 hours out on the trail. [PS// You’ll most likely pass people towards the end who started sprinting up the hills in the beginning : )]

#7. CELEBRATE YOUR BODY!

You have to relish in the accomplishment. I was on a high for 2 weeks straight after my race + I couldn’t believe that my body actually covered almost 35 miles in the span of one Saturday. Celebrate your strength, whether it’s 1 mile or 50. Celebrate your willpower, your drive + the fact that we all love just getting out there + being active. Regardless of what you put your mind to — no matter how crazy it may seem — know that you CAN + WILL accomplish it. The only thing that is stopping you is your mind. + I truly believe that.

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Happy Trails! +Marissa [@marissalucero4], VirtCHAARG girl from Denver

// Follow Marissa’s blog at BAREFOOTCOLO.COM + read more about her ultra here! //

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