I remember watching the Chicago Marathon in 2017 and thinking, “this looks miserable, I would never run this far.” Then, shortly after my move to Seattle in 2019, I ran a trail half while watching two friends complete their first Ultramarathon, a 50K on Mt. Hood as part of Daybreak Racing’s Wy’East Howl races. Although they were exhausted and hobbling down the stairs after finishing, my reaction was the opposite: I had to do this.
And so, despite the pandemic cancelling the May 50K I’d signed up for, I finished my first 50K ultramarathon in a husband-supported effort this Spring. Along the way, I learned a few things that I’m taking with me as I think about my next self-designed Ultra-effort (because yes, I am already looking for more!).
Choosing a shoe
Running an Ultra requires a shoe that has the cushion to keep your body feeling good for many hours, paired with light weight so it won’t hold you down. It also means finding a shoe that will have the right design for the type of running you’ll be doing, whether that’s road, technical, muddy trail, dry dusty trail, or some combination.
For my course, this meant tying on the HOKA Challenger ATR, a trail shoe that handles dry trail well, and also feels comfortable on the parts of the course where I’d be on the road (full disclosure: I’m a HOKA Flyer so I got the shoes for free). I credit the adequate cushion and light weight with my quick recovery after my race, where I was back hiking in just two days!
Tracking your time
The time and distance of an Ultra is also a test on the battery life of your watch. When you’re running your own Ultramarathon, there’s nothing there to time you except your watch. I also relied on my watch to direct me on the course, as an “unofficial” race meant there wouldn’t be course markings.
Worrying about my battery dying early was a stressor I didn’t need when tackling a big goal. COROS was kind enough to loan me the COROS Apex Pro, which they assured me was up for the challenge. With over 40 hours of battery life, it not only met my needs on my 50K, but makes me feel ready to tackle even bigger challenges. After testing it out on a nine-and-a-half hour trail run/hike through the Enchantments, I was impressed to see my battery meter still at 70 percent, begging me to start planning another adventure.
Preparing to chafe
Throughout my ultramarathon training and racing, chafing has always felt like an inevitability. Whether it’s a spot between my inner thighs that my shorts never seem to cover, the inside of my bicep rubbing against my shirt or pack, the spot on the back of my shoulder blade where my water bladder tends to rub when I’m low on water, or (sorry to be graphic) my butt, I’ve learned the important spots to use chafing cream. I like to vary the type of chafing cream I’m using a bit depending on the spot. For most areas, I love the all natural chafing balm from Territory Run Co. For my more sensitive body parts (aka my butt), I’ve learned that my favorite chamois cream for cycling, Hoo Ha Ride Glide, works just as well for running.
Trying to keep yourself as dry as possible is also a great way to prevent chafing. Ultra running inevitably means you’re going to take a pit stop to pee in the woods, and if you don’t have male anatomy, this can prove a little bit difficult. I’ve found that carrying a Kula Cloth to wipe off after peeing behind a tree is the perfect solution to stay clean and chafe free (plus they’re seriously cute when strapped to your pack!).
When chafing happens, my go-to solution is Medline Remedy Olivamine Calazime Skin Protectant Paste, my miracle treatment that I discovered by happy accident. After my two-day desert relay in the spring of 2019, I retreated to visit my best friend in LA covered in intense chafing. He happened to have this cream in his house and I was desperate to try anything that would let me lower my arms to my sides without pain. I slathered this cream on at night, and in the morning I was a new person. Now, I never plan an adventure without knowing exactly where this is when I’m done!
Training to eat
One of the biggest differences between Ultrarunning and shorter distances is the need to take in calories while you’re moving. Throughout my training, I tested my stomach with all sorts of different foods until I knew what would sit well (hint: not key lime pie).
When it came to race day, my husband set up an aid station with everything from Gu to pickle-flavored chips to watermelon. Some of my must-haves include pickle juice (make sure to bring a couple of small cups so you can serve yourself) and Scandanavian swimmers. Knowing that the aid station was stocked with my favorites made me excited to eat and reset after a tough section, and encouraged me to get back out there when I was deep in the pain cave.
Picking a course
Above all, running an Ultramarathon should be fun! Picking a course that you’re excited about will encourage you to keep going when the going gets tough. At some point, you’re going to wish it was over, so having beautiful views or fun downhills to look forward to will keep your mind ready for the next section.
Don’t live near any scenic vistas? As friends or family to be stationed at later parts of the course. Better yet, don’t tell them exactly where to be so that you can be surprised to see them! The more you can keep your mind focused on continuing, the more you’ll enjoy the journey.