Pacing an ultramarathon

An ultra marathon is a grueling race that requires both physical and mental strength. Unlike a traditional marathon, an ultra marathon will normally include different terrain, surfaces and underfoot conditions, all of which mean you will not be able to set and stick to a constant pacing plan. Pacing an ultra marathon is critical to success, and here are some tips on how to do it effectively:

Focus on your effort, not your pace.

Given the variability in conditions and wide range of unknowns on the day of your event you should set out to maintain a perceived effort level, not a pace. If you have worked with RPE before, a common strategy is to focus on effort levels of between 5-7 RPE. However, gradients, temperatures, terrain, and of course the length of the ultra, must be considered to ensure you set the right effort level for you for your race.

Start Easy (Slow!)

The key to pacing an ultra marathon is to start slow. It’s important not to get caught up in the excitement of the start of the race and push too hard too soon. Instead, begin at a comfortable pace/effort that you can maintain for the entire race.

Have a Realistic Plan

Before the race, create a pacing plan based on the course terrain and your fitness level; this should be used to ensure you train on similar terrain and elevation profiles. But don’t get too focused on your pace plan on race pace – underfoot conditions (as you probably discovered in training) will have a significant effect on your pace. Focus on and aim to maintain a consistent effort throughout the race, with an occasional slowdown on the uphills and push on the downhills. Your event plan should be much more about your conduct and race behaviours (i.e. when to eat and drink, how you will manage check points, etc).

Listen to Your Body

Ultra marathons are a test of endurance, and it’s essential to listen to your body. Pay attention to any signs of fatigue or pain and adjust your pace accordingly. Walking is a viable option to rest and recover, and it can help you conserve energy for the later stages of the race. we’d certainly commend you to walk the uphills (and any overly technical descents); remember ‘Run when you can, Walk when you have to’.

Hydrate and Fuel Regularly

Staying hydrated and fueled throughout the race is essential for maintaining energy levels and preventing fatigue. Plan on drinking and eating every 20 to 30 minutes, even if you don’t feel hungry or thirsty. Carry enough hydration and nutrition with you to sustain your energy throughout the race.

Use Aid Stations Wisely

Aid stations are crucial to an ultra marathon, and they can be a great opportunity to replenish your supplies and take a quick break. Plan to use aid stations, and make sure to take advantage of what they offer. Refill your hydration and nutrition, use the restroom, and rest for a few minutes before continuing. But, don’t get comfortable or overstay your welcome…!

Stay Positive

Endurance running can be mentally challenging, and it’s crucial to maintain a positive mindset. Focus on the progress you’ve made and the finish line, rather than how far you have to go. Use positive self-talk and visualization to stay motivated and focused.

In conclusion, pacing an ultra marathon requires a combination of physical endurance, mental strength, and strategic planning. By starting slow, creating a realistic plan, listening to your body, hydrating and fueling regularly, using aid stations wisely, and staying positive, you can achieve your goals and finish the race strong. Remember, an ultra marathon is a test of endurance, not speed, so pace yourself accordingly and enjoy the journey.

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