1.Your brain will not work: This started early on for me on my recent 50 miler on the North Downs Way, as I queued up in the wrong alphabet queue to pick up my bib. I then forgot to go to the toilet at aid station 2 as I had been planning to, and forgot to fill up my water bottle at aid station 3. Basically your brains will turn to mush, it will become difficult to make the most basic decisions, and you will find it difficult to form coherent sentences.
2. The Toilet Situation: At the race earlier in the month there were only toilets at mile 14/31 and then the finish at mile 50. I only peed once in 11 hours so was clearly very dehydrated, but I did manage to use an actual toilet at mile 31. I did need a comfort break of the other kind later in the race though, obviously once I had gone past the aid stations that had toilets. For miles I was dealing with needing to go, but struggling to find somewhere sheltered off trail as it turned into miles of open fields. Basically if you are going to run an ultra, you better get used to going in nature! Pack toilet paper/wet wipes in your pack- absolute essentials on the trail.
3. Weird Appetite: I wasn’t overly hungry at all during the race, dealing with a lot of nausea. You need to try to keep eating and drinking though against how your body is feeling, otherwise you will inevitably just run out of fuel. I am never hungry immediately after ultras, which is proper disappointing. My appetite post race has fluctuated from non-existent at times, to eating the entire contents of my kitchen, and craving and eating weird combinations of stuff, or not wanting to eat anything except cereal or pizza.
4. The Aftermath: You will not be able to walk for days, getting up and down from the floor requires some sort of furniture to pull yourself up and lower yourself down, and don’t even mention stairs. I would say it’s probably pretty rare to go through an event of this kind without suffering from blisters or chafe too, no matter how much you slather yourself in vaseline/sudocreme or body glide. My feet were not too bad at all, other than a sore little toe and a heel blister, but after SDW50 last year, my heels were a mess, I had to wear flip flops for a week, and every time I moved my foot the blister would crack open and weep- gross. Compeed are your best friend in this situation.
5. New Friends: You might spend all of your time training alone, in fact you may run for this reason, but you can turn up at any ultra event alone and leave with a load of new running mates. The atmosphere on the trails is great, and it’s nice to chat to people along the way, and meet some new running buddies, who just get it.
6. Low Moments: I felt pretty low for most of the second half on NDW50, it’s about riding those low moments and coming out the other side. Everything will pass, so it’s important to make the most of it while you are feeling good, and just suck it up and ride it out when you are feeling bad.
7. Slow Down: If you think you are going slow, you aren’t going slow enough. It’s cliche, but it rings true. I ran quite a lot of 9:something miles in the first half of the race, and I honestly think this was why I felt so shoddy in the second half. It’s hard not to get carried away at the beginning, particularly if the course is quite runnable, but you will pay so badly for it later on, so slow down.
8. Silence your Mind: Your mind will want to quit long before your body has had enough. It’s hard to silence the brain, especially when it’s trying to convince you that everything is an incline and should be walked, and is calculating at what point you would be safe to just walk it in and still make it under cut off. It’s good to have a mantra to think of during hard times.
9. Time Wasting: Aid stations though amazing places, filled with incredibly lovely people and all manner of delicious snacks are an easy place to lose time to on the day. I spent about 40 minutes total either in aid stations, or stopping to sort out my feet, which is quite a chunk of time. When there are 6 aid stations on course, you could easily lose an hour just spending 10 mins at each. I try to be efficient, going in knowing what I want (though difficult considering points 1 and 3), refilling flasks, grabbing food and heading straight off. I only stopped briefly at the first few, but later on had several lengthy stops, mostly down to gear malfunctioning, which could have saved me some time on the day.
10. Post Race Blues: You’ve spent 5-6 months training for an event, every spare moment going over training plans, gear, nutrition, and then it’s gone, that focus, drive and motivation all geared towards the big day, is over. I find I ride an endorphin wave for about 24 hours, completely wired on adrenaline and unable to sleep, and then crash really really hard. This is the time to just rest, enjoy your achievements, make some plans for races later in the year and do all the things you didn’t get to do while you were out running for 10+ hours a week. Though you may be in pain, and swearing to never run another ultra at the finish line, only a few days later you will be googling for your next challenge.
I hope this has given you an insight into the weird and wonderful world of ultra marathoning, and not put you off either. Honestly, it’s an amazing community, filled with incredible people, and I would highly recommend doing an ultra if you are considering one.