As I begin to shut the (mental) door on my first 50-mile ultra, I decided to reflect upon the 5 most important things I had learned from the journey. I had originally written this post the day after the race, but wanted to wait and come back to it to see if these lessons still rang true a few weeks later – and they do. Needless to say, below are the 5 most important things I learned from running my first 50-miler.
Respect the distance
I have no doubt you’ve heard those words many times before. The truth is, they take on a whole new meaning with you’re talking distances of 30, 40 … 50 miles. You can pay your respects in many ways: by constantly being aware and of—and honest with—your pace (both during your race and in your training), making sure your weekly mileage and long runs have been sufficient, and allowing for adequate recovery. The last point is something I wish I had paid more attention to. I gained little from the junk miles I ran when I wasn’t feeling 100%.
Study the course, and train on it if possible
Most races provide course maps and elevation profiles – and you would be wise to study them. I was lucky enough to get out on the course several times prior to the race, which helped astronomically on race day. Running for long stretches of time is demanding enough. If you can at least “know what’s coming”, you stand a better chance of mentally (and physically) overcoming the miles ahead. This was especially true for me in the later part of the SD50. Long story short: Get on the course if possible. If not, study the maps.
Don’t use race day for experimentation
Be a mad scientist all you want on your training runs, but make sure that by the time race day comes you’ve got everything figured out. This goes far beyond just nutrition. Make sure you’ve run in (and like) your race shorts, shirt, shoes, etc. Also, be sure to utilize a drop bag if the race allows so you don’t have to carry everything with you from the start of the race.
Expect the unexpected, and be prepared to adapt accordingly
No matter how ready or prepared you are, there’s a good chance something will come up. It may be something you planned for, but in many cases it’s something completely unthought-of. For me, it was losing my footing on a rock and getting my feet soaked in the early part of the race. Definitely wasn’t expecting that. For you, it could be nutrition, a fall, or even a wet foot. In any case, be ready for it – and be ready to react in such a way that you can keep moving forward.
Keep a strong (and positive) frame of mind
The importance of a strong/positive mentality is paramount. It’s the foundation of which your entire day will be built upon. Keep negative thoughts out of your head and remember just why you’re out there. While I know this sounds pretty obvious, I was surprised how “aware” of my thinking I had to be later in the day.
As I said in my race recap, I learned a lot about myself that day. The most important lessons I learned, were, undoubtedly, the personal ones.
That said, as I begin to close the door on this race and file it away in my mind, I wanted to pass along these 5 tips to you. My hope is that by taking them into consideration on race day, you’ll be able to spend more of your time experiencing the more important life-lessons that can come out of running your first 50-miler.
Thanks for the memories, SD50. *closes door* Looking forward to what’s next.