Questions about running your first ultra?

Hi everyone!

I remember several years ago when my wife and I ran our first ultra, we were scouring the internet for anything we could find to help guide us. So I thought it might be useful to have a discussion topic dedicated to all things running-your-first-ultra.

Training, nutrition, gear, pace(rs), injuries, locations etc.

For example, my first ultra was a 50k in Fall Creek Falls park in mid-TN back in 2014, I ran in some Inov-8 shoes, used a CamelBak pack, wore Injinji toe socks, ate Gu Blocks and finished in 7hrs and 17min (hence my username, mk717)…oh yah, and I weighed about 20lbs more!

FAST FORWARD, every single one of those things has changed except my pace ha! I wear Altra shoes (Timps, Superiors and Lone Peaks), have a Salomon pack, wear Balega socks, and eat mostly “real food” like nuts and fruit and I mix in waffles (Gu and Honey Stinger) with the occasional gel if I’m in a pinch.

What about everyone else? What advice would you give someone running their first ultra? What kind of gear would you recommend? Any good races you know of that make good “firsts”?

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Hello, my name is Doug, I’m 56 and I started running about 1.5 years ago and I love it. I’ve done a few 1/2 marathons and did my first virtual full marathon yesterday. Everything felt pretty good except I realized I need to do more strength training. I signed up for a 25K trail run in April just to get my feet wet and was wondering if a 50K would be too much for my first or should I just stick with the 25K? Thanks

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I think a multi (2-4 maybe?) loop course or even a timed event make great firsts. You get to learn the course and aid is never that far away. Much more forgiving if you need to drop as well. I once dropped 45 miles into a race (bad gear choice!) and got super lucky that a volunteer was heading back to the starting area. Had that not been the case I would’ve been stuck for many hours at that aid station or been forced to keep going.

Gear wise, it’s a lot of personal preference. Like you I started with inov8s, injinjis, gus, and an ultraspire bladder pack and have stuck with much of that. I’ve tried another pack with flasks and didn’t like it as much, tried altras, salomons and merrels but always went back to inov8, and I’ve made some questionable decisions such as sustaining myself by a mint powerbar every 5 miles for 50+ miles. I still think of that race every time I see one of those bars…

@Doug , I personally would rather do a trail 50k than a road marathon, and recover way faster from trail races. If you can get a run or two per week on trails (especially a long one) and the 50k isn’t super technical, I can’t see much of a reason to worry. Just start slow knowing that it can be a long day

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Thanks for the advice.

@Doug this likely sounds silly but I always say if you can run a half marathon, you can run a 50k! It’s just a matter of slowing down a touch and taking in more calories. And having already run a full marathon, another 5 miles is cake!

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That’s what I was thinking but not having done a trail run , I didn’t know how much more challenging it would be. Didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew. I guess I’ll just have to go for it. Thanks

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I second Codfather’s advice regarding timed or multi loop races as a good gateway in to trail ultras.
I tried my first trail ultra off of Ironman training and learned a lot of lessons the hard way. Fitness was fine but I was not ready for the up and down of the hills in a 50k. My feet and quads were destroyed and I slowed down a lot in the second half of the race. I even had to walk some of the downhills and flats.
Give it a try, don’t worry about time or placing. You will learn a lot and will be better prepared for your second race.
Enjoy the challenge and the welcoming community, walk as much as you need to and celebrate the accomplishment.

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Thank for the encouragement.

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You never forget your first. My first “ultra” was the Mosquito Marathon in Leadville. It was only a marathon but it kicked my ass. I didn’t wear sunglasses and I had a screaming headache almost the whole time. I also remember running down the trail having not seen anyone for what seemed like hours and thought I was lost, although I hadn’t seen an possible turns. I wasn’t lost, just slow.

Word of advice for first timers is eat alot, bring sunglasses, and don’t worry about your time. There will be plenty of other races in which to go fast. Go slow, stop to smell the flowers, and get the most for your race dollars. And what ever you do, don’t stop. Relentless Forward Progress is the name of the game.

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I ran my first ultra in 2018 at the Griffith Park 50k. It was horrible and amazing at the same time! Sunny socal decided to change the weather and there was a big storm on race day. A lot of places were super slippery from the mud and I saw lots of people slipping and sliding. The worst part about the mud situation was it sticking to my shoes and making it heavy to lift up. I ran the race in my Hoka One One Speedgoat 2s. Yes, the storm was pretty crazy at certain points but my biggest fail I had during this race was my nutrition. My legs started cramping and so I thought, oh I must need more electrolytes. I ate some peanut butter pretzels and shot blocks but maybe I overdid the portion that my stomach went completely south at mile 21. There was still a good amount of the race left and I was at the section where people would normally easily run through…but I was stuck on the side of the trail every few minutes with terrible stomach cramps (no explanation needed on what happened next). It was pretty much hell for the next 7 miles or so. A lady at the aid station told me that I should just turn around and make it a marathon finish. But no, being the stubborn me I decided to just trek through and miraculously my stomach stopped revolting around the last 2-3 miles. I actually was able to run to the finish line making it seem as if me crawling to the side of the trail with horrible cramps never happened. Amazing how your body recovers! I thought to myself, what am I doing and I will never do this again during those dark moments…and then found myself signing up for my next 50k shortly! Gotta love them tough moments.

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Wow. You’ll certainly never forget your first ultra!

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Ha! No judgement! We’ve all been in the “GI issues” boat before. Not to mention that we wouldnt be here if we werent all a bit stubborn too! Good for you!

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I had my first ultra a few years ago, and I think I can simplify my message for first timers now - after having a decent amount of ultra runs in my pocket:
“Run with your heart, and don’t give a @@@ to anything else”

My first ultra…?
It was a 50k btw, but I don’t think it matters.
6 hours running, 50k, 50mi, whatever your first ultra is, I think you will need a strong mind and some extra level of self-confidence.
Nutrition, shoes, hydration, sunglasses, gels are all secondary factors for success.
Say to yourself “I WILL MAKE IT” and don’t stop until you cross the finish line.

I made so many ridiculous mistakes at that time and I still finished.
Today, most of those mistakes are just funny stories that I share with my friends after a few beers, but then and there the run was a nightmare.
However 5 minutes after I crossed the finish line I knew I was going to run another ultra soon.

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Start race-fueling at the start line. Keep fueling as you run the first mile. Don’t stop fueling.

Ultras are eating/drinking contests, gastrointestinal system management contests, and running contests. If you manage the GI and fueling well, you can focus on the latter a lot better. :slight_smile:

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That’s an excellent point! and so true!

I have my first ultra at Hennepin in October. I just started running a few years ago and have only ran two very short fun runs as far as organized races. I have only ran 20miles recently but feel like I am there mentally. All of my runs are on the road currently so I’m not so sure I’m prepared from a footwear standpoint for the trail. I run in Saucony Freedoms on the road. I’m also struggling to get used to consuming enough calories and water while running. Just jumping in to the conversation as a new guy, love reading about everyone’s style and gear. Thanks J

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I’ll add this. The best training plan is the one you believe in and self doubt will do far more damage than any competitor, terrain, bad shoe, chafed unit, or condition that’s presented. Hey @mk717 how is Fall Creek Falls park? I’m going to do that inaugural 100 there this November.

Led

Are you planning to do the 50k or the 100miler? If the 50k, you’re golden! If it’s the hundred, I still think you’d be ok if you did a couple back-to-back long weekend runs. Like maybe a 30 miler Sat followed by a 20 miler on Sunday. Either way, good for you! You’ll have to come back and fill us all in once you’ve finished.

Totally agree, and love the name!

Honestly, FCF park is great. And I think it’ll be a great park for a 100. There’s plenty of beautiful scenery, the trails arent too technical (fairly well-groomed) and there’s not a whole lot of climbing, at least not huge peaks to scramble up.

I’ve looked at that race a few times and almost pulled the trigger but chickened out! Let us know how it goes!

Thanks for the intel. Sounds like an ideal spot for a late fall race. Do it.

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