When I first looked up how to prepare for an ultramarathon I was horrified at the amount of info and the scientific mumble-jumble I was expected to absorb. “I just want to run with my two legs! How did it get so complicated??!”
But now that it’s all done, it’s great to hear that finishing the race has been an inspiration to some. For anyone who’s looking to conquer an ultramarathon here’s at least one proven way to do it. Note: I am still very much a running novice who didn’t know my Vo2Max from my glucosamine until recently. So please take the following with a pinch of salt (pun unintended).
Areas we will cover:
1. Pre-race preparation
2. Race day must-haves
3. What I didn’t bring
4. Post-race recovery procedures
1. Honey and salt mix
Mix honey and salt in a cup of warm water to drink the day before the race. The concoction should help prevent cramps during the race. Courtesy of my dear friend Trish (and fellow Sahara Race 2010 runner from Singapore!) who really is your garden variety of people that does triathlons for fun and eats steel for breakfast.
It’s tradition that one loads up on carbohydrate-rich food (pasta, rice, etc.) the day before the race. Although the effectiveness of this practice has been questioned of late, I still wolfed down a whole can of potato chips per Trish’s recommendation. No better excuse to eat salt-laden junk food! So go ahead, pick the flavour with the highest sodium content.
3. Get enough sleep
For an overnight run where you’re expected to race right through the twilight hours, getting enough rest the day before is critical.
4. Glucosamine tablets
Take these like your running depends on it — because it does. In fact, take regularly to keep joints healthy.
5. Clip your toe nails
Unless you’re the sort that likes seeing black toe nails detach from flesh.
Race Day Must-Haves
1. Fräulein Maria
No, you don’t need “doe, a deer” on your iPod for an ultramarathon, but make sure you bring a happy and never-say-die attitude. Because on a long races, chances are something will go wrong and you’ll need to improvise solutions and stay optimistic in order to finish the race. Remember that giving up due to mental weakness instead of physical weakness is a very common pitfall in ultramarathons. There will be tough stretches throughout and I did see people breakdown and cry right in the middle of this race. These are the times when staying cheerful and positive will be the hardest but most important thing you can do for yourself.
The chafing on your arms, inner thighs, waist can be quite severe if you’re eating up 84km in one go. Slather on Vaseline to avoid uncalled for pain.
Lots of brands out there. Some just go down better than others but it’s a personal thing. Always the brand/flavour before a race. Conventional wisdom says that you should not use a new brand of gels during the run itself; your system may not take it well. For the ultra, I used those by PowerGels, GU, SIS, Hammer, and Carb-BOOM! Hammer was by far the best for me in terms of taste, ease of intake, and amount (and length) of boost to my performance.
To help carry the artillery of energy gels. Also came in handy to hold my knee strap when I initially opted to run without it. The belt I used fro the 84m ultramarathon was handed out by the race organisers, but you can easily find them online.
Anti-blister socks designed by gods and slipped through to our mortal world with the help of a modern day Prometheus. I find the fabric of the sock a bit thin but they work so well in wicking moisture and keeping my feet blister-free. I’ll pack a few for the Sahara too. Works even better when you dump some of that anti-blister powder into the socks before the race.
7. Asics Kayano
Ladies and gents, may I present to you the shoe that made all that running in the last 6 months possible: my beloved Asics Kayano 16. I used to get severe knee pain after just 4km or so using a pair of nondescript trainers. But since switching to this pair, well… apparently I can run through the night and finish a double marathon. Of course, different people have different types of feet so this is not a “one model fits all”. The point here is to invest properly in a pair of running shoes that right for you.
Where to buy the latest Asics Kayano: More info here
8. Wrist bands
When you’re running in 30 degrees heat and 90% humidity like I did, wrist bands help A LOT. I was surprised at how few people used wrist bands in the race?! Mine were drenched by the end of it.
This pedometer by Sportsline is the little gadget that kept my sanity and pace throughout the night, especially during the tougher stretches when it was all too easy to just stop and walk. As soon as the speedometer read “4km/hour” I sped up again. It also monitors your heart rate without a chest belt. Nifty :)
I’m not the type that runs with music but for a race where one will be running for more than 12 hours on end, some music might be needed as a sanity check. Really glad I brought the iPod nano. Having sound in my head was instrumental to staying upright when I felt like stopping to sleep at 3am. The ABBA and w-inds. playlists lasted me for the whole of the second lap. Yes, apparently ’70s Swedish Pop and millennium Japanese Pop make good endurance race gear. Go figure.Besides, I got to take a video of myself crossing the finishing line with the iPod nano :) Historic moments must be recorded!
What I didn’t bring
I saw a handful of runners bringing this (a cream that helps to dull the muscle pain) but I didn’t want the bulk and didn’t want to just numb the pain away. Didn’t find this item essential.
A lot of people who had run last year’s Sundown ultramarathon said to bring a bit of money – if you do need to drop out of the race, you can at least get a cab. Some also bring change in case they get snack cravings when passing a convenience store. I didn’t bring any money but it worked out fine.
If you plan to bring cash, go for notes. I ran past a guy who was carrying coins. He jingled like a Santa’s reindeer.
The day after an ultramarathon, the following worked well for me and ensured a speedy recovery (read: only 4 days before I started walking like a normal human being again!)
1. Ice bath
Put your legs through an Epsom salt bath. The magnesium that’s absorbed through the skin helps to reduce inflammation and reduces toxins that cause muscle pain. It’s very simple procedure: heave large spoonfuls of Epsom bathing salt in hot/warm water, mix, and submerge your legs into the solution. Let sit for 20-30 minutes. Try to use water as hot as you can take; the hotter the water, the more effective the therapeutic benefits.
Where to buy Epsom bathing salt: More info here
3. Full body massage
Do this as soon as possible. Your muscles will scream during the massage but your body will thank you for it later. And don’t be a hero and try to go for a Thai massage; my “gentle” Swedish was bad enough.
4. Pain patches
The hot/cool combo kind works particularly well for me. Like the massage, there’s a trade off. This time, it’s between stinking like a medicine cabinet for a few days and feeling like a bed of roses afterwards.
THE END! Thanks for reading this far. Hope the info comes in handy. If there are any questions, just post a comment below. Do you have race tips to share that I didn’t cover? Share in the comments section too!