Have you signed up for your first ultra? Looking forward to crossing that finish line before you’ve even started?
Ultra marathons are considered any race that stretches beyond that golden 26.2-mile marker. Crossing this finish line is no small feat and requires thoughtful training and preparation. You need to avoid several common mistakes when running ultras to ensure your success. Needless to say, with a race that is so long and physically demanding, there’s a lot that can go wrong.
Before you lace up your running shoes or pick out that perfectly aerodynamic race-day outfit, consider these common ultra marathon mistakes.
Are you guilty of any of the following ultra marathon mistakes?
Fix them before Race Day!
- 1. Uninformed Training
- 2. Wearing the Wrong Running Attire
- 3. Picking the Wrong Shoes
- 4. Letting Your Running Shoes Wear Out
- 5. Too Many Layers (or Not Enough!)
- 6. Avoid Chafing
- 7. Starting Sessions Too Quickly
- 8. Piling On Miles Too Quickly In Training
- 9. Pacing Inappropriately
- 10. Same Old, Same Old
- 11. Neglecting Nutrition In Training
- 12. Tapering Insufficiently
- 13. New Race Day Routine
- 14. Running Too Tense
- 15. Insufficient Rest and Recovery
15 Most Common Ultra Marathon Mistakes
What are the biggest mistakes a runner can make in the build up to an ultra marathon — and on Race Day itself?
With a race that typically runs far longer than a marathon, you have a lot of time to get things wrong! Similarly, a mistake in the build-up, or in your preparation, can have catastrophic consequences. You won’t finish, or your body will make the journey something akin to a living Hell.
1. Uninformed Training
Obviously, the best way to train for an ultra marathon is to follow a proper training plan. Improper or insufficient training will leave you burnt out, unprepared to finish your race, or seriously injured. Cramps and soreness are indicators of inconsistent or insufficient training. You do not want to cramp up and sit on the sideline as your fellow runners pass you by on race day!
Start focused, intentionally planned training early; your body will thank you later. Training isn’t just about physically acclimating your body to longer and longer distances – it also primes and prepares your mental strength.
If you are “too tired” to finish your training run one day, guess what? You will probably feel tired at some point during your ultra marathon, too. Ultra running is ultra tough.
Pushing yourself mentally to dig in and do the work is invaluable for an ultramarathon and will give you the mental grit it takes to cross the finish line on race day.
It is also important to do the right type of training to finish your ultra marathon with ultra strength and ultra pride. There are dozens of long-distance training plans. Look out for plans that include varied running techniques and workouts, and that will allow you enough time to feel confident and ready to lace up your shoes and fasten your bib on race day.
2. Wearing the Wrong Running Attire
This is particularly important for beginners that haven’t figured out the balance between too much and too little clothing for a run, supportive brands, or how to avoid chafing and blisters – this can be detrimental (not to mention uncomfortable) once you hit the trail and start logging those long miles.
We’ve said it many times: NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY. This means you shouldn’t wear anything for the first time on race day. This includes new running shoes (hello blisters), new shorts (no chafing, please!), and even a vest with water bottles that may be new to your wardrobe.
Especially with new running shoes, you want to break in your race day kit and gently ease into your workout wardrobe on shorter runs before you commit to a long run and can’t turn back for an outfit change.
3. Picking the Wrong Shoes
Choosing the wrong shoes is one way to mess your body up quickly. With as many brands and types of shoes as there are on the market, it can be confusing and completely overwhelming when picking out running shoes.
Running shoes are the only equipment that you absolutely NEED for running. Finding the right pair that meets the needs of your gait and foot will help you fine-tune your stride and run more efficiently, not to mention injury free.
We suggest going to your local running shoe store and asking a representative to help you find a shoe that fits properly and will meet your training/ultra marathon needs. They have technology available to analyze your gait, and this truly will make a world of difference.
Invest in the right shoes – it may just be the key to unlocking an injury-free ultra.
4. Letting Your Running Shoes Wear Out
According to studies from the University of Colorado, running shoes that have been worn for a few too many miles can lead to reduced efficiency and an increased likelihood of injury. Replacing your running shoes every 500 to 800 kilometers can prevent injuries and help you run in tip-top shape, so keep track!
Most running shoes will experience significant deterioration in cushion before there are visual signs of wear and tear on the shoe’s exterior. The cushion in your running shoe protects your body from too much shock absorption and prevents injuries like shin splints or joint pain. That is why tracking how many miles your shoes have journeyed is important instead of just waiting for them to look like they need replacement.
5. Too Many Layers (or Not Enough!)
Especially for runners starting their training runs in cold weather, it is easy to pile on too many layers. As you get going on your training run, your body will warm up, and shedding layers isn’t always an option.
Normally we’d say that you should wear clothes that leave you feeling slightly cool as you step outside for your workout. Exercising when you’re too hot can increase bodily stress responses, reducing performance and immune system function.
Plan to dress like it is 10 degrees warmer outside than the thermometer reads, and you should warm up to a more comfortable temperature once your body gets moving. Another rule of thumb is to dress appropriately for the weather, then remove one layer.
However, this advice is different for ultra marathons where the race length and distance mean that conditions are likely to change. You don’t want to be caught short for layers in a hilly section when the weather turns and it starts pouring with rain.
Most ultra marathons will specify what kit is necessary to safely take part in the race. It’s highly recommended that you follow these guidelines closely and pack accordingly.
6. Avoid Chafing
Because of the repetitive nature and movements involved in running, your clothing will rub against your skin repeatedly as you pump your arms past your torso and your stride rocks back and forth.
When you run ultra long distance, this effect is amplified and the results can be… painful.
For male runners, putting Vaseline or some protective barrier on your nipples is imperative in preventing “runner’s nipple” – an incredibly painful, skin-irritating, uncomfortable situation that will leave your nipples raw from your shirt rubbing against your chest. If you want to know what it feels like to endure torture, ignore this suggestion.
You may notice chafing between your legs and butt cheeks, too. Wearing skin-tight shorts, leggings, or underwear that will prevent the skin on your inner thighs from rubbing against loose fabric can help alleviate the pain of chafed skin. Trust us on this. Lube up – the more, the merrier.
7. Starting Sessions Too Quickly
If you are on a time crunch or are feeling unstoppable before you even lace up your running shoes, slow down for a moment and warm up your body. Warming up your muscles before jumping into strenuous exercise is imperative in preventing injuries and overuse.
Beyond simply warming up and loosening your muscles before starting your training session, saving your energy at the start of a run will help you become a better, more consistently paced runner.
Starting out hot out the gate will leave you gasping for air halfway through your run and regretting your decision to even sign up for an ultra marathon in the first place. Consistent pacing and energy conservation and management will help you finish strong and even get that negative split that all runners dream of.
With an ultra marathon, the focus is on endurance and consistency over the long-haul. If the thought even crosses your mind – “Am I going too fast?” – chances are, yes you are!
8. Piling On Miles Too Quickly In Training
Many runners face the rude awakening of adding miles to their training plan too quickly and experiencing burnout. There are two parameters to help keep your weekly mileage in check:
- Never increase your mileage by more than 10 percent per week
- Your long run should not make up more than 20% to 40% of your total miles for the week
If you start to notice problems, overuse injuries, or muscle exhaustion, take a few rest days throughout the week to allow your body to recover and ensure that you are adequately fueling your body with recovery-friendly nutrition. Post-run snacks are a great way to ensure that your body can refuel and recover after long runs.
Above all: do not run through the pain. You will injure yourself further and can cause long-lasting damage. Be gentle with your body – it’s the only one you have!
See more: our guide to dealing with injuries and speeding up recovery.
9. Pacing Inappropriately
Ultra marathons are not the kind of race you want to start running with 100% effort.
You will burn out.
You will lose all the energy stores you need to finish your race well.
You will regret getting out the gate too quickly and lagging later.
Pacing is an essential yet often overlooked element of ultra marathon running. Race day is not the day to give it your all too early. Let your training runs prepare you for a consistent pace that helps you feel confident and able to cross your finish line with a smile of pride stretched across your face.
10. Same Old, Same Old
One way to prevent injuries, strengthen your entire body, and stabilize your trunk and leg muscles is to vary your training. Try incorporating new training methods or sessions with intervals, strength training, stretching, or varying the terrain you tackle each week.
Anything that mixes up your regular training sessions and can challenge your body in new ways will make you a better, stronger, more whole-health-driven runner.
This is important for all types of running, but in an ultra marathon, the stakes are higher. Your entire body is going to be stress-tested and any weakness will stick out like a sore thumb.
11. Neglecting Nutrition In Training
Refueling your body after a training run is incredibly important in helping your body recover and heal after long runs. According to several studies, consuming meals high in protein and carbohydrates helps repair and develop muscles optimally.
The 45-minute window right after you take your last stride and turn off your workout on your fitness watch is the optimal time to absorb nutrients and nourish your body. Keep a high-protein and carbohydrate-packed snack in your car so that you are well equipped to support your body.
Long runs are the perfect place to practice race-day nutrition. Figuring out what your body accepts and rejects during long-distance runs is important. Training is the perfect time and place to figure this out so that you can remove any worries about how your body will react to the fuel you provide on race day.
By the time you arrive at Race Day, you should be fuelled correctly not just from the night before. But from several weeks before.
12. Tapering Insufficiently
In the weeks leading up to your race, every training plan includes a taper period that decreases your mileage slightly to allow for active recovery and prepare your body for a strong race day. In the case of an ultra marathon, that might even be a strong race week.
Too early or too drastic of a change in your mileage will leave you feeling sluggish, and your body already run down before the running has even started. Going from high mileage to almost nothing is a shock to the system.
Taper adequately to allow your body time to rest before the big day without losing the fitness you’ve worked so hard to build.
13. New Race Day Routine
Although race day is a big day, do not deviate too far from your regular running routine out of the blue. Changing your diet the night before race day, wearing new running shoes, or trying out a new running technique should not be saved for the day you have your racing bib and finisher shirt.
If you plan to carb-load the night before your race, do that before long training runs. If you want to experiment with energy gels or chewy snacks, bring them along when you train.
We’ll say it again: Race day is not the day to do something different.
14. Running Too Tense
Relaxed runners are the most efficient runners. Tensing up while you run will mess with your running form and exhaust your energy stores, which you need to finish your race well.
Whenever you are running, you can periodically do a mental check.
- Are your fists clenched?
- Is your jaw clenched?
- Are your arms and shoulders rigid?
As you think about each part of your body from head to toe, try to relax each body part, and you’ll find that your running efficiency increases.
When running an ultra marathon, you have to expect that there will be highs and lows. How you battle through the lows is the hallmark of a great ultra runner.
Don’t expect that you won’t face a gruelling dip in the race, because you certainly will.
Recognise when it arrives and embrace the suck. Take the tension out of the moment and rely on your pre-race training to pull you through to the other side.
15. Insufficient Rest and Recovery
Any ultra-marathoner will tell you that the sport becomes addictive before you realize you have caught the ultra-bug. There is, however, a difference between pushing your limits for success and being stupid.
Listen to your body. If you experience sharp knee pain or your asthma is acting up on a training day, it may be best to take the day off. If you are simply “too tired” to train, it may be in your best interest to push through and practice grit.
As ultra-marathoners fall into habits of pushing themselves and growing as runners, it is easy to overlook warning signs and find yourself with a debilitating injury.
Training at high mileage takes a toll on your body. Treat your muscles well. They have carried you across hundreds of miles and training runs. Rest. Rest. Rest.
Resting will not hurt you. Listen to your body’s cues!