Confessions from the Trail: Race Day

I’ve talked about chasing the ultra goal, why I run, training, nutrition, pre-race, and the lingo of ultramarathons, but what about race day itself?

In this house, we know that ultramarathoners are a rare and wild breed. We run longer, rougher terrain then our road racing counterparts while fueling on things that would make our Mother’s roll their eyes and our doctor’s gasp in horror. We are unafraid of peeing in the woods. (Ok, maybe a little afraid.) And running through a day and night is just your typical 100 miler.

But aside from the bizarrely different mental attitudes, there are a few other things that make an ultramarathon different from a typical road race.

Picking a race: If you are wild and crazy enough to try an ultramarathon one of your first steps is picking that race. You know from the lingo post that UltraSignUp is the place to go and which distance/time is your style.

Once you get over your nerves, race day is actually only a little different than a road race. The biggest difference is that the highest are higher, the lows are lower, and the distances are longer. This that, these are the few notable changes.

The unknowns: Weather, your fellow runners, and a new course always qualify as “unknowns” but in ultramarathon, they’re amplified. A 5k in bad weather is, at worse, a miserable 30 minutes. In an ultra, you could be slogging it out in life threatening cold and rain for hours. With your fellow runners, sometimes whether you place or come in last largely depends on who shows up that day. It’s a lot like body building in a way. For the course, even a seasoned runner can be thrown off on a familiar course if weather has altered the trail significantly.

Aid stations: As I note in the nutrition post, ultramarathons aid stations are the wild west. You never know what you will encounter. Elvis impersonator giving out hamburgers? Seen it. Hell, that aid station even had plastic pink flamingos to complete the Trailer Park Chic look. Some are a buffet of the greatest junk food known to runners. Some are not much more than water and Gatorade. Always pack your own snacks! Some will also have mandatory health checks. Don’t be an ass, let them take your vitals and keep going; they’re here to keep your race drunk brain from killing your body.

Pure Mississippi

Digging deep: If you’re read The Pain Cave you know what I’m talking about. I start every race knowing I’m willing walking into the pain cave and that I will have to dig deep into my own will power to come out again.

Crews: Unless you’re a super-elite racer, you don’t get a crew during road races. Many ultramarathons will not only allow crews, but encourage runners to bring a crew. They will help keep your kit, double check your health and sanity at each aid station, and tell you beautiful lies about how well you’re doing. “You look great!” and “You look strong!” are the best lies any crew will ever tell you.

The finish line: Sweet bliss to see but it has far fewer frills than your average road race. There are fewer racers, for one, so you aren’t queuing up for that bottle of water and a single banana, which is nice. On the flip side, there’s no after party with blaring music and a DJ announcing each finisher.


Happy trails!


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