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Selecting Your First Ultramarathon Guide: If you want to tackle your first ultramarathon event, then the first obstacle will be selecting your first ultramarathon race. Race selection can be overwhelming, especially as the increase in popularity of ultrarunning has led to the rise in the number of events to choose from. In this article, I have highlighted some key aspects of you.
Picking Your First Ultramarathon Distance
Selecting Your First Ultramarathon Distance: Technically anything over a traditional marathon is classed as an ultra. There many options these days, and the variation can be huge. From 50km up to 200 miles, with mountains, towpath, road, or smooth trails, choosing the right event for you is vital.
The 50K is always a great entry point into the world of an ultramarathon running, and arguably, not that much more training than for a marathon. However, if you are an experienced marathon runner, you might want to opt for a 50 miler or a 75km race. You need to access your ability and make a sensible choice. Please read our guide on running your first 50-mile ultramarathon race for more information.
Terrain When Selecting Your First Ultramarathon
Not all kilometres are made equal, and the 42km UTMB race in the Alps is a lot tougher than a 50km event on flat British canals and pathways. The distance on its own can be misleading and might give you misguided confidence. Ultra races can be on rocky trails on muddy fells or super-fast on flat and light trails.
Select The Right Location
While running an Ultramarathon is a real adventure, you might feel tempted to jump in at the deep and go somewhere exotic. That allure can quickly turn into a bigger challenge than you bargained for, the effects of unfamiliar altitude, temperature and humidity could end your race early. The location could be a key factor in selecting your first ultramarathon event.
It is much easier to race in an environment and climate similar to that in which you train. If it is your first Ultra event, then stick with a similar location to where you train. Once you have some experience under your belt, you can always go for some for something unfamiliar in the future.
Also, consider how you are going to get there and get home. However, it might be good driving there before the race. However, be prepared for sore legs at the end – this could affect your ability to drive. Consider public transport links and ease of access to the event.
Many Ultra events do offer camping the night before and after the event. Camping is a great option to go for; you can rest up before travelling home.
Selecting The Time Of Year For Your First Ultra
In the UK the weather is pretty unpredictable, we could have rain at any time. I would suggest that you avoid the summer months and the potential for extreme heat – yes 2020 in the UK was pretty hot. Time of the year will be personal choice though, and if you are comfortable running in hot weather, then late Spring and Summer might be perfect. Pick an event at a time of year that suits you.
Research The Different Ultramarathon Events
It’s essential to do some research when selecting your first ultramarathon, and by research, I don’t just mean looking at the photos and online brochures the event organisers have put together. Check out feedback from previous entrants – on forums, Facebook and race review blog posts.
I would suggest also look at the finish times from the previous years. The research will give you some indication of how tough the race was and the calibre of entry.
Also, look out for cut off times! You might see an event that you like the look of; however, they might have a stringent cut-off time at each checkpoint. It would be disheartening to get halfway through, feel great and then get told you can’t carry on because you missed the cut-off. Check the times, make sure it is a race time you can comfortably manage.
Many Ultra events are open to walkers, joggers and runners. These can be an excellent option for your first event because the cut-off times will be more manageable.u
Navigating The Course
Another critical consideration is navigation – is the race signed throughout, or are you expected to navigate between long checkpoints? Navigation requirements should be clearly stated in the race description if you are unsure contact the race organisers.
Mandatory Ultramarathon Kit Requirements
You need to know well before the race if there are mandatory kit requirements. If there are, you need to purchase the said kit and practice running with the kit. Examples of compulsory equipment you would need to carry in a running pack and vest could include; waterproof jacket, 1.5 litres of water, mobile phone, mobile phone battery bank, first aid kit, survival blanket, etc.
Together, all of these items would weight a few extra lbs, so you want to know how it feels running with the excess weight and bulk way before race day. If you need some new shoes, take a peek at our Best Lightweight Trail Running Shoes Guide or if you need some other gear SportsShoes.com and Amazon have some great gear for ultra running races.
Do the ultra event organisers provide aid stations – where you can replenish water, food, grab some rest or seek medical help if need. Most events will have aid stations, however again always check. If they don’t or are limited to just water, you might need to pack your nutrition and carry this along the route or have a support crew waiting for you.
Selecting Your First Ultramarathon Recap
- Race distance and cut-off times – can you comfortably manage them both.
- Location and travel before and after the race
- Terrain and climate you will be running in.
- Event support before and on the day
- Getting the right kit and practice running with the kit
- Selecting your first ultramarathon is part of the experience; take your time, and have fun.