In my nine years as a Race Organizer and Race Director of Ultrarunning events in the Philippines, I have observed two distinct “mortal sins” of our local ultrarunners. I have mentioned these sins/concerns in my Race Reports as I am also guilty on these in my previous races, whether they are road or trail races.
First “mortal sin” is starting too fast on the course. Most of the runners are too excited to start the race and due to such excitement, the race strategy that one had prepared to be followed is completely lost and gone from the mind of the runner. Aside from the excitement, the fact that you are still running as a group among the starters adds the idea that you are better and faster than the runners in front of you! Your mind thinks that the race is just another 10K or a half-marathon distance or a marathon distance where you can easily finish the race without hiking or walking along the course.
A fast start on a race makes the runner to be uncontrollable even if his/her support crew would advise him/her to slow down. The sight of another runner, whether he is located in front or behind, gives a feeling of insecurity to the runner. Most of the time, it is that “macho” attitude that you can easily pass the runner in front of you to the point that you would observe every movement of the runner trying to find signs if the runner is slowing down. On the other hand, you have also that “fear” that you would be passed by the other runner behind you, knowing that the runner is weaker than you from your past running events with him. As much as possible, you would not like to be overtaken by that runner.
There is also the thinking or misconception that you are trying to be fast at the beginning or early phase of the race so that you have enough “buffer” or “miles on the bank” as spare if ever you will be walking or hiking on the later stage of the race. Most often, such “buffer” could be easily squandered or wasted by the second “mortal sin”.
Second and most abused “mortal sin” is staying too long for rest and “refueling” in a “pit stop”. Which means that if, in event that a Road Ultrarunner sees his/her Support Vehicle, the tendency of the runner is to stop the run (still far from the Vehicle) and then walk for a few meters to reach the Support Vehicle. Once the runner reaches the Support Vehicle, he/she can not decide which one to do first: drink, refill the bottles, or eat some food. More often, runners would forget to refill their bottles even if they stayed too long in their “pit stop”. Sometimes, they would simply sit if there is a chair being offered by their Support Crew. Even if their bottles are still filled with water and there is no need to stop, the mere sight of their Support Vehicle gives an excuse for the runner to stop and approach the vehicle. Even if they have still food stashed in their hydration pack, the runner would still ask for some food from their Support Crew.
In road or trail ultras, there are runners who would not like to sleep in the Aid Stations or near their Support Vehicle. Others would take it easy, compute their “buffer” time, and then simply take a nap or sleep. There is nothing wrong with sleeping or taking a nap during the event but this habit takes a lot of wasted time for the runners. If you have properly trained yourself for the expected night runs and did your assignment, then there is no need for you to have an extended sleep during the night run. I know of seasoned ultra runners who have trained for their night runs and made used of their training during the actual event. The result is that they have better finish times!
To some, their rest is coupled or combined with unnecessary change of outfits, change of shoes, and/or change of socks! In most of my ultra races where I’ve joined, the outfit that I have on the start of the race is the same outfit that I have once I cross the finish line. I am very fortunate that I’ve never experienced any blisters on my feet or chaffing on any part of my body during my races. I sweat a lot during races but I don’t change my outfit when they are wet even if I have extra dry outfit in my drop bags waiting at the Aid Stations!
There are some runners who would take a shower while the event is on-going. I have observed a lot of runners in my BDM Races who find time to have their shower at the halfway mark! I am not sure if they are doing this ritual when they are training for it. It is fine with me as long as they finish the race within the cut-off time of the event.
When the runner reaches and crosses the finish line, he/she is very happy and emotional that he/she had finished the race. However, once the Official Result is posted and published, the runner would scan on the list of finishers and look for the ranking of the other runners. Most of the time, the runner could not believe that another runner had a faster time than what he made in the event. That’s the only time that he/she would think of those times squandered or wasted because of these two “mortal sins” of every ultra runner had experienced.
The challenge now is to have a better time for the next edition! And this is the “third mortal sin” of every ultra runner! However, there are so many ways to avoid this “third mortal sin”. If you have a problem of controlling your pace or speed once the race starts, you have to relax and remember those training days you have put in preparation for this race. Start slow to warm-up your muscles and then slowly increasing your pace during the run. Listen to your body and gauge your pace on the effort you are exerting during the run. That is only half of the story. The other half is to be able to maintain your hydration and nutrition strategy to fuel up your body as you increase your pace. Whether it is a road or trail ultra race, I always start behind the pack of runners and slowly inching my way to the middle pack or among the upper 50% of the runners or sometimes finishing on the upper 20% of the runners.
With regards to being “hard-headed” in expecting comfort from the sight of your Support Vehicle or the location of the Aid Station, there are so many things that you should remember. First, do not stop and refill your bottles with water if you haven’t consumed anything from your bottles or hydration pack. If you want to eat, consume first the food you have stashed in your hydration pockets before you get refills from your Support Crew. Second, if you intend to refill your bottles and get some foods, make it fast and systematic! You should be back on the road and continue your run in less than 1-2 minutes! Third, for those would like to take a “nap”, make it short and ask your Support Crew to force you to wake up after the agreed number of minutes of “nap” time! Fourth, there is no need for showers, change of outfit, change of shoes and socks, and “selfies” during the race. Everybody smells the same once a runner is drenched by his/her sweat! As for the outfit, whatever worked comfortably with you during your LSDs in your training, use them! Fifth, train your self to eat and drink while you are power-hiking as this would minimize your time in the Aid Stations. Sixth, whether it is road or trail ultra, organize your needs in plastic containers with markings on what point or Kilometer point where you need such items stored inside them (placed inside the Support Vehicle in Road Ultras). In ultra trail races, make sure you know the items you placed inside your Drop Bags or better yet, have a list with you in your pocket as to which items you have in those Drop Bags.
If you commit these “mortal sins” repeatedly or had committed them and you want to improve on your performance, practice my advise during your runs as they are not hard to follow.
Lace up and go run!