Handling Ultra “Firsts”


It’s not hard to draw upon those cherished memories of “firsts” –  first kiss, first love or the birth of your first child.  Endorphins likely flooded your system as the thrill and excitement of each moment became palatable. Now, forget all of those. In the sport of ultrarunning, there’s another set of firsts you’re likely to experience and want to forget (but won’t be able to), all for the desperate pursuit of capturing some more coveted endorphins. Here’s a list of few firsts that come with running an ultra, and how to take them in stride.

Longest run ever. Literally. Whether it’s 7 hours or 30, you’ll have monumental moments throughout a race when you realize you’ve been out there longer than any other run you’ve ever done. From sun up to sun down, or sunrise to sunrise, it’s part of a mandatory initiation that gets you to the finish line. Try not to panic while venturing into the unknown, and be confident that you’ve trained your body to get you through the miles.

Aid station O.D. A smorgasbord of sugar and salt – and everything in between, an aid station at an ultra can look like a rainbow buffet. Be cautious when approaching these fast food free-for-alls, as the temptation to try everything can be overwhelming. Take just enough to satiate your hunger pangs and move on, because there’s a good chance a few hand-fulls of M&M’s could be disastrous down the trail…

Speaking of… find a tree.  You may have previous experience doing your doody in the woods, but it’s different during an ultra. Imagine how hard it is to find the perfect spot behind a tree to settle in and drop trow while runners fly by. The last thing you want to do is be burdened with the thought of where to find your next pit stop, especially when there are no trees or even level ground, for that matter. Think ahead and be prepared, not only with TP but by studying the course for a safe spot that might be the perfect place to break when nature calls.

Post-race body ache. After you’ve finished your race and that flood of endorphins has faded, you’ll be left with exhaustion which is when most of us just want to lay down. But you can’t. Sleep is elusive because the body ache is too deep. Soreness can be a shock to the system after such a hard effort, so don’t plan a house-cleaning session the next day. After the body has done this a few times, it’ll likely be accustomed to the pain and recover faster. Which means signing up to run another ultra.

What’s a DNF?  No one plans for it, and certainly everyone hopes a “did not finish” won’t happen to them. But no one can predict whether they will finish every race they train for. There may come a time when it just isn’t your day. Out on the trail, it’s tough to deal with sudden injuries. Fortunately there’s always a lesson to be learned, so remember to keep your chin up and realize it’s all part of the sport.



About Author

Amy Clark is a freelance writer and runner living in Bend, Oregon. In addition to running marathons and ultra marathons, she has parasailed in Baja, snowboarded in Big Sky and fought wildfires for the U.S. Forest Service. A native of Oregon, Amy is working on her first extreme adventure novel while living (and running) in Bend.

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