I’ve had quite a few people ask me what I’ve done to be able to complete an Ultra or Endurance race. So I thought I’d offer a few tips to help out some people who have never done one before. Also, even if you have, I may be able to offer some insight to help you on your next one.
First, what is an Ultra or Endurance race in the world of OCR? Well if you do Spartan Races, an Ultra is a 30 mile race with 60 obstacles. It consists of 2 laps of a Beast course, with an additional Ultra only loop added to get you to 30 miles. The biggest difference from their other races is that between laps 1 and 2 you have the option to enter a Drop Bin area where you would have placed a plastic bin or bucket before the race started. This bin is most commonly filled with race fuel, food, drinks, and extra race clothes. Between laps 1 and 2 is the only time you have access to this area, so you want to plan ahead. I typically use my Camelbak for these races since there are several hours in-between laps.
If you do Bonefrog or Tough Mudder, they have multilap Endurance and Toughest races. These are much shorter laps, typically 5-6 miles, and every lap you are able to access your drop bin. You would still want to plan ahead what you are going to store in your bin, however since you have access to it more frequently, you can get away with not carrying as much fuel on your person. I don’t use a Camelbak during these races, since the laps are much shorter.
What should you put in your drop bin? Well, that depends on what you like. I typically have some bottles of water so I can refill my bladder in my Camelbak. I also will have Gus and Energy blocks, as well as some kind of soft food, like apple sauce or yogurt. A lot of this stuff you can get at GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, or order online at https://fiercegearocr.com. Honestly, it all depends on what you like, but I would make sure to try those items before race day so you can see how your stomach reacts. Nothing slows down a racer more than gut bombs after eating something that your stomach doesnt agree with. So test your race fuel before race day!
For an Ultra, you’ll want to have at least 2 headlamps and extra batteries as well. Just in case one breaks on you, it’s always good to have a spare. Also a change of gear is always a good idea. You typically don’t want to change your shoes or socks if you don’t have to. But worst case scenario if your shoes rip open, having that extra pair can mean the difference between finishing the race, or a Did Not Finish. When filling up your drop bin, I subscribe to the theory of the more the better. It’s better to have too much stuff and not need it, then to not have enough!
Also, and this is very important: if you are doing a Spartan Ultra or a BoneFrog Endurance, the Drop Bin area is not a REST AREA! You don’t want to be sitting down, lying down, or eating a big meal here. The goal should be to refuel, rehydrate, change any gear that HAS to be changed, and get out! The longer you sit around, the more you’re giving your body a chance to relax and cramp up. You want to keep moving.
So the other thing that is very different about this kind of race, is the clock. You have a set amount of time to complete these races. Now with Bonefrog or Tough Mudder, they have a set time when your race ends. For example, Bonefrog the cutoff is usually 2pm. So whatever lap you are on at 2pm means you cannot do any more. You can finish the lap you are on, but that’s it. Tough Mudder has a drop dead timer for it’s Toughest race. Once that time hits, the last lap you completed is it. You cannot finish the lap you are currently on or start a new one.
Spartan Race is a little different. 9pm is typically the finish time, although if you’re in the area of the venue, they will usually allow you to continue. Typically from what I’ve seen is that if you are within close proximity of the festival area and are moving along, you will finish. Also, there are several time cutoffs throughout the race. What this means is if you are not past that area at that time, they will pull you from the course because you are not maintaining a speed that will allow you to finish. The first one is at the drop bin area. You typically need to be out of the drop bin area by 2pm. If you are still there after that time, your race is over. Also there will be obstacle time cutoffs, meaning you have to be past a certain obstacle by that time. The exact time cutoffs will be emailed to you in an Ultra guidebook. Use those to plan your pace. Know ahead of time where you want to be by what time to help you finish the race. For example, I will typically say my goal is to be in the drop bin area by 12pm. Helps me establish a good pace.
So you’ve signed up for the race, you’ve got your race fuel, you’ve got your racing gear. Now what? Well I hope you have some kind of training plan. Depending on which race you’re doing, you’re typically looking at a 20-30 mile day. Now do you need to be able to run that distance in your training in order to be able to finish come race day? No, I typically only run 10 to 15 miles max during my training runs. But you are going to want to get most of your training done on the trails. Don’t spend all your time on a treadmill, or your feet will be in for a shock come race day. Your main goal should be to get your body used to being on your feet for several hours. It’s also a good idea to trail run with your Camelbak or whatever you’ll be carrying your race fuel in, so that you can get used to carrying the extra weight and become comfortable with it.
Everyone has different workout routines when planning for an Ultra. I typically will have 2-3 running days a week, mixed in with some Interval Training and Lifting. Also lots of practicing on obstacles. I like to do an hour of High Intensity Interval Training, followed by some work on obstacles. This way my body is already a little tired and it helps to simulate a race. Or I’ll run a lap or two then try to climb a rope or do monkey bars. Whatever you can do to help simulate a race scenario, will help you be better prepared come race day.
The week before your race you should be tapering and hydrating. What this means is slowing down. I don’t recomend any long runs in this time period. You’re not going to make any gains that will help you when you’re this close to race day. Honestly, you can only really hurt yourself at this point. I will typically take several days off before race day. I’ll do some active recovery stuff, like walks and stretching. Maybe some light calisthenics and weights. Now is not the time to hit your max deadlift goal, or to go for a 20 mile run. Better to give your body the rest it needs. That does not mean that I am suggesting sitting in front of the tv watching Netflix for days. No, you should still be active but reserved.
I think I’ve covered just about everything. If you have any questions or comments, please message me! I would love to help each one of you cross that finish line and get that coveted medal!