The Mental Game

Now that I am officially tapering for my first 50k, and the physical work has been done, I have to start mentally preparing. I’ve been thinking about how to tackle this new distance.

Several weeks ago, I started gathering information from those who have ultra marathon experience.  I reached out and asked the Folsom Trail Runners, the awesome running group that I belong to, the following questions:

  • I have a few questions for all of you ultra marathoners out there…….1. What did you learn while running your ultra? 2. Would you have done anything differently during training or on race day? 3. What was the longest you ran while training for a 50k? Thanks!

These are the responses I received:

  •  1. shoes, nutrition and electrolytes matter. Use the aid stations MORE  2. I would have done away with big back to backs and kept my tapers at higher mileage at lower intensity.  3.Over 30 miles.
  • 1. 31.5 miles is a long way (serious answer: eat and drink lots along the way). 2. Amazingly nothing. 3. 26 miles twice: 4 and 3 weeks out.
  • 1) I learned that I really like being out there. The challenge is a lot different than doing a “road” marathon. You have to think different and keep your eyes and your mind open. Go with the flow more because nature is in charge, not me. It made me a stronger runner and enjoy racing more.  2) The one thing I learned to do different is (because I carry a lot of food and hydration already) to spend way less time at aid stations. I even skip some now. I also learned, I CAN carry less stuff… but the time I end up at aid stations can add up fast.  3) Longest run: Marathon distance (ish). It’s more about hours on your feet. So if you are a faster runner (which you are), you may only end up doing more miles than someone like me that runs slower. The average time I think people aim for is 5 hours for the longest run. I think the longest time I spent on my feet was 5.5 hours. It took me 6.26 hours to complete my first 50K.
  • My last ultra was Fort Ord, and on second thought I don’t think I would have eaten the second half of that torta sandwich the night before.
  • 1) maintain nutrition & hydration  2). chilled mangos  3) 20+ miles and/or 4 hours
  • All the ultras I’ve done were 50 milers. I recommend holding your pace back for the first 30-35 miles (20-25 miles for a 50k). Maintain your nutrition. If you can help it, don’t let yourself walk. It just makes it easier for your body to convince your mind that you need to walk again later.
  • Some people like to be surprised, but I need to run all parts of the course to know how to prepare. For example, just yesterday I ran the first half of AR50 in trail shoes not knowing it’s almost all hard surface. My feet and hips were done 3 miles from the finish. Now I know to wear my cushy Kayanos to start.
  • Nutrition is huge!! I wish I would have eaten more during my 50 mile instead of doing gels, they messed up my tummy.  And Hokas!!!! My new favorite shoe for long runs!  Oh! And relax… Enjoy the experience of it.

There is some great advice in those responses. I love belonging to a family of runners who are always willing to help someone.

I also asked a fellow blogger for some advice. Friends over at Activeharmony suggested, “Think of the race as running from “aid station to aid station”, rather than an all out 50K.”

Sounds simple, but I needed to hear this. I think it’s a great approach to running a 50k. Since the course that I’m running has plenty of aid stations, there’s one every 4 -6 miles, this will work well.

Another thing I do to feel mentally prepared, is break down the course and know how it’s going to feel. This also helps me create a plan for my pace. Of course this is just a prediction.  But, based on how I felt during my long runs, this is how I think the 50k will feel:

  • The first 15 miles easy, miles 15-20 still easy, miles 20-25 I’ll be working, miles 25-31 I’ll be digging deep and I’ll feel some discomfort (maybe a lot of discomfort).

It amazes me how quickly the effort level can change.  I can go from a nice and easy feeling to having to work rather quickly. It’s like someone flips a switch. Mile 20 will feel easy and then all of a sudden, mile 21 requires focus. Perhaps one day the transition won’t come so early.

In mentally preparing for an event, I also look for articles that help me feel stronger, prepared, confident, etc. I came across this quote and it rang a bell.

Each event is different and it helps build my confidence to be as mentally prepared as I can be. I’ve been tested during a race before; for example, I hit the wall during a marathon in 2010. I felt that I stayed mentally strong and I was able to finish even though it didn’t go as planned. Therefore, I like to come up with some encouraging words or phrases so that when it gets tough I have something positive to say. Otherwise, there are several negative words that pop into my head.  Here are some positive phrases I’ve come up with:

  • I’m well trained.
  • I can do this!
  • I’m going to do this!
  • Pain is temporary!

(Yep, I can sound like a broken record at times. Hopefully I will feel strong and have a great race that I won’t need to use any encouraging words.)

I’ll be putting together a race plan soon.  I’ll share it as soon as I have it completed.

How do you mentally prepare for a race?

Do you have any advice on running a 50k?


3 thoughts on “The Mental Game

  1. How do you mentally prepare for a race?
    Relax and have fun

    Do you have any advice on running a 50k?
    Enjoy it because it’s going to be over and you’ll wonder when the next one is

  2. I cannot offer advice to you- I’m a short distance runner -right now anyways 😉 – But I love the bit about thinking of the race as an ‘aid station to aid station’ run. That kind of mental thinking would help me!

    And~ most importantly~ good luck to you! Sounds like you have done your training & homework- go get ’em! 🙂

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