An ultramarathon is hard on the mind and body. The brutal pounding from hours of running, hiking, walking or crawling takes a toll on the body and more on the mind. An ultramarathon is any race more than the traditional marathon distance i.e 42.2 km.
In most cases of DNFs, it is the mind of the ultra runner that breaks first before deciding not to continue with the race. It is said that an ultra is 10% physical and 90% mental. Well, I made up that percentage but its definitely more than two thirds of the physical ability of a runner.
Now, in many forums or discussions, people are more focused on the physical training aspect of running an ultra. But the mental training techniques are something which almost every time is skipped because that’s the boring part.
Mental training for an ultra is equal or more important as compared to physical training. When I ran my first ultra or even when I was doing long runs on weekend nights on my own, I used to follow few techniques which I am going to tell you now.
Meditation is one of the most powerful tool to control the breath and mind. As we train our biceps or legs or abs by doing reps and sets, mind is also a muscle which needs to be trained daily to make it stronger.
When you start meditating, the mind is much calmer and patient, which in turn translate into a even pacing or whatever pace you have trained on. It doesn’t allow the body to subconsciously go faster. The impulse or impatience of reaching the aid station or finish line faster, beyond the capability of body is kept in check.
I almost always meditate for 10 minutes or so, after I have cooled down after the run. The trick is to keep to focus on consciously deep breathing. Initially it will wander to thinking different things like unfinished office work, making kids ready for school, some irritating sound in the background, or even sex with someone(not necessarily own partner 😉 ) or any other random thing. Let them come; don’t fight them and slowly focus on breath again. With time the concentration will improve.
There are many apps available to help meditate but I will recommend only two of them. One is Headspace – it provides guided meditation(that’s free) and you can purchase many other episodes too and second is Calm – it is free and I love this one because there are options of listening to the sea or rain or chirping of birds as a background noise.
2. Set goals
I always write down my goals or at least most of the times I try to. When I don’t, then most of the times it fizzles out in the daily grind!
Goal setting is very important because when you set a goal and write it down, then that means you have affirmed your commitment to the project you have signed up for. It makes the mind more determined to fulfill or achieve the promise to oneself.
When you write the goals, then do some more homework of writing down the ways to achieve it. When the plan of action is crystal clear, it becomes easier to achieve the goal even if difficulties test you en route. The plan is already ready so the evil side of the brain doesn’t have a way to escape the easy way.
I have set an aim to participate in UTMB 2018. I almost everyday visualise myself crossing the finish line with the Indian flag in my hand. I visualise the grind I will go through to qualify for it. I visualise how battered I will be after the first 100 km at Bhatti Lakes and I visualise how I will recover in time for Nilgiris 100 km in a month and a half time. I visualise roaming in the streets of Chamonix and many more things.
I did the same thing before I ran Bhatti Lakes 100 km. I read as many race reports and saw photographs of that place before the race to visualise in a better way. This visualisation helped me in planning my logistics. And hence, I was better prepared to handle the torture. In fact it felt as if I had already been there before.
Also, I urge you to visualise how will it be when you finish your race. What will you write in your Facebook status update and things like that. Where will you go to celebrate?
Troubleshooting, I will say, is a subset of visualisation. How, you will ask? If I visualise about the race by reading race reports, then I know how different sections of the course will look like and behave. In turn, it will help me in planning my logistics. In turn, help me visualise troubleshooting while running the race.
But, in case there is some issue which I couldn’t visualise beforehand, then I will still be in a better situation to tackle it. Because there are 10 other things akin to the problem for which I am ready. Hope it makes sense!
Running an ultra is more about planning the logistics and troubleshooting. Half the battle is won if we can take care of this aspect.
I made a mistake in this aspect in my first ultra. It was hot – I visualised that. But I didn’t visualise being dehydrated and nauseous. I didn’t have any salt tabs on me. I didn’t plan my electrolyte intake and hydration. But I was prepared to run in sun/heat. It helped me pull it off and of course, my pacer took care of me by forcing me to drink electrolytes.
Make a realistic training plan and finish it. And when you go into the race, have faith in what you have done. Have faith in the amount of mileage you have run during the training.
It is very easy to start doubting own preparations when we hear about other’s. But we made the plan or our coach made it, so trust that. Everyone’s physical capacity is different. You can do it. Have faith in yourself!
During my training for my first ultra, the longest run I did was 50 km. Then a week before the race I came down with a terrible viral fever and my mom died. It was devastating and I had not planned for all this. But still I could run the race and finish it because I believed in the training I did.
Read : 100 km of Tribute
6. Ecosystem of support
Surround yourself with people who understand and support your reason to run ultras. Even better, surround yourself with ultrarunners.
Be ruthless about it. All the naysayers are going to pull you down. Be brutal in taking them down. Join ultrarunning groups, Facebook groups, etc etc. People who think alike will motivate, cajole and kick you when you are feeling low. That is the kind of support every ultrarunner should look for.
Having people to whom you are answerable makes it difficult to abandon the race. The accountability factor is very strong. So, have like minded friends.
Now all these little techniques need to be practiced almost everyday like we workout/go for a run almost everyday. Till the time we don’t think about these factors consciously, it will be very difficult to do it just few days before the race and the anxiety might be overwhelming.
Include the above training techniques in your training regime. Remember the 90% mental and 10% physical. I am sure the difficult times in the race, which will come, will be more manageable. Ultras are all about managing tough times.
Till then stay fit and keep running.
Which of the techniques do you follow?
Do you use any other mental training methods other than the ones listed above.