Another 10 things You Need To Know about ultramarathon running

Last updated: 21-Aug-18

Last week we published Andy Mouncey’s first top ten tips to make it in the world of ultra running. Here are another 10.

By Andy Mouncey

11. Wish You Were Here

You get more inspiring landscapes in an ultra. Unless your thing is going to be those 24 hour track races, of course.

I know of few things more effective at taking your mind away from the miles than the majesty of Mother Nature. And before you think I’m gonna turn tree-hugger on you, think on this: I’m not talking about rubber-necking through a car window. You will be part of those landscapes with all the sensory experience to go with it. Areas that you think you know will take on many more shades of meaning once you have your own journey to thread through them.

12. I Want To Be Alone

You have a greater chance of running alone during part of an ultra. Yes, the field size is growing as more and more people go longer and go off road, and the probability remains: you will need to be cool with your own company and confident in your ability to motivate and look after yourself. Unless you are racing in the States or Europe you are unlikely to be regaled at regular intervals by cheering crowds and a manic MC. We are, after all, the repressed English. Practice the art of self-reliance, dear reader.

13. Get Sorted

Personal organisation: you need to get the ‘faff factor’ to a minimum, because if it’s a faff, 40 miles into a 50 mile race when you’re not thinking straight you wont do it – and that could be curtains.
A reason many people don’t/can’t navigate? It’s a faff doing all that stuff with a map.
A reason many people have problems with blisters and chafing? It’s a faff stopping, getting the kit out and doing the repairs on crappy feet.

A reason a good friend of mine had dehydration problems on nearly every race till he figured this one out? It was a faff to reach his drink bottles stashed on his rucksack.

In ultras, personal organisation is (nearly) everything. Test, refine, and test your kit choices and equipment stash locations till you can reach / do nearly everything while on the move.
If it’s simple and easy you’ll do / use it – if it ain’t, you wont.

14. I Gotta Go!

You need to be OK with a wide range of toilet skills and locations. One of my most vivid recollections from my early ultra days was racing in the US and seeing a lady runner peeing successfully from a standing position just a few yards off the path. She just hoiked her shorts to one side and…you have a picture, I’m sure.

You should expect to have to go. Physical effort plus mental stress plus often strange foods plus miles and miles can play havoc with your insides. The only way to find out which foods agree with you – and this could differ according to effort level and how hot it is – is to experiment. You might have to go through some unexpected and messy results before figuring this out. So carry your toilet paper in a little plastic bag (see faff factor above). Please.

The general etiquette is to go away from the path. Some races are specific: at UTMB in France all runners are given a mesh bag which can be threaded to a waist belt for litter and toilet paper to be disposed of at checkpoints. As environmental awareness becomes more mainstream, our racing footprints will be required to be ever lighter.

15. Compounded & Complicated

There are more and different factors to plan for / deal with in an ultra. Some of the differences I’m covering here. Then we also have the compounding effect, which is simply a function of the greater distance.

There are more aid stations. More kit to carry ‘cos you’re out for more time. More choices to make. More food to eat. More drink to drink. More weather to deal with. More time to think. More stuff to forget. More opportunities to give up…

Just because there are many many more miles to go.

16. Train To Get Down

You really need to train for the descents. It’s the downhills which are the quad-killer, and if your upper legs are shot then it’s pretty much hobble time from there on in. Remember the compound effect? This is where you pay with interest.

Descending effectively and efficiently is a different skill set from say, the full-on styles seen in shorter fell races in the north of England. In ultras the emphasis is on conservation and preservation of the muscles and the energy systems. This means the technique is different.

And if you don’t have hills to train on? Move house.

If you can’t move house then help is at hand: There is a bunch of stuff you can do in a gym and outside to condition those quads.

17. The Normal Rules Do Not Apply

Be prepared to experiment – the normal rules do not seem to apply over the big distances. Ever wonder why there is a stack of ‘How to train for the marathon’ books, and relatively little choice for ultras? Because the curious among us are still figuring it out, and much of the research is still pretty inconclusive.

Sure, there is some consensus:

Run. Run as often as you can – and run is the standout one for me in Tim Noakes’ ‘Lore of Running’.

But after that?

Heck, I know people who race off junk foods and others who have nothing but gels. I know people whose long run is all day, and others who achieve on two hours.

Listen, if it gets you the results you want in the way you want ‘em and you can make those results stick over time – then whatever you’re doing is a legitimate strategy for you. Even if it’s totally different from the next guy and you can’t find any mention of it in the manuals.

18. Be Special

The field size is smaller for an ultra race. So that start line you’re on and those people you’re with? It’s a pretty unique place and a special bunch of people.

19. Ladies: This Sport Is For You!

Ladies get more cheers – because there are less of them in the races – and those that are present perform relatively better over ultra marathon distance.

A higher % will finish – partly due, in my experience, to the fact that women do self-management much better – and the gaps between the top men and top women in the sport are very small.

Women have won ultras outright. The only marathon case I am aware of in the UK was the Severn Sisters off road marathon on the south coast sometime late 1980’s / early 1990’s.

20. Finish First

The finish % is smaller for an ultra race. Much smaller. It’s normal for one out of two people to DNF at the longer mountain races. Whatever your aspirations and level, remember this: you need to earn the right to finish first. Anything else is a bonus.

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Entry Fee
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Date Range

Global - Virtual


A virtual race which can be run at any time shown on the dates shown, on any type of terrain in any country.

Suitable for

For runners from beginners to experienced as you choose your own course and challenge based on the guidelines and options set by the virtual race organiser.

Endurance - Multi-activity


An ultra distance race including at least two of the following activities such as running, swimming, cycling, kayaking, skiing and climbing. It may also include different climatic conditions (eg ice, snow, humidity, cold water, mud or heat).

Suitable for

Experienced multi-skilled athletes who have trained for the different activities included in this event. Admission to these races may be subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements and any specialist equipment required such as a wetsuit, skis or a mountain bike.



Increase of up to 2000 metres with very challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity, heat or at high altitude)

Suitable for

Very experienced long distance ultra runners (min 3 years’ experience) or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races is often subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Purchase of specialist kit is often recommended for these races.



Increase of up to 2000 metres with some challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity or heat)

Suitable for

Experienced runners who have completed at least 4 ultras in last 12 months, or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races may be subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements.



Increase of up to 1500 metres

Suitable for

Runners who have completed several ultra distances or similar events, or are doing long distance running regularly, with elevation shown.



Increase of up to 1000 metres

Suitable for

Runners who have completed at least one ultra in last 6 months or are doing long distance running (>26 miles) regularly, with elevation shown.



Very little change < 500 metres

Suitable for

First ultra event. Runners completing a marathon or doing regular long distance running (>26 miles) in the last 6 months.