That’s the beauty in running. The simplistic process of stepping into a pair of shoes and moving your feet forward. The infinite independence of turning in any direction, at any place, at any time. We can go as far and as fast as we choose. Running can be similar to our lives in a way, in that what we get out of it is an exact reflection of what we put into it. The process is entirely organic and as a species we were made to run. Although most ultra marathons are hosted on trails, I’ve trained many times on the road or on a road/trail combination. When on the road for such a long period of time, there are many lessons learned and a number of particular aspects that become habitual and helpful along the way. In this week’s post, I’ve listed 10 tips for training on the road for an ultra marathon. So please read, enjoy, and most importantly of all: Keep It Moving!
1) Aid Stations
Convenience stores, gas stations, and markets can be a great alternative to aid stations when training for an ultra marathon. When planning my route, I try to make sure I pass stores that hold my favorite fluids. For me, it’s coconut water. Also–yes, you guessed it–these types of stores are very convinient. I’ve purchased gloves, hats, tape, sunblock, and Vaseline, among many other items. After all, a lot can change when running, say, 6 hours on the road. One night, when the temperature dropped significantly, I even purchased a cheap cup of hot chocolate and an even cheaper sweater. Running down the street, you could have mistaken me for a Christmas caroler! Also, I love running during hot summer days. Because of this, you may find me with my upper body laying in the freezer section with the bags of ice. Not a bad way to quickly bring your body temperature back down.
2) Behind Cars
While running endless miles on the road, you start to notice patterns of the average driver. Surprisingly, a common one is that when pulling out into one-way traffic, it seems that most people only look one way, dismissing a possible pedestrian as they go about their busy and most likely stressful day. Also, turning right at a red light seems to only receive a one-direction look. Why does this occur? I do not have an answer, but what I do know is that it’s not worth it to find out. This observation has lead me to always run behind cars. A few extra seconds off your split is well worth your safety and well being.
3) Runner Wave
As runners, we can all relate to each other on some level. We are out running in our spare time or choosing an early morning run on the weekend instead of a few extra hours of sleep. Personally, this past weekend I set my alarm clock for 3:30 a.m. to fit in a 30-mile training run before an obligation I had in the late morning. I do not say this to brag–no, far from it. I say this to tell you that “Hey, I’m out here with you.” As runners, we all go through similar experiences and know what it’s like to push ourselves. For that reason, a wave of acknowledgement and a sign of encouragement can sure go a long way. I remember when I was on a 40-mile training run down at the beach preparing for an upcoming 24-hour race. It was hot and I had sunburn as I inched my way back to my starting point. The moment my body was completely worn out and at its lowest, suddenly, a joyfully energetic lady jumped out from the bushes as she threw her arm back and swung up the most epic thumbs up I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. With a huge smile and a “Keep up the good work!” she lifted my spirits and helped bring me out of the hole I was slowly sinking my self into. Whoever you are, I thank you for that. If anyone passes me on the road you will always find yourself with a thumbs up and some quick words of encouragement.
4) Drop Spots
You know that weather when it’s sort of cold but it’s sort of not? When you’re not sure exactly what clothes to wear? In this situation, bushes make for great drop spots. There have been several times when I took off a layer of clothes once I warmed up and placed them inside a bush. Later in the day, I drove and picked them up or grabbed them on the way back. There have also been times when I’ve strategically placed drinks in bushes the night before to fuel with while running. Just try your best to remember which ones you use!
5) Drop Off
New to a particular distance? When I was training for my first ultra marathon it was 50 miles in length. I personally wanted to be able to run a 50K before race day, so my first ultra distance was actually completed while training for an ultra marathon. I was dropped off approximately 31 miles from my house. For me, it was much easier mentally to run a point to point. The distance was new and the finish line was home.
6) Fresh Routes
Running the same old routes can become tedious by nature. New routes will keep our runs fresh and exciting. New sites, new surroundings, and new places. I use MapMyRun to create my routes. I typically do one large circle with a mix of trails in between. One day I went out for a 62-mile training run. Approximately 30 miles from my home, I took a wrong turn. A few miles down the road I was pulled over by a police officer. He looked at me and said, “Well, it’s not every day we receive a call that a shirtless man is running down the bypass.” Haha. New routes can bring new experiences. I’d been pulled over in a car but never in a pair of running shoes!
7) Night Light
When running at night a headlamp can certainly come in handy. One late summer night I went out for a run. As the night began to darken, and with a lack of street lights on the route, a light became a must have. After jumping in a few stores with no success, I ran into a Toys R Us. Luckily, they had flashlights in stock. I ran out of the store with a small yet useful pink Disney Princess flashlight. Hey, if it works it works! In an emergency, I’ve also used a reflector post that you find inserted into the ground on the side of the road to keep me safe through the nighttime traffic.
8) Red Lights
When running down to a stoplight you have two choices: pick up the pace and make the light or slow down and try to reach the light once it turns green again. If you’re unfortunate enough to land stuck at a red light, it may be a commonality to run in place or to stretch. But what I like to do is turn at the corner and keep running. When the light changes back to green I turn back around and cross the road. I prefer to keep my legs moving, even if it’s at a slower pace.
9) Hidden Holes
When running on trails, we naturally keep our head down to prevent tripping over any roots or rocks. On the street, this is rarely needed and you can just keep your head looking straight into the distance. But there are many times on the road when we must run through the grass and we may not adjust. I always keep my head looking down at the ground when running through the grass. Just when you think it’s clear, your foot could catch a hidden hole that can compromise your run, for instance, rolling your ankle. There are also hidden objects like sewer lines and rocks. I’ve been taken down a handful of times. When it’s cold, I’ve rolled my ankle in the grass and been forced to tighten up my shoe substantially to keep it supported to finish my run.
10) Minimal Resources
One way I was able to run a 50K training run with zero food or water is because I continuously left my house with zero food or water. Although I do not recommend taking it to this extreme, this minimalistic approach prepared me both mentally and physically for such a challenge. Failure is never from a lack of resources but always from a lack of resourcefulness.
I write this conclusion thinking back to my early training run this morning around 4:00 a.m. when the moon was still out, the street lights still bright, and the road was still empty. It reminds me that we are all out there on our own roads, chasing our own goals, in our own lives. In some way our roads all connect and there’s always a new one to take. They can help lead us in a direction towards growth as runners, as athletes, and as people. Each one of my posts are uniquely based on my own experiences, ideas, and efforts in an attempt to help because I believe that every stride is a possibility, every mile is a gift, and every finish line is a blessing. As ultra runners, we consistently run the road less traveled, doing whatever is necessary to complete those long, long miles. Maybe you will use a few of these tips or maybe you are sitting back thinking, “I do that, too!” Either way, I hope you can benefit from this week’s post in some way to help you along the road YOU travel on. Thank you very much for reading. Stay healthy, be strong, and Keep It Moving!…down that long, open road.