Lessons from my First Ultra Marathon

Fresh back from New Zealand Laura is back at work and updates us on her Ultra Marathon experience;

Well I finished and there were certainly times I did not think I would. It was tough, apparently much tougher than the UTA 50 so that is good to know. A week later I have forgotten all of the pain, but believe me there was a lot of pain.

How did you prepare before the race?

We arrived in New Zealand about 12 hours before the race, which probably wasn’t the smartest move, so it was a bit of a rush. We had to get registered, buy some food, make dinner and get to bed ready for a 4.30am alarm (which was 2.30am Sydney time).

So talk us through the race

At 6am we set off in the dark from Wanaka and it was incredibly dark. We ran through what we like to refer to as the magic forest due to the red and white spotted mushrooms that were around. The first 10km were a little undulating, my main concern was how narrow the track was, there really was no room for error.

Then came the mountains, there were four of them and they really made our Blue Mountains training seem quite futile, these mountains were in another league. As much as the inclines were tough, the declines were my nemesis, I didn’t have the right technique or experience. I braked too much, putting my body under way too much stress and slowed myself down. So any ground I made on people going uphill was swiftly taken away from me on the downhill.

When did you start to feel the burn?

At 20km my left knee started hurting quite badly (we’ll be writing a blog post on why my spiral line mechanics are a common problem and what can be done about this soon). I wasn’t sure if I could carry on, but I decided that it was muscular, probably coming from my ITB and so I decided I could continue with the help of some voltaren from a kind fellow participant - a lesson in being prepared!

At about 33km we got to the river, I normally hate the thought of being stuck in cold water for a while, but I loved

it, it was the first time in hours I couldn’t feel my knee and the change of terrain was more than welcome. The next 7-8km was in and out of the river, god knows how many hours we were in that river. At this point I found myself leading a group of six which was pretty intimidating as I was sure I had missed the path out several times.

The last 11km was a reasonably flat, wide track and here I was in my element. I was rejuvenated and with friends by my side most of the way we continued on a pretty good pace, taking over quite a few others so our spirits were lifted a little, until the last 2km. Back in the river, it seemed to take forever to get anywhere near the finish line.

How did it feel to complete this challenge?

We finished in a respectable 11 hours and crossing the finish line felt pretty amazing! I was close to tears born of exhilaration, pride and fatigue. Now I’m a mix of emotions; I’m annoyed I let myself down on the hills, I know I could have pushed harder, but I did it, it was my first Ultra, it was a run like nothing I had ever done before.

So you say it was your first, are you planning another?

Yes! I know what to expect now, which is both daunting and a help. It means I know where my weaknesses lie so I can train the downhills and improve my technique. Knowing there are some focus points for improvement means I know I can improve on my next Ultra which is a great feeling.

So how did you recover?

After the race I spent a week in NZ hanging out with friends who had run the race as well. I was pretty exhausted so there weren't any late night adventures or discoveries. We spent time cycling and enjoying the weather during the days. So some active recovery with the cycling, rest and early nights plus healthy eating to put some nutrients and calories back into the body.

Would you recommend running an Ultra?

If cross country running and endurance is your thing - yes! it's nothing like a marathon as you can see by the pictures, is a unique experience that is incredibly rewarding, but it's not for the feint hearted!