Although the Ultra Fiord ultra marathon (What’s an ultra marathon?) didn’t turn out as we planned; with every failure comes valuable lessons! (Ultra Fiord Race Report) You can read all you want and listen to whatever people tell you, but it doesn’t really hit home until you experience it yourself….this was one of those times. We’ve been racing ultras for a couple years now. We are by no means pros at the sport yet but we do our research, watch videos, train hard, etc. However, reading a fellow racer’s blog telling you to not chince out on food in order to save on weight doesn’t really stick until you are faced with an aid station with no grub.
So here’s a few lessons we learned from this race. Although some may be common sense for a well-weathered runner, they were definitely re-iterated by this race for Jon and I….
Always plan for the worst. Don’t get cheap on it and rely on the aid stations especially when it’s an inaugural race for you. We were faced with showing up to an aid station that was operating like it was October 31st. Place out your hand, say “I’m starving and cold” and then wa-la….two chocolate bars from a plastic bag are placed in your hand…In an ultra, 200 calories for every 4 hours of running just doesn’t cut it. We brought food of our own, however we were told there would be aid stations offering snacks, fruit and soups. So be prepared! Make sure it’s food you’ve trained with before so you know how it sits. Pack more than you think you need!
2. Race Clothing:
Along the same lines of the food, bring way more than you think you need. Us being a bunch of Canucks, we should’ve known better that mountain weather can change for the worse on the turn of a dime. Well the Patagonia Mountains are no different than the Rockies. With being led through a chest high river within the first 2km of the race; our extra little base layer in our packs didn’t do much good as it was just as wet as the one on our backs. Second part to this is actually take the time to change into the clothes you brought if you get too wet/cold. If we took a few minutes to stop and change our clothes right after the river crossing, we could’ve been a lot more comfortable for a good chunk of the course. So utilize the space you have and be prepared for any of Mother’s Natures moods (she is female after all so can change from a good to bad mood in a flash:P)
3. Medical Plan B:
You would like to think going into an ultra that there are medical resources ready for you from start to finish. Yes, ultras are a risky sport. You tax your body and are slowly degrading it but race directors/organizers should know this too about the runners competing in their event. Unfortunately, this ultra marathon didn’t have the personnel or supplies for us to feel confident that if I broke a leg or got struck with hypothermia, I would have help. Luckily, Jon and I stick together and therefore always have a pair of eyes looking out for one another but to put it bluntly….know how to get your own ass to safety! So whether it’s carrying a transponder, running with a partner, or having an emergency blanket even if it’s not required, have a back up plan in case you get stuck in a scenario where you need to play lifeguard but you’re also the one drowning.
4. Research as Much as You Can Before:
This is a funny one coming from me since I am very on the fence about this topic. I’ve never been a fan of over-analyzing every aspect of the race before it; I believe you may set too many expectations and therefore more opportunities for disappoint when they all don’t come true. To be honest, we did our due diligent research for this race. However, the communication was very one way and we didn’t have much luck with responses until about 12 hours before race start time…So that felt quite a bit of out of our control; however, even trying to contact others who have travelled/trekked the area (tour guides, hikers, etc.) could help when trying to find out what the terrain is like.
5. Stop & Look UP!:
How many times have you looked back through race pictures after the race and said “WOW! Where the heck was that view in the race???” We all do it. Sometimes we’re so focused on our watch, footing, passing the person in front of us we forget to literally look up and soak in the scenery around you. There was a few times we did this during Ultra Fiord Ultra Marathon and thank goodness – fluorescent blue lakes, clouds melting down the mountainsides, glaciers oozing through valleys. We were lucky to see all of these but I know there is so much more that we missed because our concentration was channeled in the little bubble around us. So even if it means you must stop on a technical trail for 5 seconds, do it and soak in the big picture!
Although many of these are seemingly obvious, they somehow seem to slip many of us ultra runners minds from time to time. So hopefully this can be a friendly reminder to other runners out there not to forget the basics!