I think that the biggest challenge of an endurance race is the mental challenge. You can go into an ultra trail run a little physically underprepared — and that’s sometimes better than being over-trained — but if your mind isn’t properly prepared, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. I really believe that anything over 50 kilometres is a battle of willpower; a mind game far more than just a running race.
It becomes a case of your mind willing your body to keep going, to push beyond the ache in your legs and the burning in your lungs. You need to train your mind to ignore the negative thoughts. Replace them with positives. It helps to have memorised a few simple, punchy motivational phrases to throw at any negative thoughts.
I use a strategy of breaking the race down into smaller, doable pieces. It’s far less daunting to think of doing 10 sets of 10-kilometre stretches than one set of 100 kilometres. At the beginning, I divide the race up into 10 kilometre segments. Towards the end of the race, when I’m becoming more tired, I count down smaller distances: five kilometres and then eventually one-kilometre intervals.
One of the best pieces of advice I got for pacing myself in long races was to divide the race into three segments. For the first half of the race, run well within yourself. If you are feeling good at the half-way point, increase your pace a bit for the third quarter of the race. If you hit three quarters of the way through and you’re still feeling good, give everything you’ve got to the last quarter. That works for me.
People tend to think that training for an ultra is just about doing endless miles of running. It’s so much more than that. It’s about getting your race nutrition and hydration strategy right long before race day; it’s about testing and retesting all your gear in different conditions, and finding the gear that works for you; and it’s about learning to love spending hours in your own company. It’s about never — not even for a moment — entertaining the thought that it’s not possible.