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5 Tricks Ultrarunners Use

If you’re looking to log some big miles this year, today’s guest post from Dave Essinger is one you can’t miss. He’s sharing the tips and tricks that he and other ultrarunners use to run far, train hard, and stick with it even when it’s beyond challenging. Dave’s new novel about ultrarunning, Running Out, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing Company. See more at www.dave-essinger.com.

As someone who runs absurdly long distances for competition or fun, I’ve given a lot of thought to what keeps us going when a workout gets difficult, whether it’s a few easy miles on a day you’re just not feeling it, or a race through a hundred miles of mud. In my recent novel Running Out, when my protagonist is stranded in the remote wilderness of northern Quebec, I’ve tried to explore just how far an ideally trained and extremely motivated individual is physically and mentally capable of pushing themselves.

Most of us, though, aren’t running because we have to, or in such dire circumstances; we’re doing it on purpose, by choice, and because it’s something we tell ourselves we want to do. It’s no secret, though, that most workouts and races are not fun and easy all through, no matter who you are or how well-trained, whether you’re gunning up to finish your local 5k, or Shalane Flanagan killin’ it in the New York Marathon.

So what tricks do experienced runners use to keep themselves moving?

Limit your options for quitting.

Kimberly Durst, a multiple finisher of the Vol State 500k ultramarathon — it’s a road race across the state of Tennessee, the long way — has told herself, “If nobody can scrape my carcass off the road until tomorrow, I might as well run all night.” On a smaller scale, if we set ourselves up with limited options to quit on a workout — an out-and-back course, for example, that’s half as far out as we want to cover — then we can plan and take into account our lulls of motivation, when we’d bail if we’d didn’t have X miles to go.

Bring someone you can’t let down.

Other runners bring loved ones to the finish line. Runner Aneta Zeppettella, race director of the Broken Toe 50k and the Dog Gone Long Run in southern Ohio, says, “my 11 year old daughter was waiting for me at the finish line wearing her ‘Strong Like Mom’ shirt. How can you quit?”

Break it up.

Many runners will break a race or workout into tiny, achievable parts. No one goes into a 100-mile race thinking about the entire race. Accomplished ultrarunner Seth Chin-Parker practices “localized optimism.” He says, “You can’t go in thinking ‘I am going to run 100 miles so fast.’ Instead, get through the race by focusing on what you can do… Stay positive. Focus on the immediate.” This is a principle that works on any scale: if the next mile feels daunting and far, just run to the next tree or telephone pole. Then, sight in on the next one.

Think of your “sweat equity.”

By the time you’re tired, you’ve invested a lot of energy already, and quitting partway in means you’d have to repeat all that work just to get back where you are now. Derek Tinnin, who runs the Order of Ultra group online, tells himself during long races, “If I stop here, I have an entire year to think about it, and then run all that again just to get back to this exact same spot.”

“Suffer forward.”

Jessica Croisant, who blogs and podcasts at Sugarstride, argues that if it’s going to hurt anyway, you might as well keep moving. “It’s going to hurt. Not if but when. When it does, I tell myself to keep going. You can suffer slowly or you can suffer forward. Suffer forward and make your pain productive.”

And that’s what we’re out there for, right?  Making our pain productive, achieving something we wanted to do, whether it’s covering one mile or one hundred?

Durst — the first runner quoted above — adds, “Nobody fetched my carcass. I ran all night, and decided if I’d gone 157 miles I might as well go the other 157,” illustrating that we all rely on the same kinds of tricks, whether we’re going 5k or 500k.

What tricks do you use to run farther — or are these all new to you? —Dave Essinger

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4 Comments
  1. Jenn says:

    Love all your tips and tricks. Very inspiring and motivated to do some work. Loved reading your blog posts. You reminded me of a women’s activewear brand I stumbled upon Tema Athletics. They support real women with real stories who we people can relate to. You guys should work together. Best of luck to you on your journey in inspiring others

  2. Hempextract says:

    Great post very interesting and informative thanks for the tips and tricks.

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  4. Mark Pancake says:

    Well, since I personally know Kim and Jessica, one thing I can add is the mental toughness they and other ultra runners have. I’ve seen both of them looking like shit less than half the distance to the finish, but the keep going and finish. It may not be podium, but who cares? Sometimes they need a gentle nudge to get it off the aid station and other times they need a kick in the ass, but they keep going. These women, like other ultra runners know the sport is 60% physical and 80% mental, with a little help from their friends.