The unpredictability of ultra running

At a certain stage you know that you are in good shape and that you have a solid training basis. You feel that your mind and body are playing together on the same team. Your body has a desire for the next competion. Then, during the race, everything suddenly ends before the goal is even close. This is an example of what I would call the unpredictability of ultra running.

How come?

When good preparations are useless

Ultra runs can in some ways be ruthless. On shorter distances it is more certain that you get paid back for your training efforts. The longer the distance is, the higher the probability is that something will happen that you are not in control of, and that you don’t succeed. You can have “perfect” preparations, but still be stopped by external, uncontrollable factors.

I have experienced this myself several times, and I know too well the feeling of such unfortunate happenings. You may have worked a long time and prepared yourself, but exactly on this day your body refuses to cooperate. For examle by refusing intake of sufficient nutrition. It may have worked well for 10 hours, but there is still 14 hours left of the race. You are not even half way into it, and the body refuses to continue. Then you try by taking nutrition only by fluids, but this does not work either. You just lose it all because you have to let it go back to the nature over and over again…. As if this is not enough, your legs start to be sore and stiff, due to lack of nutrition. You try and try, but nothing is able to work it’s way into your system. Everything is returned back to nature, and all energy is gone. Even if you were looking so much forward to it before the race, there is nothing else to do than to walk away from it in big disappointment. Maybe you even were well ahead of your scheme for a personal best at the time you had to stop. But it just didn’t work.

Enjoy the pleasure of movement

After such a disappointment it may be a good idea to take a break from hard training and competitions, even if you feel that you don’t want a break. You may have a desire for “revenge”, because your fitness level was really good, and it was just the stomach that stopped you. Then, calm down and enjoy some light training. Let the feeling of the day guide you to the level of training. Don’t think so much about intensity zones and interval sessions. In such a situation it is more important to get back to activity and first of all enjoy the feeling of movement. Build up slowly towards new goals and enjoy the way towards it.

Failing is a part of the game for ultra running

In opposite to runners who concentrate on 5 and 10 km races, there are fewer ultra run races available for making it. To fail is a part of the game. Injuries and nutrition problems may put you out of the game. But maybe it is exactly this fact, that the opportunities are more rare, which fascinates many of us who are into ultra running. Due to the particular challenges of ultra running, there are so many factors that need to work together if you shall succeed. But when you succeed, you will get a euphoric experience that nothing else within running can match. The unpredictability of ultra running creates an atmosphere before and during races that is unique. Maybe it is this atmosphere that makes us very sharp and focused.

Injury or not?

Injuries may occur during ultra runs. In the really long ultra runs, it may be challenging to separate what are “normal pains” from real injuries. Sometimes it can be something that can develop to an injury over time during the race. It is always very disappointing to have to give up due to an injury that occurs during the race. But the risk by taking the chance to continue can be to stretch your luck too much, and you may get a setback for a long period of time. Sometimes it is better to let your common sense decide. Then you increase the chance of being active with ultra runs as long as you wish.

Read more about training for ultra running and nutrition during long runs here:


Author: Gjermund Sørstad

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