The Mental Element of Ultras

I have 1 official DNF (100k) and 2 races I fell way short of my goals in (48 hrs).  Physical things that went wrong include blisters, not eating enough, overdoing caffeine therefore getting dehydrated, and ridiculous shoe problems (Altras will never work for me).  On top of all that however remains the fact that I was not able to push past any of those problems to finish the races.  If I had been mentally stronger, more determined, more focused could I have got through it?

I want to consider the mental issues that come up during a long race and some solutions/coping strategies.

Expectancy Theory

At some point, when either a certain amount of time has elapsed or the problems I am having reach a particular level I lose the belief that I can complete the race.  I am very motivated to work towards the goal if I fully expect to attain it, or stand a reasonable chance at attaining it.  Lack of belief to that end = despair.  Solution?  Enter a race where time cutoffs don't freak me out and don't set unreasonable or arbitrary goals within the race.


Is there something fundamental that can keep you moving even after going through problems/dark patches?  How do you instill that into yourself so it continues to be an intuitive drive throughout.  Is the prospect of success after painful failures 'that thing'.  Belief in yourself is essential.  Know your why.


How do you process the knowledge that you will have to be out on a course for 40 hours?  Even worse, how do you process that 24 hours in when the pain and problems ramp up and it's raining, dark and cold?  Well first of all, it's kind of cool that we get to do this.  It's a choice.  Imagine being so fit and healthy you can enter an ultra.  Second, look at yourself in the now - have you already completed x miles, x % of your goal distance?  Finally, humour.  Look at what you're choosing to do to yourself you stupid arse.  Is this fun, is it?

Physical preparation

I suspect if I had got past a certain distance in 48hr race 2 before encountering the myriad problems I had, I would have been better equipped to look for help and keep going.  I don't feel I trained well for either of those races.  Bad physical preparation exacerbates any and all mental issues, more self doubt, more fear, huge ass demons.  Going into a race undertrained is a form of self sabotage. I can't afford therapy so I will have to train more.


I have always had various other races scheduled after the 48's, if I were to attempt something again I would need nothing whatsoever on the schedule after it.  One race, one focus, one goal.  Own it.  No 'what if I can't run the 2 marathons I have coming up after this'.  Spending an entire year building up to one race is scary but I think necessary.

I am the arm....

I had this for Jackpot in Feb, and it is true.  It's not just true for the race though, the process starts well in advance even before you hit that register button.


Popular Posts