The recent Asia Trail Master Championship points race Cultra 2022 (Cameron Ultra) saw its first-place winner for 100KM Hisashi Kitamura finishing in 12 hours. That’s 12 hours of continuous running to clear a highly impressive distance of 100KM. Sounds insane to accomplish? That’s the thing with ultramarathons – it seems beyond belief to run for 100KM… or to even think of wanting to do so. Which makes ultramarathon runners a force to be reckoned with. Runner’s high takes a whole different meaning for them, with some even describing it as a journey to find the soul.
Running an ultramarathon can put your body into a lot of distress. It’s a gruelling test of human endurance and it’s not something to be taken lightly. During races, nausea and vomiting are common, and a lot of runners never see the finish line because ultramarathons not only take a toll on your body both inside and out, they also push you to your mental limit. There’s a lot of physical work (all that training!), mental strength (all that focus!), and strategic, long-term thinking and planning, whether it is your first or your 10th ultramarathon.
“Ultra-running can impact one’s body so it is not something you go straight into. When you run 50km or 12 hours straight, you lose a lot of body nutrition, burn a lot of fat and muscles. It can be harmful for the body if you’re not prepared for it,” says Jeff Ooi, Race Director of Road Ultra who has participated as well as won many ultramarathons, and is well known in the circuit for his contribution as a race director. “There’s a lot of mental strength, psychological factors and energy requirements involved in ultra-running,” says Associate Prof. Dr. Lim Boon Hooi from the Centre for Sports & Exercise Sciences, Universiti Malaya.
Both Ooi and Dr. Lim were speakers for the Suunto Malaysia “How to Train for 100KM Ultra Run” Live FB Session, sharing their expertise in their individual fields with runners who logged in the session to pick up valuable tips for their next race. Suunto manufactures world renowned sports watches, dive computers and precision instruments used by adventurers all over the globe for the toughest conditions, like an ultramarathon. The company with its 85 years of heritage offers quality products that can take a beating but are also designed with an everyday aesthetics that reflects its Nordic identity.
The best way to know if you are ready to join the league of ultramarathoners? If you’ve been a runner for many years, have taken part in many marathons, and are able to clock in the distance for an ultramarathon while having adequate knowledge about how your body feels after every run. “You need to start from the basics and gradually upgrade the distance. Say you ran the marathon multiple times, you can try to go for a 50km race. Then build it up by taking part in events and through training to accumulate your distance. Understand how your body feels – are you adjusted, tired, fatigued? What can you improve in terms of your muscle tone, nutrition and training? From all of this, you’ll know if you’re ready for 100km,” shares Ooi.
Think you have what it takes to complete the ultramarathon journey? Ooi and Dr. Lim shared some tips that will be helpful for both first-timers and seasoned runners.
#1 Train Consistently
The first rule of preparing for an ultramarathon? Lots of training. Ooi recommends you run 70 to 80km per week. “Do 10K a day to clock up this distance. If you can’t run every day, run 10K in the morning and another 10K in the evening. Remember to factor in recovery as well when you are training. You don’t have to run fast during so you don’t tire out easily. This way, you can continue another 10K the next day. Join events like a 50KM race to prepare yourself for the distance,” he shares. Dr. Lim advice is to add in other training methods to build up strength elsewhere, like your core, which will be very beneficial when you are running the actual race. “Hill training is important as well as weight training. This way you don’t feel bored with just running. Remember to cool down properly when you train so you don’t feel sore the next day from all the acid built-up. Hydrate well while training and focus on your nutrition too,” says Dr. Lim.
#2 Train Differently
It’s one thing to clock in the distance in your usual training ground but can you achieve the same if the race is held in a different country? What if it starts raining or the heat is unexpectedly scorching on race day? Which is why it is important to be ready for anything during race day, and the one way to do this is by switching up your training. “Train at different hours. You can train at 3pm so you can get used to running in hot weather and be able to understand how your body feels when doing so. Train where the temperature is cooler, like trail running or in Cameron Highlands. Understand what the weather is like at your race venue so you know when it’s good weather or hot weather. Adapt your running to the weather, like run faster when it’s cooler and run slower when it’s hot,” advises Ooi. Dr. Lim adds that it is important to acclimatise yourself with the environment of your race venue at least four days prior. “Come to the race venue earlier so you can do some of your training there to get used to it,” says Dr. Lim.
#3 To Carbo Load or Not?
“According to research, carbs will provide you with up to 88.2% of the energy you require to keep on going,” says Dr. Lim. Which is why many runners load up on carbohydrates to sustain them during the run. But Ooi says you don’t really need to eat all that extra carbs and in actual fact it can impact your race. What you should be doing instead is to eat clean and eat regularly. “Don’t try things that are spicy or eat things you’ve never had before. Go for fruits or healthier snacks which are better carb options,” says Ooi.
It’s also advisable that during the ultramarathon, you bring along some quick bites to fuel up your tank when running – snack bars, chocolate, nutrition gels are recommended as these contain the sugar, sodium and carbs you need and are light to carry. “You’ll get food at the stations and these snacks should really be just for emergency situations where you’re feeling really hungry or if you’ve lost a lot of energy,” adds Ooi.
Something you should be loading up on according to Dr. Lim? “Bananas! These are packed with sodium and potassium that can help prevent cramping.”
#4 Be Smart When It Comes to Hydration
All that running will make you want to guzzle down water at each water station, but Dr. Lim’s advice is to be efficient when it comes to hydration. “Most people say drink and drink but research says otherwise. Drink too much and you’ll suffer from hyper hydration where the body has too much water. Then you have to carry all this extra weight during your run! Drinking too much can also result in hyponatremia, where the concentration of sodium in your blood is abnormally low. Salt helps your muscles move and for your organs to work well. Without salt, your body can’t function properly! Don’t wait till you’re thirsty though because by then you’re already dehydrated,” says Dr. Lim. He suggests drinking isotonic water for the sodium and glucose to sustain your body. Another tip? “Instead of drinking, rinse with water or liquid menthol. This will trigger your brain to think you’ve already drank some water,” says Dr. Lim.
#5 Pack Right!
Seeing how you’ll be on the road – or trail – running for a long time, you need to be prepared. However, you don’t want to pack too much as that’s extra weight you’ll be carrying during the race. What should you bring then? Ooi recommends at least a 1L hydration bag, safety wear, headlamp, snack for energy, a first aid kit with bandages, and an emergency blanket that can protect you from harsh weather. “It might get windy after heavy rain. Your body has already lost a lot of nutrition and energy. A little bit of win may result in hypothermia which is where the emergency blanket comes in to protect you. Also, what you bring may not be something you use yourself. Someone else during the race may need it urgently and you are able to share it with them,” says Ooi.