12 Things That Can Go Wrong While Running an Ultra Marathon (plus solutions)
I'm preparing to run a mountain 100K in four weeks and thinking about things I may encounter at this particular race. These are also things that can occur at many other races in the marathon+ distance.
1. Foot blisters.
Keep a few band-aides and/or tape in my waistband.
2. Can't keep food/calories down.
Take TINY sips of water with liquid calories (like Tailwind). Try pickle juice or soup at an aid station. Simply walk until my stomach settles, and then try real food again. If my stomach is upset, try ginger ale or coca-cola.
3. Wild animal encounters (bears, coyotes, mountain lions, etc.)
Most of the time they will not bother you, especially coyotes. However, if they don't hide or back away, STOP RUNNING. Running will encourage them to chase. Stand still but hold your ground. Try and make yourself look large by standing on high ground and holding your arms high. Above all, stay calm. When it seems safe, slowly and carefully walk away.
4. Muscle cramps.
Take plenty of salt tabs and overconsume some if a cramp starts coming on. Do plenty of active stretching before the race. Eat bananas at an aid station.
5. Muscle fatigue.
Stop running and start hiking! It's not a big deal. Energy ebbs and flows during these long races. NEVER sit down.
6. Mental fatigue/brain fog.
Again, hiking helps. Get outside of my head, where it's easy to get locked into and start to verbally observe what is around me. It'll be a beautiful place and can help me get out of my head.
7. Emotional fatigue.
Same response as mental fatigue. I would just add that it helps to go into the race with a powerful 'why' and to be able to pull it up anytime I start feeling down.
It'll be hot in the middle of the day. Take my shirt off. Have changes of shirts ready in drop bags, including singlets/tanks. Drink tons of water and consume plenty of salt - it'll be hard to drink too much water when I'm really hot. Get doused in cold water and/or ice at an aid station, if possible.
It'll be cold at the start (3:00 am start time). Have one or more long-sleeve running shirts and jackets ready to carry with me or available in a drop bag. Don't stop moving! That will just make me colder. Gloves, gloves, gloves! My hands are always the first to get truly cold. Cover the ears with a head wrap, if needed.
10. Not keeping up with my expected pace.
If there is a spot coming up in the race where I think I can catch up, don't push until I get there, but then get after it. Otherwise, fuck it. Just enjoy the scenery. The overall pace/time is not the sole reason I am there. Focus on the experience - I'll always cherish it, regardless of the time.
11. Soft-tissue injury.
Depending on the injury, walk through it. If it's too painful, and walking will force me to miss cutoff times, then drop at the next possible aid station. It's not the end of the world. Live to fight another day.
12. Serious injury (broken leg, can't walk, etc.).
Always have a phone on my person, or make sure if I'm not that an aid station isn't far away. Surely someone will come by eventually who can call for help. Honestly, what else could I do?