In a bit of a pickle

I'll do me best to explain.

I'm running Dorset CTS in December roughly 33 miles. This will be my first Ultra. I know its all up and down etc and thats how I mostly train.

But I feel my pacing is all over the shop. The other day I ran 23 miles taking me a tad over 4 hours, i was pretty shot after this and my legs felt knackered. The pace was pretty slow as you can see. But I am worried about going too fast and blowing up so I do hold back alot!.

Now yesterday I ran 11 miles in 1hr 35mins. It felt moderately comfortable and I probably went out faster than I would usually, I could have held this out for perhaps another 5 miles comfortably.

At no point on my long run do I feel out of breath or even pushing myself at all.

During my long runs do I push myself so I am just below the limit of trying too hard if you see what I mean? IE 9.5 min miles are pretty quick for me. 10min miles are moderately comfortable. 11/12/13 minute miles are easy but I am out on my feet a long time. Or do I just go at a steady slow pace regardless and plod along.

Essentially I just don't know what I should be doing. Do I go out relatively quick and knacker myself or go out slowly and be out for longer than I need still knackering me because I'm on my legs for such a long time?

What does everybody else do, how do you pace yourselves? I know every event is different and so are different mileages but getting a good idea of what I should be doing would be appreciated



  • go slow enjoy it walk up hills, pick it up on the flat or downs and make use of aid stations! Furthest I have done is 50k though so no expert, but I would rather finish slow and comfortable than fast and in a mess, what ever you do on a new distance it's a PB! Im entered for Dorset too image

  • Furthest 23 miles image But I also do a run half the distance the day after which is much much harder. I got a couple of months left so I am quietly confident. I know it makes sense to go slow. Perhaps I am not going slow enough lol. But its just the time on my feet that I think kills me. I think perhaps this Thursday when i do my long run I might see if I can up it a teeny bit because I am going for 25 miles this time. Another factor could be I am not eating enough? My hydration is spot on but I think I could take on more carbs during my long runs so perhaps it might be worth a try.

    Or maybe I am beating myself up because running 23 miles is genuinely tiring and hardwork? I have only started running properly this year and the first 3 months were crappy due to many injuries. So I have only been Ultra marathon training so to speak for about 3 months.

  • Doing the back to backs is tiring and will take a while to build up the endurance. Basically when I am doing them it is at a pace slow enough to decrease the injury risk. For a short time running you are doing well and rested and tapered on the day you will do fine.
    First few ultras the main goal is completion.
    Another thought is that taking more carbs won't probably help - if you are not pushing and out of breath you are probably fat burning. Try eating something with a higher fat content before and perhaps some real food on the way.  I quite often stop and scoff some cake!

  • Really appreciate it guys. Its a long time to be plodding along if i'm getting it all wrong. I really like the thought of just going and enjoying it. As daft as it sounds that neveer occured to me image

    Good point about the fat intake. Any ideas as to what would be good on long run? Peanuts or something similar. Your right as I do take carbs but I am really not going fast enough to burn any up. Its just the complete dead legs. Rest of my body says I'm fine I don't feel knackered but my legs are just dead weights. I expect their is nothing I can do about this? Just a case on conditioning?

  • I may be wrong here, but I suspect the thing about what speed you're going and whether you're in 'fat burning' mode or not is incorrect. Your body takes most of its energy from glycogen stores for roughly the first 20 miles (give or take) then when glycogen stores are depleted it switches to taking most of its energy from burning fat, cause that's what its got left. Depending on what effort you're running at, you might be burning glycogen/fat in slightly different ratios, but the basic principle remains the same. And standard advice to eat carbs is because carbs are digested more quickly and more easily than either proteins or fats, so tend to work better for keeping your energy levels up and for re-energising you quickly if you're going through a dip.

    So it's not like you're in fat burning mode so need to eat fat to replenish and that will give you more energy. It doesn't work that way.

    That said, by all means experiment with eating fatty foods on long runs - sausage rolls and cold pies suit some people much better than carb drinks and energy gels.

    I'd say you've got enough time before December to experiment a bit with pacing on your longer runs. Also to experiment with eating, which is every bit as important! Try to get in a couple of runs of 26+ miles - basically, long enough to exhaust glycogen and switch to fat burning. If you're not used to the feeling, it can knock you for six.

    I think you're right to be quietly confident. If you can run 23 and 12 back to back, you're doing great! Back to back runs are bloody murder...

  • Really appreciate you taking the time to write all that. I think I can see the science in it all now image Is this the imaginary wall people hit around the 20 miles??

    Would you start eating from the off? I wait until 1hr 30mins in before I start taking food on board. This thursday i might try muching through some different bits. I suppose If I run 23 miles I burn roughly 2300 calories-nearly a daily intake for a bloke and in reality during that run I eat a bagel and 2 gels plus some fruit pastilles- thats not nearly enough is it??

  • Yes, this is the legendary Wall. Just about every ultra runner I know seems to go through a low point somewhere between 20 and 30 miles. Converting fat stores to energy is harder for your body to do than converting glycogen, so there's usually a temporary 'blip' when the switch occurs. Some people don't notice it as much as others, and of course you can train yourself to get used to it. Helps to know how/why/when so that when it happens during a race you'll understand that it's temporary and won't panic too much that you've burned out early.

    In long training runs I don't eat nearly as much as I do in actual events, because I'm trying to get used to 'running on empty' and also I could still do with losing a few lbs so don't want to over-replenish. But I do practice eating different things just to see which go down well and which want to come straight back up again!

    I'd say for ultra training you're not eating enough while running. A bagel and some sweets is fine for a 23 mile run, but it's not enough during a 23 mile run to see you comfortably through another 10 miles. If you wait till you're hungry to eat, you're already kind of low on energy. I'm no expert (just 2 little ultras under my belt so far) but I think you should try eating a small amount maybe every 30 mins. And don't try to eat while running 9 min miles! Slow down, maybe even to a brisk walk, eat a little, drink a little, then walk another minute or so before you start running again. You don't need to eat loads, and you could maybe think about having a couple of mini snacks before a bigger snack. You might even find that a couple of jelly babies would do the trick if you're eating them every 30 mins instead of waiting for 2 hours...

  • Supposedly eating something with a higher fat content before stimulates the body to burn a higher percentage fat rather than glycogen as fuel and if you continue eating - mix of fat/carbs and for an actual ultra some protein may be a good idea. There are some interesting discussions/training talks on the talkultra podcasts about the various approaches to fueling. Also interesting to hear what some of the top guys are using over 100 milers.
    Like runs-with-dogs I don't eat as much training as actual events for similar reasons but will eat from the start otherwise I find I have stomach problems. For me it's cake or muffins all the way - never fancy savoury. Weeird as normally when not running I'm the other way round. I make wholemeal muffins with dates and nuts in, will also have a gel if longer than 25mi if I feel the need for a quick pick up.
    I normally walk while eating - completion is my goal - don't think I will ever be on the sharp end of an ultra!

  • Nice one guys. Got myself some pork pies for tomorrows big run Problem is I don't think anybody believes me when I say they are for running lol image Plus some bagels and nuts and some gels. Now that should see me through. After 25 miles i'll probably have put on half a pound image I'm going to eat from the off and see if that makes much of a difference. Its all experimenting which I enjoy

  • I use long training runs to experiment with food to see what I get on with and what I don't, everyone is different in this respect. In longer ultras where i'm going to be running for 8+ hours I eat from the off. Tend to start off with food like sandwiches and pork pies for the first 8 hours then switch to sweeter stuff for later, this strategy saw me comfortably through a 100 miler recently. I believe I read somewhere that fat and protein take longer to digest so it takes a while for foods containing these to work their magic. There, that's my input and enjoy the food experimentation.  This contains some interesting articles on all things ultra and is a good souce of info.


  • use long runs to see what foods you like.........but also remember that they are training runs.......if you do your long runs all at race pace you will not give your body time to to slow them down a bit......


  • You should not ever really hit a wall in a long race, maybe in the last few minutes if you have got your strategy right and you are totally spent. Even a marathon is a balance between fat and carb burning. Basically if you hit the wall you went out too fast and used all your carbs too soon instead of balancing carb and fat burning for the longest time possible.

    For long stuff it is the fat burning that makes a better athlete and this is what your training should focus on. The reason top triathletes run sub 3 hour marathons at the end of the 112 mile bike leg is because they are excellent fat burners. Having said that fat metabolism requires carbs to work and some other body functions can only work on carb energy anyway.

    So what you need is to balance is the pace you can run at and preserve the carb stores so they are there to help you burn fat which will be your primary source of energy. Considering you cannot absorb more than a certain amount of carbs an hour-probably about enough for 3 miles of running-it becomes essential that you start fully loaded and continue to eat carbs during the race. This can become tedious and cause stomach problems so a small amount of fats and protein will make life more comfortable.

    Best thing to do is work out roughly how much energy you feel you will need for a set distance then see how much of that you can get from stored carbs after loading and ingested carbs during the race. then you can work out how much effort you can put in for 'x' time before running out of carbs.

  • Training to eat can be just as important as training the legs. Most nutrition studies are  on distances up to a Marathon. They are also carried out on runners who regularly run that sort of distance.(this makes it easier to remove variables such as fitness.)

     Once you get into Ultras you will find yourself wanting to run further next time so what you have previously learnt will help but won,t be the fixed best plan for your next ultra. The reality for most of us is that we struggle just to get in the training hours for our next ultra. Experiment with different foods and try to work out what works for you. Its no good looking at what the top runners use if you find that plan makes you heave! The best advice I ever had was eat little and often and never!! try a new food or drink on the actual race

  • Curious question for me, if you try foods on shorter runs and they don't cause any discomfort, does this transfer to really long runs or does your system react differently?

    For example I had a binge right before a 5 mile run, carrot cake, half a garlic baguette and a large sausage roll!!! No problems at all!!! Is it likely that those foods could work on a long run too?
  • Once  you have been running for over about 4 hrs your digestive system will change. If you are pushing too hard your ability to digest can stop altogether as the blood supply is directed away from the gut. To reach a constant state on a long  ultra you need to be taking on energy at the rate you are using it up. Your salt balance will change due to sweating which is why after a while you will crave salty foods. To get to the end of a long ultra (say 100miles) you need to eat . If you get start to feel sick you won,t eat and your pace will crash,you can get through this and back into eating but it hurts! If you do recover and start eating again you may find yourself flying along, as while you have run/walked with no energy, your legs have not been really pushed. Many ultra runners finish a race really fast after a low period but their  overall time will be slow. Its all about balance .Nutrition is just as important as fitness. However the fitter you are the less problems you are likely to encounter eating assuming you run at your own sustainable pace.

  • It doesn't matter how fit you are, nutrition can be a problem at any time. In fact the fitter and more focused you are then probably the more controlling you are about your situation and therefore the bigger a problem nutrition can be if you are not getting on with your chosen food.

    Eat everything and as much as you can, try things at all times even during races for the first time. Develop a cast iron stomach and eat before during and after runs. Get into the habit of eating when you don't feel like it and accept the fact that you cannot eat enough, it is just a question of holding back the tide long enough to finish. Unless you go really slowly(less than 4 mph) then you have enough fat stores to run hundreds of miles image

  •  My point with fitness is that if you are more controlling about your situation then nutrition should be part of your controlled situation. Looking at my last post I should probably have said don,t experiment with hydration on the race. You do need to eat as much as possible but in small amounts at a time. If you are not digesting the food it won,t help. Once your gut shuts down its very difficult to get back to eating again. On a shorter ultra you may be able to tough it out and finish without eating in a slow time. On longer ultras (over 15hrs) you need to recover the ability to eat. This can involve emptying the stomach of acidic fluids and rising its Ph. This is not pretty ! Bananas can help this process. (this is the side of ultras most of us don,t want to think about) . Some runners resort to medical intervention in the form of medication known as a 'Gastric Pump" This I have been told reduces acid production. The down side is that you are more prone to gastric infections.(I could be wrong about the last point as aI am not a Doctor)

  • As an aside I always take some Rennies (other branded tablets are availableimage) in case I start getting a dicky tummy - usually too many gels not enough food. That's because I know if I leave it I will end up not eating then crash.

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