Rest Before You’re Tired

“In an ultra, walk before you have to.”

I know that for many of my readers, the sentence above doesn’t make any sense. So let me explain.

An “ultra” means an ultramarathon, a running competition longer than 42km (which is the length of a standard marathon). Any number of kilometers on top of 42 will do, so a 50km race qualifies, but most of the time people wanting to finish an ultra are looking at races longer than 100km.

Although it’s still a running competition, because it’s so darn long, in an ultra walking is allowed. As far as I know, under 1% of the participants at ultramarathons are able to run the whole distance, the rest are using a combination of walking and running. Still, the cut off times are pretty harsh, so don’t imagine you’ll be finishing an ultra just by walking, you will still have to run quite hard.

And with that we’re getting to the second part of the sentence: “walk before you have to”. That means you should have a strategy for mixing walking and running. If you run until you can’t run anymore, and the switch to walking, you’re almost guaranteed not to finish. You’ll be simply exhausted before the finish line.

Whereas if you alternate running with small walking breaks, then you can last much, much longer.

So runners are usually planning a certain percentage of walking, by breaking the race into run / walk splits. Run 5 km, then walk 1. Rinse and repeat. That would be a 20% of the distance walked, which is a pretty good outcome. A normal outcome, in my experience, would be a 30% walking, 70% running, especially for races longer than 150km. That’s what I had at my longest race I finished so far, UltraBalaton, a 222km lap around lake Balaton, in Hungary. I ran about 150km, and walked 72. I finished in 31 hours and a half.

Why did I write about this?

Well, because it turns out this approach is extremely useful in many other parts of life, not only in ultra-running. The ability to spread your long distance, or long term, effort, into manageable splits, by alternating sprints with rest, is fundamental. Especially in times of crisis, like the ones we’re going through right now.

Getting out of this swamp is not going to happen in one, big jump. But in many small, consistent steps.

We’ve all been affected, one way or another, by this clusterfuck. Some of us gave in and took the authoritarian side, being convinced, in the process, that they are doing humanity a big service by enforcing lockdowns, masks, unnecessary vaccination or just silencing those who happen to have different opinions. Others lost jobs, lifetime savings, or their health declined because they weren’t allowed treatment that otherwise would have been allowed. And others have been ruminating all day long, not realizing how we got here, and why we can’t have it the way we had it before.

It’s too late to find scapegoats. It is what it is. It’s a swamp, and the only thing that matters now is getting out of it.

And getting out of it is an ultramarathon, not a sprint.

So take your time, plan your sprints, allow plenty of rest, take a safe distance, and keep putting one feet in front of the other. That’s the only proven way to finish ultramarathons.

Photo by Fil Mazzarino on Unsplash

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