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Experience and Education

A lot of what Becoming Ultra likes to offer up is an education. And part of being educated is through experience. Not everyone’s experiences are going to be the same, not at all, but there are usually some key aspects in which you’re going to experience the same thing someone else does. Whether that is good or bad, depends on the experience. For instance, fueling before a hard work out or race. You may be having issues holding something down, or need guidance on what to use. Cue that someone else who has been around the block, or a few (we love to keep the dad jokes in running here too). Maybe they suggest a bagel and peanut butter. Maybe you try it and it’s the golden ticket you needed!

We all have experiences. Just frankly some have more than others regardless of where someone is in their running career.

So let’s get on with this article we have built for you. We are going to take some time to share our experiences with you and maybe it can help. Regardless, it can sometimes make for an interesting story!

The 5k and the Ultra

Let’s face it, 5ks are hard! I don’t care who you are, if you go hard for 3.1 miles, it’s going to take some hard effort going balls to the wall. Most people are going to give it their all. Just because you can bang out a 5k in under 20 minutes does not mean it is any easier for someone banging one out in under 40 minutes. More than likely those two athletes, going all out, will experience a lot of the same fatigue and effort. Will there be differences as well? Sure! But let’s go down story lane.

Steph here, and my first 5k was a doozie. I had already done two half marathons, unknowingly how they actually worked, but there was a local 5k (as there are everywhere come to find out) and I signed up after I got my first job. I did a few practice/training runs here and there, using google maps as a way to calculate my distance (this was before I had a garmin or knew what one was!).

Come 5k day, it was cold…to me, again…and I got the basic idea, nerves riding high, I felt prepared at least. After starting I faced my first hill and was passed by a 70 year old telling me “don’t quit now, keep going!” Oh boy! I pushed, I walked, I got discouraged. A total of no less than 10 different kinds of emotion flowed through me during that seemingly forever 30 minute span of time. I crossed the finish line having done my best but not feeling I did my best.

Let’s switch over to the Ultra. You gotta start somewhere, and it will always be a first. Whether that first is a 50k or 100 miles, there will still be a first time. You’ll have an idea of what to expect, no matter what your pace. You’ll have expectations, you may not meet them, you may exceed them! You’ll probably go too hard. It sounds a lot like a first 5k, albeit more complicated, but in general, the two share a lot of similarities: the unknown, for you. You can ask for advice, you can read race reports, and you can prepare yourself as much as you can, but nothing beats experiencing it yourself.

Your first ultra also can prove to be hard. From pacing, to figuring out what your body needs, to putting forth continuous movement for hours on end. It may not be balls to the wall, but it’s no easy effort.

My first ultra, not a story so many people know as I tend to not bring it up much. I was training for a mountain marathon, specifically the Blue Ridge Marathon, my 3rd go at the course, and decided last minute to sign up for my first 50k, which also looked like the course would prepare me well for the marathon 3 weeks later.

I had most of the training in, and come race day, the same nerves of the unknown and somewhat known made itself present. Again, I got the basic idea…go out and pace hard, just like I had done in my first 5k. The “death climb” (yes, it was actually called that, a mountain at mile 24 that gained 1500 feet in 1.5 miles) really humbled me, just like that first hill in my first 5k. I finished the race well, but at the time I crossed the finish line, I was disappointed in myself. Yet I celebrated my completion of an Ultra.

Both races, I blew up near the end, had my struggles during, experienced emotion after emotion, “can I do this? Yeah, but this sucks right now.” Looking back at both, what I did with the knowledge I had was exceptional in my own opinion. I did what I set out to do and with that knowledge, I can help improve myself in future events and in training.

How to learn and adapt

The best part of running is that you can always keep learning, experiencing new terrain and new places, new distances, and improving on what you can already do! It is such a dynamic sport, and we’re not just talking about how much you move. Things change, whether racing or training, from the weather, to course conditions, to your own body, how much you trained or didn’t train, and so much more.

The ability to adapt is fundamental to success in running. If your usual morning breakfast you’ve been eating for 20 years isn’t working before your runs, you need to figure out what will. What worked for a normal day may not be the key to success before a workout.

Experience is paramount, especially to improvement. If you bonk at mile 8 in a half marathon every time, you know you probably need to figure out why and be able to fix it. Heard a course is hard from someone else’s experience? Go check it out for yourself or look it up. There aren’t a lot of mysteries in the running world, no best kept secrets. Truly, people differ, but shared experiences is a great thing to have in a community.

One of the greatest parts about Team BU is this collective shared experiences. We have questions and concerns, or posts for advice, put up often on our team page. We help each other out to the best of our abilities. If you would like to be part of it, let us know and sign up!

Stephanie Dannenberg

Steph has been running really far in really hot, cold, dry, and rainy places. She is the newest coach for Becoming Ultra and contributes on the podcast regularly!

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