10 tips and tricks how to survive Spartan Ultra
by Veronika Dvořáková • Aug 9th, 2023

10 practical tips and tricks to survive Spartan Ultra

Going to Spartan Ultra for the first time? Or have you already completed some, but there is still room for improvement, or are you looking for an auxiliary crutch to help you in the final preparations? Here is! A total of 10 practical tips and advice I wish I knew before my first Ultra races.

My first Spartan Ultra race was in 2017. I finished it within the limit, but a combination of random advice from the internet and the lack of experience and a coach made it less of an experience and more of a progression through the nine circles of hell. Take a look at my Ultra tips, which I put together from the experience of my 15 obstacle ultra races completed today.

1) Before the race, rest and come up with a strategy and plan Train until the last minute? Trying to catch up on missed training a few weeks before the race? The drowning man is grasping at straws, but this tactic doesn't work. The training should be graduated approximately 1-2 months before the race, and in the last month you should already be trying specific things for the race, equipment and also training the specifics of the race.

Did you not have time to train and you are not "rushed"? Think about how your condition is really doing and don't be ashamed to possibly postpone the race until another time, so you don't needlessly push your unprepared body. The foundation is there, but didn't get as much done as you wanted? Replace large volumes in the last weeks with more intensity and spare the body. Train the specifics of the track (mostly hills, i.e. running up hills, stairs and leg strength training) and replace long running volumes with, for example, hiking on longer routes or cycling. This way, you save the musculoskeletal system before the race, but it will still give your body endurance. Don't forget to regenerate, get enough sleep and rest.

Spend the last two weeks before the race resting, reducing volume, fine-tuning your preparation and keeping your body moving and in shape lightly. Review the race route, the elevation gain, and think about how you'll spread your pace or diet. Feel free to write down your entire plan for the weeks before the race and prepare a check-off list so that you don't forget anything: what to pack with you, what to do in the evening and morning before the start, what to put in your backpack, what to put in your comforter... You will be nervous and the helper in the form of a checklist will walk.

2) Don't burn the pace Spread your strength during the race. You have 50 kilometers ahead of you, obstacles, several hours on the route... It's not worth sprinting. The race is won in the second half, and even if you start off slow, you'll find yourself picking up a lot of burned out runners later in the race. Pay attention to injuries at the beginning of the race, when the body is not so warmed up.

Don't underestimate the warm-up either. 50 kilometers offers plenty of space to warm up, but don't forget that after a few hundred meters you will probably be climbing over a wall, climbing over rocks or onto a slope, straining your ankles. So at least run around a bit and stretch your limbs. I recommend moving even in the days before the race, jogging, walking, reminding the body what it will do the next day.

3) Eat A well-chosen diet is the basis of the race. Someone who plans to finish the race in 7 hours will probably get by with just gels and a bar, if you're going to enjoy yourself and get the most out of the track for your money then know that something solid in your stomach will do.

My tips for food that will fill you up a bit and neutralize your stomach, but not weigh you down: boiled rice, a piece of bread, a piece of cheese, a banana, and then some pasta in a comforter (in the dead of winter, soup in a thermos).

My tips for (quick) replenishment of energy and taste on the route: energy gels and jellies, energy candies or gummy bears, nuts (beware, they are not suitable for everyone), flap jack, dried fruit, chips.

It is best to show your diet by example - I like to eat like this during the race: a small handful of rice in a bag, energy gels, energy candies or gummy bears, fruit on a snack tray or sometimes a few chips (hot). In the morning, I have buckwheat semolina porridge with protein and nut butter for breakfast, which fills me up and lasts me for the first 1.5 hours of the race. Even your breakfast should contain carbohydrate, protein and good fat. I usually give the first meal during the race an energy gel or candies, interspersed with fruit at the snack bar. Only after a long time do I eat some rice. I put it in a plastic bag (slightly boiled, salted and oiled) and press it into a ball, then you bite it straight out of the bag. Later I alternate gel - rubber bands (continuous mini energy) - fruit - rice until the finish line. I prefer to use candies and gels from the GU brand. In the transit zone, I'll have a big handful of rice and a small cold Coca Cola. It settles the stomach nicely, adds caffeine and sugar and gives you a kick. Rice or a piece of bread will then nicely absorb the mixture of gels and everything you sent there in the stomach.

Have multiple options ready, because even if you liked something during training, everything can change in the race and different weather. Don't believe it when someone tells you that you can run the race on just fat and you just have to wait. Only highly trained individuals can do that.

The day before the race, have a high-quality carbohydrate and protein for dinner (for example, rice or pasta with a light protein source). Beware of heavy meat or fish and an excess of fresh vegetables - they are digested slowly. I usually have risotto and a light, only leafy salad for dinner.

4) Hydrate Don't forget to drink enough, especially on hot days. If you have two drinking bottles, keep the ionizer in one and water in the other. Personally, I like to use soft flasks in the front pockets of the vest, for every 0.5 l of liquid. I drink a small sip of water every 5-10 minutes depending on the situation (really just a small sip so the stomach doesn't start to digest). When you eat an energy gel, drink it with clean water. When you eat anything else (salty like rice, chips, etc.) or drink to quench your thirst, take an ionizer.

The biggest fear of a competitor is dehydration, especially in the heat. Intimate topic, but important - pee. If you don't want the whole race, something is wrong. If your urine is dark, you are not drinking enough.

5) Protect your hands During the race, you will come across about 70 obstacles, and I'm not talking about the natural ones where you climb the hill on all fours. Protect your palms so you don't chafe your hands, pull off calluses, or over-exercise your hands. For loads, walls or crawling, ordinary gloves from the hobby market are sufficient, for obstacles (especially when wet) I recommend only high-quality gloves with a Velcro cuff, ideally without gloves when dry.

Protect your hands from mud and water, so that you don't get confused at the hand obstacle and then head straight for the handicap.

6) Choose comfortable clothes There is nothing worse than being strangled, rubbed or pinched for 11 hours. Try everything in advance, feel free to treat yourself to more expensive equipment that will last a while. Everything must be quick-drying and functional and ideally seamless.

7) Emphasize equipment Mandatory equipment usually only includes a headlamp and an isothermal foil. But there shouldn't be more in your equipment!

Recommended equipment directly on the route: vest with bottles or bag for drinking, energy (gels, snack...), gloves, any spare clothes (in case of bad weather, for example a jacket), bag with mandatory equipment. You can also take medicines (perhaps you are allergic or take them regularly), and a piece of tape or pain medicine in a closed bag (especially if something happened to you before that required them). For hot weather, a cap or other head covering.

I recommend having: spare shoes, a mini first-aid kit (pain medicine, band-aid, tape, anti-diarrhea medicine, antihistamine, disinfectant), spare clothes, a snack in the comforter (I also recommend a small Coca Cola). Vaseline is also useful, which you can apply to sensitive areas (groins, between the toes, etc.) before the race and, if necessary, once more in the comforter. If it's going to be a very sunny day, sunscreen for exposed areas will also come in handy for more sensitive individuals. Of the painkillers, be sure to take anything containing paracetamol. Medicines containing ibuprofen put a strain on the kidneys, which you overload enough during the race anyway. Feel free to prepare a list in your comforter of what you have to do when you run into it (change clothes, eat, refill your ionizer, go to the toilet). The brain easily recedes into the background during the race.

8) Both pain and injury are (un)friends Does it hurt somewhere? Assess how severe the pain is and whether it can be continued. Is it just muscle fatigue? Go ahead. Do you have a headache? Try drinking more. Do you have a minor bloody welt? Tape and you're good to go. Can't walk and it gets worse with every step? Does your lower back hurt, you haven't had a baby and you feel sluggish? Consider quitting the race instead. Health always comes first.

9) Prepare your head They say that physical training is only a small part, but most of ultra running is in the head. And I agree. I recommend telling yourself before the race why you are actually doing it, what your motivation is, your goal, and stick to it.

Can't handle it yourself? Run in a group or find a partner on the route (ideally the same pace or slightly faster). Are you a loner? Discuss all the topics with yourself during the race, enjoy yourself, enjoy it.

Don't tell yourself that after 5 km you have another 45. Set small goals and sections and go for them. For example, the fact that you now climb over there to the spruce, drink there, exhale and enjoy yourself. And you will continue to the cable car station, where you will put on rubber bands.

10) Regenerate after the race Attention, the work does not end with the goal, medal and photo. I know you want a fryer, a burger and a Coke, but treat your body to something good.

Stretch, alternately run a warm and cold shower on your legs, massage your legs. The next day, do not stay lying down, but move lightly. Eat plenty of fruits, protein-rich foods, and carbohydrates. After the race, have a recovery drink, or at least a good protein-carbohydrate meal. Sleep a lot and drink a lot. Take an extra dose of vitamins. Your regeneration will be accelerated by sufficient protein, which serves as a building material for muscle repair. In the days after the race, I take increased doses of amino acids in pills, which will speed up my return to normal.

The bad tongues claim that Ultra can be run with a finger in the nose, one biscuit, one shoe and shorts with a hole in the ass. Well, there have been daredevils who have even run a marathon in Crocs, but do you really want that? For peace of mind and body, you'd better prepare proper equipment so that you not only survive the race, but also enjoy it!

Preparing for Ultra

Veronika Dvořáková - Spartan Ambassador Czech republic

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