My name is Egils Robs, and I go by Gil. I have been the Race Director for Mind The Ducks 12 Hour since 2014. Below I collected ultra advice for the race’s first-timers and not just first-timers that I thought might be helpful from a perspective of “I wish I knew this” before I laced up for my first ultra, timed ultra, and Mind The Ducks. Feel free to email me at MTD12Hour@gmail.com if you have questions or corrections to the stated.
Walking during ultras is not just permitted but a necessary and integral part of ultra running
One of the most common misconceptions about ultramarathons is that walking is not permitted and/or frowned upon. The truth is quite the opposite. Walking is an integral part of ultras and not just for mortals – even elite ultra runners will walk during an ultra. There has not been a runner yet who has ever been disqualified for walking or even crawling across the finish line as long as you do on your own power. For humans running is the fastest way of getting from point A to point B without the assistance of mechanical devices on the dry land, but it’s not the only one. Feel free to dance from point A to point be but keep in mind that extra style points won’t be awarded. I ran my first ultra in 2007. I was not an elite runner however my ultra PRs are the following – 4:41 for 50Km, 7:43 for 50M, 43+ miles in 6 hours (2012 BPAC6), and 66+ miles in 12 hours (2012 MTD12Hour). Except for the first ultra, my race plans for all subsequent ultras included regularly scheduled walking breaks.
There are two general ways of planning walking breaks – time-based or distance-based. Time-based is where you run X minutes then walk Y minutes – f.e. Run 9 minutes/walk 3 minutes. Distance-based is when you run X miles then walk X miles, f.e. Run 0.75 miles/walk 0.25 miles.
I think that short loop timed races, like MTD12Hour, are better suited for distance-based plans. Aid stations were my reference point during timed ultras. My goal was always to run until the aid station and then walk for some time. For the first hour or so, I forced myself to walk at least 50 yards every mile. While you are still fresh, it feels soooooooo hard to slow down in general, let alone walk. Eventually, by hours 3-4, I started to look forward to walking breaks. With every passing hour, walking breaks became longer and longer. In every race, I had stretches where I walked at least 1 mile continuously. In 2012 MTD12Hour, I had a stretch when I walked 3 miles continuously.
While you walk, you rest your primary running muscles, and however, you are still accumulating miles (or getting closer to the finish line during traditional ultras). Most ultra runners have experienced the opposite at the later stages of ultra that you feel that running is easier than walking at times.
Every year, a handful of MTD12Hour participants did not run at all but walked the entire time. That is a perfectly legit approach and does not take anything away from what they accomplished. Technically you don’t even need to run to cover 50 miles in 12 hours – a brisk walking pace is from 13:30 to 15 minutes per mile, whereas you need to average 14:40 per mile to cover 50 miles in 12 hours. I am yet to see someone walk 50 miles in 12 hours, but it’s doable on the paper.
When you decide to take a walking break, please note that you do not need to move to the outside lane to let faster participants use the inside lane. It’s expected that faster participants will pass you on the right side. However, be mindful of not blocking the path, especially when walking/running in groups and especially on the west side of the loop (opposite from the aid station), where the path is not as wide as on the east side. A rule of thumb when you are running/walking alone or with a group is please make sure you have enough room on your right side for a faster participant to pass you without stepping off the course.
I often use my walking breaks to eat and drink. This is why my preferred reference point during short looped ultras is the aid station. I may not grab a snack or get a drink every lap, but it would be at the beginning of my walking break when I do. Once I am done consuming whatever I grabbed at the aid station, I can resume running.
Walking during ultras is not just permitted but a necessary and integral part of ultra running.