This is the first in a series of articles ultra marathon preparation and logistics – in honor of my husband’s first 100-mile race (Pine to Palm 100) in September. I am a planner and an organizer. If you are similar, then you will probably relate to much of what I write in these articles. If you are the opposite, you may appreciate some of the legwork that I put in to each race. Either way, putting some effort into your race-day logistics will help you and your support team have a great ultramarathon experience.
Ultramarathon Pace Predictions
As race day approaches, you should start to have an idea of your race-day pacing based on your training and the elevation profile of the race. Setting time goals may not be appropriate for everyone, but some estimation is necessary to help plan your journey.
Your pace estimations will guide your drop bag preparations, fuel planning, crew instructions and cut-off awareness. Your time into each aid station will determine where you place essential gear, such as night-time lights and layers, caffeinated products, sunscreen for re-application, to name a few. Your crew will need to know when to expect you and you need to have an idea if you will be up against any aid station cut-off times.
How you choose to use pace predictions during the race is up to you. The danger in real-time pace comparisons is that they can diminish your enjoyment of the race if you are falling behind your predictions. They can also cause you to needlessly slow down if you are ahead.
When I started running ultramarathons, I always carried time predications with me during the race. That was my indication of how I was performing compared to my expectations. As I have become more experienced, however, I have developed a better sense for how I am feeling, so paces during the race have become less relevant to me.
One aid station at a time
These days, the information that I most want during a race is the mileage and elevation profile between aid stations. Over time I have developed a system where I wear this data on my wrist on a “pacelette.” I generally no longer include paces on this bracelet, but the name has stuck. I make one for every trail race of 50 miles or longer.
I use the pacelet in conjunction with my GPS watch to break the race into aid station segments. This allows me to always focus primarily on getting to the next aid station.
This focus breaks the daunting ultramarathon task into smaller, more manageable trail runs, and is one of my key race-day strategies.
Using your GPS watch on race day
I have used Garmin GPS watches since I started running. I am not familiar with the other brands, but I will describe how I setup my Garmin to support aid station segments.
My Garmin screen setup is as follows: a screen with data fields for the entire run and a screen with the same data fields, but only as applied to the current “lap.” The current lap is always the segment between aid stations.
In order for this to work, you must have “auto-lap” turned off and the lap button needs to be enabled if it is not already. Every time you enter an aid station, you need to remember to hit the lap button. You can always hit it on your way out – it doesn’t matter – but being consistent will help you get into the habit.
Practice this way with your watch on training runs and at training races. On race day, I keep my watch set to view the lap screen almost the entire time. It’s easy to compare the current lap with the data on the pacelette.
If you are running 100 miles, you will need a plan to swap out watches or recharge your battery on the fly. I like to swap watches at a set drop bag location. If you are doing this, make sure that the spare watch is secured in a way that it won’t accidentally get turned on in the drop bag. Also, you may want your pacelette mileage to start over at zero where you swap out watches.
Before race day – when you arrive at your race destination – turn on your watches and leave them outside for 20 minutes. This process of “soaking” your GPS device helps it know which satellites to listen to for the area and improves accuracy in the first minutes of the run. After soaking, turn off the watches and then top off the charge. Don’t turn it on again until 15 minutes before the race.
Finally, if technology is “not your thing,” don’t let it stress you out. I am a tech-geek and enjoy this stuff. If you don’t enjoy it, simply do what meets your needs to plan your 100-mile journey. If you are somewhere in the middle, practice with your watch ahead of time, and you may find it to be a useful tool.