Updated: Sep 11, 2021
I was anxious at the starting gate of the Piney Woods Ultra. I was about to begin the longest run I’d ever attempted. Though I felt confident I’d finish, I didn’t know what to expect during the in-between. Leading up to the race, I became worried about one question - “What if I hit a wall?” I had one person tell me I might die running that long. Thankfully, I had a great coach, and some long training runs under my belt that made me pretty positive I’d survive the experience. I knew I was going to finish. I envisioned myself crossing the finish line before the race even started. I knew how bad I wanted it and that was the most important mindset.
After six hours and some change, everything I had hoped for happened - I crossed the finish line of my first 50k. I learned quite a few unexpected lessons both physically and mentally, and I also learned that my support system of people who truly care about me and my journey was far greater than I had ever expected.
1. It’s a long way to the finish line, take it easy
This is the most important lesson. My coach told me “You can’t win in the beginning, but you can lose in the beginning”, I had to keep that in mind. I ended up passing a guy 4 hours later that flew ahead of me in the beginning, I remember even mentioning to him to take it easy - he was suffering the consequences of going out too hard. It’s the most common mistake we all make in a race.
2. Stay hydrated
This is the toughest thing to get right. When I noticed my pee had turned dark yellow, after I thought I had been drinking more than enough water, I learned how important it was to take down as much as possible right from the beginning – even starting the day before the race. I realized I needed to fill up my bottles as much as possible using those aid stations as a tactical advantage.
3. Keep moving
You need a good pace for this – figure out what your pace is. I knew that I did not want to walk. When I felt the urge to walk, instead I began opening a gel or consuming pieces of one of the granola bars I had cut up and brought in a plastic baggy. I used this to my advantage, making up time I lost at aid stations.
4. You need to consume more calories
My coach made this very clear to me from the very beginning. I needed to start consuming calories right away or it could be too late. The question again came to mind, “What if I hit a wall?” I didn’t realize how truly empty I was until the race ended, and I’m so thankful I took his advice or that bonk might have happened. You don’t really think about how much your body requires during an ultramarathon until you take into consideration that you’re running/moving for 6 hours straight while also skipping meals. You have to attempt to feed yourself as if it’s a normal day.
5. We believe in you
When it was getting tough toward the end, I was tired and slowing down. I had fueled myself and I was staying hydrated, but it came to a point at which that no longer mattered. I had pushed myself farther than I’d ever gone. My legs made that very clear to me. This is when the mental game began. I began to concentrate on all the people supporting and believing in me. I cannot explain how powerful the mind is - it allowed me to keep going when all I wanted to do was stop. I’m so thankful for the people that love me and for those who inspire me.
Anything in life that you want badly enough, you will achieve.
Prepare for your first ultra marathon race as much as possible and I promise you will reap the benefits of hard work.
And most importantly... believe in yourself!
Chris McKnight is an Ultra Expeditions Brand Ambassador, an Ultra Expeditions coached athlete and is currently training for his first 50 miler.
UPDATE - As of February 2021, Chris McKnight has now completed his first 50 miler at the Border to Badlands Ultra, placing 2nd overall.
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