I was definitely anxious at the starting gate - about to go for the longest run I’ve ever attempted. Though I felt confident I’d finish, I didn’t know what to expect in-between. Leading up to the race, the more worried I got to the question “What if I hit that wall?” or I even had one guy 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 think otherwise. I knew I was going finish. I saw myself crossing the finish line before the race even started. I knew how bad I wanted it, and this was my mindset.
After six hours and some change just what I had been striving for happened, I achieved my first 50k. Along the way in this challenge I learned quite a few unexpected lessons physically and mentally. I learned a lot of people supported me in my journey which is an amazing feeling as well.
1. It’s a long way to the finish line, take it easy
One of the most important things I learned is how important this is. My coach told me “You can’t win in the beginning, but you can lose in the beginning”, I kept 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, now he was suffering the consequences of going out too hard.
2. Stay hydrated
This is probably one of the toughest things to do right. I figured this out after peeing out a dark yellow liquid after I thought I had been drinking more than enough water. I then learned how important it take down as much as a possible right from the beginning, filling up my bottles as much as possible using those aid stations as a tactical advantage.
3. Keep moving
I learned you need a good pace for this, all I knew is that I did not want to walk. When I wanted to walk I wouldn’t let myself, I was popping a gel instead or consuming one of the granola bars I brought in a plastic baggy that I cut up into pieces the night before. I used this to my advantage, making up time I lost stopped at aid stations.
4. You need to consume more calories
My coach was stressing me on this from the very beginning, I needed to start right away, or it could be too late. The question then again comes to me “What if I hit that wall?” I didn’t know how really empty I was until the race ended, and I’m so thankful I took his advice or that bonk might of actually happened. You don’t really think about it until you look at it in the way that you’re out there for 6 hours and skipping meals, and you have to feed yourself like it’s a normal day, it’s so important.
5. We believe in you
When it was getting tough at the end, I was tired and slowing down. I had fueled myself and I was staying hydrated but at one point it didn’t matter, I had pushed myself farther than I’ve ever gone and I felt it in my legs. The mental game came on again, and this time it was me thinking about all the people that have been supporting me and believing in me. I cannot explain how powerful the mind is, it allowed me to keep going when I wanted to stop. I’m so thankful for the people that love me and inspire me.
If you want it bad enough I believe you can achieve anything in life. Prepare for your first race as much as possible and I promise it will show. Believe in yourself!
Chris McKnight is a Ultra Expeditions coached athlete and currently is training for his first 50 miler.