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I suppose now, having run three ultra-marathons, I can call myself an ultra runner. I am by no means an expert, but based on my recent experience at the Spitfire Scramble, here are my Top 10 tips on running a solo 24 hour race.
Take your time and learn as much as you can about the course, the terrain, the elevation and the facilities. Road shoes or trail shoes? Will you need gaiters? Are walking poles required for the later laps? What are the catering facilities like? What provisions will you need?
Give everything a test, try walking with the poles, try the gaiters on, practice eating on your long runs and make sure you can put your tent up. There is nothing like a tent that won’t go up, to add to your pre race nerves.
Make sure you pack lots of changes of clothes and be prepared for all weathers, bearing in mind it will get really cold at night.
Be organised, I packed all my kit in labelled crates, so I would be able to find things in a sleep deprived, panic.
Arrive nice and early to get a decent pitch and take your time setting up. Organise all your kit, so your changes of clothes/shoes are all together. Make sure you know where your first aid and pain relief are. You don’t want to be flapping about at 3am trying to find batteries for you head torch or a clean pair of socks.
Cover all vulnerable areas with Vaseline/body glide. I completely cover my feet with Vaseline before putting my socks on and this helps me avoid blisters.
24 hours is a long time, don’t get caught up with the relay runners and sprint off. Use the first lap to really learn the course. Walk the hills, even from the very first lap to save your legs. Break down each lap and use your early laps to decide which parts are “run-able” and where you are going to conserve your energy.
When you come in to base between laps, use your time wisely. Start charging your watch/phone as soon as you come back in. When you change your shoes and socks, make sure you clean your feet, reapply lube when changing your clothes. Refuel, fill up water and get back out. Allow yourself a set amount of time in camp and try to stick to it.
When you’re really exhausted and it’s pitch black and cold, you are bound to feel like giving up. The sunrise makes everything feel more manageable and brings new hope.
You can thank me when you don’t have to chose between a nettle and a thistle to wipe with. Don’t fear the “wild poo”, after 18 hours and thousand of runners, the great outdoors will be a much nicer alternative to the portaloos. While we are on this subject, do not trust a fart... you might think it will be ok, it really won’t.
My favourite part of the Spitfire Scramble was definitely the other runners I met. They say misery loves company and you really are all in it together. I loved sharing laps and war stories with other crazy people and now I have a massive list of other races that I must enter.
Be prepared for a kaleidoscope of emotions. I’m talking hysterical tears to hysterical laughter and everything in between all within the space of 10 minutes. At around 6am and in full daylight, I had some hysterical tears as I couldn’t see the light from my head torch. Don’t give in to the crazy, it will pass and is perfectly normal.