Comedians Paul Tonkinson and Rob Deering give ultra-marathon runners their top tips on how to break the wall
Paul’s top tips…
- Get some long runs in
The main thing is to make sure that when you’re training for an ultra-marathon you get some long runs each week. Try and do as many as you can in advance because it will make it easier on race day. Minimum you should try and get at least two or three runs which will help you prepare for the wall. The more you can train in that zone, the more prepared you will be and trust me, your body will feel different.
2. Carb loading
In the two or three days before the race eat more carbs than you normally would. I wouldn’t necessarily say eat more food but increase the ratio of carbs to protein. If you think about it this way, you’re just filling your legs with the power you need to get through the wall. The trick is to do though without adding too much weight to your body.
3. Pace yourself
Don’t set off too fast in the race. The race gets progressively harder as you go along but your perception of distance changes the further you run. Make sure you start conservatively, and you will find easier in the long run. Practice finishing stronger during long runs in training, it will prepare you for the race which is basically continually running as fast as possible whilst being absolutely knackered!
Chunk it down in stages. Don’t think when your running that you’re a long way from the finish and how exhausted you feel and how you can’t imagine finishing in your current state. Think about running the next mile and by the time you have you’ll be one step closer to the finish. Mentally just keep chunking it down and don’t over think it. Whatever you do don’t think about the long struggle that lays ahead. Don’t spend energy fighting how bad you are feeling, don’t feel bad about feeling bad. Run to the next tree, the next lamppost. As the finish gets closer you will by now have achieved the momentum you need to get to the end.
5. Think of a mantra
Try and think of a mantra. I know this sounds a little hippy and new age, but it doesn’t have to be. Look for a phrase you can return to in your mind that will get you to the finish line. Make it simple and impactful and try not to make it too complicated. It should be a two or three-word phrase that fires you up. You need a phrase that when you say it when you’re not running it keeps you motivated. It should be personal to you, deep and meaningful. Mine’s pretty angry! Give it some thought. It can make a big difference in helping you over the finish line.
Rob’s top tips…
Be very aware of when you’re going uphill – particularly when it’s just a slight incline, not a ‘climb’. Psychologically you won’t notice what’s underfoot – you’ll just think ‘wow, I feel terrible, I must be getting tired, maybe I’m not going to make it’ – chances are it’s a little hill, and that means the gift of a descent is ahead; stay with it.
I always run listening to music, but if you don’t, the raw surprise of this might make it even more effective. When you’re struggling, don’t just let whatever you’re listening to burble on; flick forward to a song that really inspires you – don’t plan it too much though – have a playlist of potentially inspiring stuff, and flick till you get to that tune that hits the spot.
8. Run somewhere else in your mind
If you’re in a place – geographically or physically – you’re finding particularly challenging – thinking ‘I’ll never get all the way up there’, or ‘I can’t believe we’re going all the way over there’, that kind of thing – think of a run you’d be confident with – your local parkrun, say, or a longer run you really enjoyed and felt strong during – and visualise that, in as much detail as you can, as you go along – in other words, imagine a more manageable run, and go there instead.
9. Have something tasty
On a very long run, you need fuel, and you’ll know what’s best for you in terms of energy, whether it’s carb gels or flapjacks. What I’m suggesting here, though, is some kind of taste sensation – eating a sweet can be a real chore during a run, but if you have one that’s full of flavour – nothing fancy, a Starburst say – you’ll be amazed at what a big deal that fruity experience can be.
- Jump out of it
I’m not suggesting you actually jump – your legs have got enough on their plate! – but find something – anything – to distract you from your challenge, just for a moment. Whether it’s music, a view, a sweet, or a kind word from a stranger, you only need a momentary distraction from what seems like a deeply entrenched state of body and mind to reset completely. It’s what an old drama guru I studied with called a ‘little jump’ – a momentary change of perspective to freshen up your whole experience. And it’s there for you, I promise – I just don’t know what it’s going to be!