Running An Ultra: Getting over the mental hurdles

When a 26.2-mile (42.195km) marathon no longer seems challenging enough, many runners may take the next step up and tackle 50-mile (80km) or even 100-mile (160km) ultras.

Ultra running is a different ball game to completing a marathon. (Source:

Ultra running is a different ball game to completing a marathon. (Source:

But running an ultra is a completely different ball game to running a marathon – and the mental hurdles will be much greater than simply running 26.2 miles. Sometimes, the thought of giving up and going home to have a rest may sound so much more tempting. Besides the mental agony, you will have to get over the physical pain too, as you are bound to suffer some aches and pains.

Here are a few tips for mental toughness training – and how to get over the mental hurdles when you are tackling an ultra.

  1. Remind yourself of why you signed up for this in the first place

Regardless of whether you undertook the ultra to raise some funds for charity or simply because you wanted to push yourself and see how far you can go, remind yourself of the reason why you decided to do this in the first place – when the going gets tough.

Remember that when you signed up for this ultra race, you had a goal to complete it – and think about the hours of training that you had put in. Remind yourself when the going gets tough – and this may help to propel you to the finishing line.

  1. Break the route up into sections

At the beginning, running 50 miles or 80km may sound daunting. But don’t think of it as 50 miles. Break up the route into sections and count the distance left to every checkpoint – where you can replenish yourself with food and drinks.

For example, telling yourself that you have only five miles to go before the next checkpoint sounds much more doable than reminding yourself that there are 30 more miles left before you complete the race. As a result, you are also more likely to continue to push yourself forward during the tough times.

  1. Seeking the help of your friends

Having a friend with you helps. (Source:

Having a friend with you helps. (Source:

Seeking help from your friends and support crew will also get you through this difficult ultra journey. For example, you can arrange for your friends to meet you at strategic points along the route, to offer you motivational messages or even some of your favourite treats.

As well, your friends can also help to pace you for some part of the way – especially during the latter stages of the race when the going gets tough. Not only will they help to spur you on, but they can also chat to you and help to take your mind off from the running itself. By talking to them, the time may also pass by so much faster.

  1. Mentally prepare yourself for the hardships during the race

If you prepare your mind to expect hardships during the ultra, you will be mentally more adept in dealing with it. Remind yourself to expect aches, pains and hardships – so that when they come, you will have mental toughness training – and be able to cope.

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