Selecting and Running an Ultra Race: By Singapore Ultra Runner, Kelly Lim

Ultra runner Kelly Lim is well known in Singapore running circles for her mental grit and determination – as shown by the sheer number of ultras that she has successfully completed.

Kelly Lim, SIngapore's Ultra Running Queen.  Photo by Chin CK.

Kelly Lim, SIngapore’s Ultra Running Queen.
(Photo by Chin CK).

She started running in 1983 and since 2001, this feisty lady has completed 55 marathons and 31 ultras – including the Badwater Ultra Marathon in the Death Valley, California, which is billed as one of the world’s toughest ultra races.

At Young NTUC’s Earth Runners talk last weekend, Lim shared with runners, her experience in ultras, including the type of ultras available and preparing for an ultra.

Types of ultras available

To decide on an ultra to take part in, Lim said that you must first decide on the type of ultra that you want to do. There are several types of ultras – time-based, distance-based and multi-stage ultras.

For the former two categories, these can easily be found in Singapore, so they are options for you if you choose not to travel overseas to try out an ultra.

Distance Based

Typically speaking, an ultra is defined as anything that is more than the official marathon distance of 42.195km. Common distances for ultra races are 50km, 50 miles, 100km and 100 miles. However these are not fixed – for example, the Two Oceans Marathon is 56km and the Vietnam Mountain Marathon is 70km.

Some common local ultras that fall under this category are the Craze Ultra and The North Face.

Time Based

For these ultras, there is no fixed distance, as the name suggests. Rather, they are based on time – and the common categories are 12 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours and 72 hours.

Some local examples include the Bedok Reservoir Ultra Marathon and the Twilight Ultra, as well as the upcoming MacRitchie 25 Ultra next month.

Multi-Stage Ultras

These ultras take place over several days and commonly have prescribed distances to be completed by runners each day. For these races, some require runners to be completely self-sufficient, such as the ‘Racing the Planet’ 4 Deserts ultra – a series of seven-day completely self-supported 250km races that take place in the 4 main deserts in the world – Sahara (Egypt), Gobi (China), Atacama (Chile) and The Last Desert (Antarctica).

However, in other multi-stage ultras, such as the Gore-Tex Transalpine Run, a 268km run in Germany which lasts 8 days, the organizers will help runners to transport everything, so you only need to carry a single day’s supply of items at a time.

Training for ultras

Once you have decided on the ultra that you are planning to tackle, you must now decide how you are going to train up for it. For example, will you be focusing more on solo training runs or are you going to rope in a friend to help out?

For Lim, her strategy is to sign up for shorter ultras to train for a longer ultra. For example, she will register for 50km ultras to test out her race strategy for 100km or 100 miles ultras.

However, Lim pointed out that in order to do this, the simulation race should have a similar type of terrain and elevation as the actual race. The basic layout and format of the two ultras should also be similar, to provide a good test of your hydration, fuel and gear requirements.

Murphy’s Law

“But no matter how much you prepare, anything can and will happen during an ultra. You can have the best preparation, but always expect the worst on race day,” Lim added. That is Murphy’s Law at work.

For example, you may suddenly and unexpectedly suffer cuts, blisters, bruises or even ankle sprains during the race – so you will have to learn how to cope with these and gauge whether you are able to continue the race, if these do happen.

Said Lim, “I pack a first-aid kit to ultras as I fall easily. I also bring alcohol wipes because I always get blisters.”

Mental punishment

Lim also added that during ultras, you may also despair and ask yourself what you are doing there and why you are punishing yourself like this. It often happens to her. So in order to successfully tackle ultras, you must also ensure that you are mentally strong enough to do so.

“But it is all worth it. You will feel total happiness at the end, even if you are tired,” Lim added.

Wonderful support at such races

Happiness during ultras can also result from the wonderful support that you can get during such races – completely unlike marathons, Lim feels.

For example, at the Vietnam Mountain Marathon, Lim said that the village children along the route will run part of the way with you and high five you – to give you encouragement. Sometimes though, they may play up and remove the markers – causing runners to sometimes lose their way. But then again, that is all part of the package!

At the Ultra Trail Mount Fuji though, Lim added that there are drums, bells and other artistic performances along the route, which is also another great form of motivation for the runners.

“People also offer support along the route at local ultras, such as at the Craze Ultra,” Lim added. So this is another reason too, that makes her want to continue to run such ultras.

Fuelling during ultras

“At ultras, there is usually excellent and sometimes sinful food, such as chocolates, beer and hot sake,” Lim said.

But despite this, she added that you should still pack what you normally eat at training runs, as the food may not always suit your taste, especially during ultras at unfamiliar places such as Europe or South Africa. At the same time, if you are a slow runner, like Lim claims to be, the food that you want, may be gone by the time you reach the checkpoint – so it is always better to be prepared.

Planning is important

Ultimately though, planning is one of the most important things to do, if you are thinking of taking part in an ultra. Said Lim, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Planning is vital when preparing for races – like how you plan for overseas trips.”SSoh Rui Yong.

Click here for tips from “The King” Melvin Wong.

Click here for tips from Singapore’s second fastest marathoner, Soh Rui Yong.

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