Why are there so few resources about race strategy for timed road ultras?
The easy and short answer is: because we are all so different and what works for one might not work for others. However, isn't it still strange that when you put in "how to run a 24h ultramarathon" or "best race strategy for 24h ultramarathon" nothing comes up except a few forum posts and a few tips here and there? No comprehensive strategy guide? If you google "best marathon race strategy" you will have pages and pages of tips, some advocating for negative splits, some for even splits, telling you to split it up into chunks, how to calculate the best pacing, warnings that the real race starts at 20 miles (32km), nutritional advice, etc. None of this will you find if you are looking for advice for timed road ultras.
I'm actually contemplating of creating something like that, but I'm so new to ultrarunning myself, that there are much more qualified people to write about it. Before my first ultra, a 24h race only 3 months ago, I just jumped into it blind. I had a plan (to run for 24h straight) and I had no idea if it was realistic or doable at all. I tried to talk to some people for advice but I didn't really know anyone who have run a 24h race competitively. If you are interested in how it went, here is the race recap.
And that might be the biggest problem why it is so hard to put down racing advice for 24h and beyond. Because our goals can be so different. Obviously the advice for someone trying to break the world record would be very different from the advice for someone just trying to finish the race. It actually might be the exact opposite. You would advise one to not set a distance target while you would tell the other one to do just that. You would suggest one to mostly use liquid nutrition and the other to stop and eat real food. And then there are the ones in the middle like myself, who want to be competitive but are not world class.
I got smarter for my next venture, the Big Dog's Backyard Ultra. For one thing, interestingly, there are way more resources out there in terms of films, blog posts and podcasts than for the timed ultras. Plus, I got to know one of the top competitors of that format, Dave Proctor, who came 3rd in 2019 and was nice enough to talk to me and tell me all the strategy that I needed to know. Luckily I know myself enough to figure out from what he said which advice is likely to work for me and which isn't. Race report is here if you want to know how it went.
Then again, for my 48h attempt I was left to my own guessing and being in the dark. I had my 24h experience already, so I had some ideas, and I was talking to a former 48h World Record holder for advice, but she is just a natural and didn't have too much to say about it. She was very friendly and trying to be helpful but all I got out of her was "48h is not two times 24h". Well, I figured that much! (That race report can be found here.)
I actually had most luck with preparing for a 6-day event - that process is still ongoing, so again, I can't even put together a strategy article, because I have never done one! But the picture is starting to form in my head about best pacing, sleeping, and gear choices.
I realize now that the best way to get this information is to talk to world class runners who have done it a lot. They have the experience, tried a few things and figured out what works for them. So that's what I have been doing, talking to people who are willing to talk to me, and I find that the more I talk to, the better I can form my own best plan, because they are all doing it differently. They are doing it the way it works for THEM and that might not work for the next guy or me.
But why do you have to be a former BBC investigative journalist (which I happen to be) to be able to adequately prepare for these races? That is just not right.
So if any of you more accomplished and experienced ultrarunners would like to contribute to a "how to race 24h, 48h and 6-day ultramarathons" series, let me know and we can make it happen!