Ultra-running Tips From The Pros – Holly Page And Damian Hall
Written By: Ben Mounsey
In the first of a four-part series, elite runner, Ben Mounsey has spoken to ultra-runners Holly Page and Damian Hall to get their top tips on how to improve your long distance running.
I’d started 2020 with a clear goal in my mind – to take part in my first ultra race. A huge personal challenge, considering my preferred racing distance has always been less than 25km!
My ultra-running journey was due to begin this month, with the ULTRA NORTH in Newcastle, a new 55km ultra-marathon event. Unfortunately, this race has now been postponed until 2021, but at least it will give me more time to train and prepare for the big day.
I’ve been running for most of my life and racing competitively for the last 17 years. During this time, I’ve competed in hundreds of races, visited some amazing countries, ran up and down some spectacular mountains and explored some of the best trails in Europe. But despite all this running experience, the challenge of running an ultra is something completely new to me. It’s also an extremely daunting experience and in all honesty, a little bit scary!
But thankfully I know plenty of ultra-runners and coaches with the necessary experience and expertise that I am lacking. So, I asked them for their best ultra running tips and top kit recommendations and this is what they had to say…
Adidas Terrex Athlete
Skyrunning World Series Champion 2018
CARRY SPARE KIT
If you head out on a long run thinking, "I'm cold now but once I start running, I'll get warm", think how cold you'll get if you have to stop because you've sprained your ankle in the middle of nowhere. You never know when something might happen and having the right equipment to stay warm / dry etc. is really important. There is so much great lightweight kit out there now that there really is no excuse.
- For jacket’s either the; Adidas Terrex Agravic Rain Jacket or the Adidas Terrex Agravic Alpha Hooded Jacket
- For shoes, I recommend the Adidas Terrex Two Ultra Parley Trail Running Shoes as they're really cushioned and comfy - that's what I'm wearing all the time at the moment. They're also made out of recycled ocean plastics, which has to be a good thing too!
CARRY EMERGENCY FOOD (that you don't really like!)
Sometimes runs can take longer than you planned so it's good to always have something in your bag for a "just in case" moment. If you always have a bar / gel that you don't really like in there then you won't be tempted to eat it in a "non-emergency" situation too. Carrying extra food when running with others is also a great way to keep yourself popular - a bonking friend will be forever indebted to you for saving them with those "emergency jelly babies".
TAKE A MAP / COMPASS (AND KNOW HOW TO USE THEM!!)
Technology has come on leaps and bounds in terms of navigational aid, you can download the GPX of a route onto a watch or phone and follow this to recce a race route or go on a long training run. However, many people are placing too much reliance on following a blue line on a watch. That's great until the watch malfunctions and you find yourself stranded in the mountains with no idea where you really are or where to go next. You can go on a navigation course, or read up on the basics to gain skills and confidence and then go out and practice!
Inov-8 athlete/Ultra Runner
5th place UTMB, 2018
KIT IS KEY
The number one key piece of kit for ultra runner is shoes. You may be in them for a long time, so they need to be comfy. Yes, terrain is important (will it be rocky, muddy, wet, hard and fast trails, a mixture?), but above all that you want to treat your pinkies like they’re royalty – else they’ll rebel and give you blisters. Everyone’s feet are different, so don’t listen too much to what works for others. Instead get a pair early and try them out on your long runs to see how well they suit you. That said, for UTMB, inov-8 Trailtalons and Terraultra Gs have both been excellent for me. I want some cushioning for 100 miles, but not too much (I want to feel dextrous on technical bits) and both of these have a roomy toebox for when grumpy feet start to expand a little. No blisters. No complaints. And ace grip, to boot.
Most ultras have a mandatory kit list so you’ll need a pack to carry that in, plus your sandwiches. The Inov-8 Race Ultra Pro 2 in 1 Vest was brill for me at UTMB in 2018 and numerous races and challenges since. Again, comfort is really important as you might be wearing it for 24 hours-plus. Key for me is the side pouches as I want to be able to access kit (gloves, sunglasses, waterproof) and my sandwiches on the move, without ever having to take the pack off. Plus, the water-carrying options are great, with different carrying options for soft flasks (or a bladder). And there are several options for pole attachments too. It’s a really versatile pack – not least the option to detach the main compartment when you only need minimal kit.
Most ultras (and indeed fell races) will have a waterproof as mandatory kit, even when often there’s very little chance it’ll get used. So lightest is best. Inov-8’s Ultrashell meets all the strict race criteria for UTMB and other races, and weighs a stunning 97g. Being transparent you can still read the race number through it, too – another race rule. I’ll also take the excellently named Inov-8 Ultrapant, which are just 86g. I don’t know of a lighter combination of full body waterproof cover. If the forecast is for a monsoon however, I’ll plump for the Stormshell. I wore this in 2017 and 2018 UTMBs and on a recent Winter Paddy Buckley Round. For just 170g you get excellent protection around the head, neck and wrists.
An inadequate headtorch beam could mean topographical befuddlement or, worse still, a trip or fall. The Petzl NAO+ boasts a whopping 750 lumens, but can be customised in an app to last all night (with fewer lumens). I've used this for several UTMBs, plus longer runs in the dark, such as the 230-mile Cape Wrath trail. Excellent, reliable bit of kit.
This is part one of a four-part series.