Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
– T.S. Elliot

Every sport, every action, has a set of truths. A set of rules or laws that define them — Drink enough beer and you’ll get tipsy, for example.

Rules you can count on reigning true at all times, in all circumstances.

Trail and ultra running, of course, is no different, and the truths of our sport guide how we train, how we race, and how we handle certain situations.

The trick then, is to know them ahead of time. To understand them — and understand how to apply them — so that you can use these truths to your advantage.

Here are the 50 truths I’ve come to know and understand over the past several years:

1) When you feel a small rock or stick in your shoe, take the time to get it out.

2) If you think you’re going too slow during the first half of the race, you’re actually going to fast. You have nothing to prove during that first half.

3) Downhill running is fun, but it’s also a challenge.

4) Every volunteer should be thanked.

5) There will always be someone that looks cooler than you. Quit worrying about the latest gear trends, and do what works best for you. Besides, the trail quickly equalizes everyone’s coolness.

6) Ultrarunning is hard, and never forgets to remind you of that fact.

7) Training your stomach, and taking care of your stomach, is just as important as training your legs.

8) Ultramarathons are more mental than they are physical.

9) In case of emergencies, pick a leaf from a tree, not from the ground … You know, when wiping your poo.

10) It’s often more efficient to speed hike hills than it is to run them.

11) Always take care of, thank, and be kind to your crew, they are your lifeline.

12) It’s better to just accept the hard times than it is to dwell on them. You choose to do this sport, after all.

13) No matter how slow you’re going, progress is progress. Move with purpose.

14) Always take care of the trail — Pick up trash, move fallen branches, etc.

15) Volunteering at a race is one of the biggest inspirations available.

16) A change of socks will give you entirely new life.

17) You can do anything for 10 minutes.

18) Highs never last, but neither do lows. Eat, drink, walk. You will get past it.

19) Don’t be a jackass, only wear one earbud if you choose to listen to music during a trail race.

20) Smiling really does make a difference.

21) Have fun. You’re on the trail for crying out loud!

22) It’s better to err on the lighter side gear, but not dangerously light.

23) You can go further than you think.

24) If you think you’ve made a wrong turn during a race, don’t just keep going. Stop and wait for another runner, or trace your steps back to the last marker.

25) Always carry extra batteries at night.

26) A mile not tracked by your Garmin, is STILL a mile run!

27) If an aid station has watermelon on a hot summer day, eat it.

28) Sometimes it just isn’t your day. Accept whatever gets thrown at you.

29) You will get poison ivy. Do what you can to make sure it doesn’t get worse.

30) You will chafe. Do what you can to make sure it doesn’t get worse. Side note: You’ll know exactly how bad it is once you get in the shower.

31) You will get blisters. Do what you can to make sure they don’t get worse.

32) Not all courses will be marked properly, you can’t let the small stuff get you down. Press on.

33) Cheering on other runners will also help lift your spirits.

34) Many ultramarathon distances aren’t exact, and that’s just part of the fun.

35) Your body goes through some crazy shit over the course of an ultramarathon. Watch out.

36) It’s usually a waste of time trying to look for ways to cross a creek that wont get your feet wet. Don’t be afraid to get a little wet.

37) Trails are slower and less consistent than roads. Don’t beat yourself up about splits.

38) The adventure is worth embracing.

39) Wildlife is more of a threat if you don’t know how to handle it. So learn how to handle it before it’s too late.

40) No one likes it when you swing your trekking polls out behind you. It’s dangerous and annoying.

41) No matter what people say, it’s OK to stop and take a picture if that’s what you want to do. You do you.

42) Some of the wisest ultrarunners have been in the sport longer than you knew it existed. Listen to the wise.

43) Swapping war stories is cool. Trying to one-up your fellow runners is not.

44) Never pass up beer at an aid station … or the finish.

45) Some of the best ultra distance runs aren’t races.

46) The trail and ultra running community is happy to have you, be a good member.

47) The climb will always end … eventually

48) When in doubt, lube it up.

49) Adventures are always best shared with friends.

50) Every ultramarathon finish is worth celebrating!

Though the list may be (ultra) long, it most certainly is not complete, since these are just the truths I’ve discovered. Share the truths you’ve discovered in the comments below.

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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8 thoughts on “The 50 Truths of Ultra Running

  1. #21! Have a healthy respect for the distance, elevation, and situation, but enjoy yourself. We’re physically capable and mentally determined to run long distances in spectacular environments. That puts us in a tiny minority of the population. I’m grateful for this opportunity and ability—a thought that frequently returns to me when I’m hitting a low point in training or racing. Great post!

  2. Great post. Love rule #44 “Never pass up beer at an aid station … or the finish.” Just did a half shot of fireball at an aid station last weekend – that was a first for me! 🙂

  3. You mentioned changing socks, what brand(s)/types of socks do you recommend. I assume the road socks are too light weight.

  4. I love Wrightsocks double-layer socks for any endurance running. The two super thin layers rub against each other to prevent chafing between the shoe/sock/skin. They also seem to dry very quickly.

  5. I love the list!! I just did my own and first ultra trail run a week o go. 51K all by my selft down the road run and walk, followed and support by my awesome supporter nephew with his Motor bike.

    “Ultramarathons are more mental than they are physical”

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