Last Updated on October 11, 2017
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Around six years ago I stopped running (got suddenly sick of it) but for the 15 years before that it was basically a part-time job for me. Over that time I did around 100 marathons (42.2km 26.2 miles) and 100 ultramarathons (anything over 26.2 miles). Since getting into the concepts of prepping for SHTF I have been thinking that my previous experience as an ultra-marathon runner has left me with many great tips and ideas for everyone to travel more than 26 miles unsupported. No I am not telling you to run to get back to your home or bug out location but if you can then great! I certainly could not do it anymore! My best race was 6 hours and 24 minutes in a 50 miler to give my experience here some context and I could pop out sub three-hour marathons easily. That said all these ultramarathoning tips I learned the very hard way and perhaps some might help you even if you are planning only to walk home or to your bug out location?
Ultramarathoners prep and we never know if we will finish the race when we line up. We prep our minds and our bodies and I will talk about the body first.
Vaseline is more than a fire starter:
Slap it on or skin becomes badly excoriated from the continual friction or running for hours. Between the thighs and buttocks and do not skimp on it at all. Between the underarms as well as you will be surprised at how painful friction burns are the next day. Runners’ nipples are the partial removal of your nipples from friction and hurt like crazy the next day. All these friction points need Vaseline as you will not notice them until too late. Put a small dab directly on the nipple and cover with a bandage. As you walk or even run for hours check these friction points at rest stops and reapply as required.
Sun lotion is an everyday thing:
Run or walk for 9 hours with the sun mainly hitting you from one direction and you will burn even on a cloudy day. Winter is worse as you do not think about it or notice it. SP 30 or higher and yes use expensive “sport” ones and I recommend the waterproof versions for swimming. The cheaper ones fail quickly. In Summer always have some with you on your journey and reapply it often. The main areas to get burned are top of the head even through hair, tips of the nose and ears, and lips. The backs of your knees if in shorts or thin trousers and exposed elbows get burned fast and need more frequent sun lotion applications. Your neck and head should be covered so use a bandanna!
Clothing is optional:
Yes there are naked races but I’d avoid long distance over trails in the buff. However your choice of clothing is optional. Layers of course and remember you will feel a lot warmer once you start moving so set off a bit cold not comfortable. Remove the hat and clothes early not late as sweat will end your race early (see Just Doing It section). For races or bugging out you should visit specialty stores and online sites that have great quality gear designed for you to move in for hours. Compression socks are a good idea. Wicking inner layers are essential and they better not rub! Test all clothing out before the real event. Trash bags are good for rain and wind protection and every prepper should have some but they make you sweat badly. No doubt you have seen runners wearing them before the race starts but did you know the trash bags can be slit along the sides and holes made to keep you mainly dry and let the sweat out? Three holes (head and arms) is never going to help you avoid dehydration and rain is actually real nice to be in when you are moving hard.
Clothing for running (triathlon, long distance hiking, etc. as well but they are not areas I can speak about) is much lighter and better designed for hard forward movement than traditional camo/military gear. It is a bit non-functional for our purpose but many new developments come along all the time including jackets with multiple pockets for long distance events. Think outside the military choices here. At the very least look at hiker clothing if you cannot bring yourself to try running gear.
These boot were made for walking:
I expect many people will get upset by this but in all honesty for fast return to home or fast bug outs please do not wear military or hiking boots. Their weight will cause severe leg and lower back fatigue in only a few hours unless you use them daily before the event. A decent pair of trail running shoes works almost as well and should be totally fine in most scenarios click here. They work very well on asphalt but road shoes do not usually work well on rough trails. Sure the ankle is not encased but the flexibility of the shoe and its lower weight mean it is much more suitable for hard moving over miles and miles.
They work fine on ice and snow and wet rock provided you have a quality trail shoe and have tested it out. If you are running stop using the heavy trail shoe after 25 miles and put on a lighter pair for the rest of the trip. Many people in road races do this in reverse which is a shame as they cannot lift the legs as high after 25 miles and dropping foot weight helps with this to some extent.
For trail shoes visit a store and try a bunch on wearing the socks you would use in the event (race or the end of the world). Find one or two that work and then ask if last year’s model is available. Do not pay more than $120 and not less than $60. Higher priced ones are not doing anything for your abilities no matter what mumbo jumbo the clerk says and cheap shoes are not helpful. Tell the clerk you want a “decent pair of trail shoes to do an ultra-marathon”. Then say you are starting running, have no idea about how to do it, have no running experience, and have not decided the race yet but it will be a trail race. Expect them to be puzzled but distance on trail is the shoe you need and it has to fit your foot type. This is why you must have an experienced person fit the shoe to you rather than buy something from a chain store or online.
The Mind is the major muscle here:
The very first ultra-marathon I did was on a bet and was 100 miles of trail. I did 70 miles and had to quit. I had not read and reread the maps, I had not thought about what and where I would eat and drink, and I had no real conviction that I could do it. When the wall hit me I had no experience and no belief I could walk through it and get on with the race. Practice is ideal and as close to the event conditions as possible. So for bugging out or getting home on foot from work do all or at least some of the route for real and carry and dress in what you would be doing in SHTF.
Volunteer at a local 100 Miler race or equivalent triathlon/bike race. Help out at an aid station for the entire event and realize just how tired the participants must be. Who makes it and who fails and why? Jot down notes on tips and gear. Ultramarathons are ideal for this as many runners get very chatty late in the race!
Sweetness is Critical:
Being relaxed and happy is vital before the start. Do not start all anxious and stressed. Likely you will be but then take 2 minutes silence to think about your life and why finishing this event is important. Being sweet means you likely have people with you in this event (race or SHTF) so check them out for issues before the start. Have they got Vaseline or sun lotion on? Do they have water and food?
Carbo-loading is an immense topic but it works. If you know you will bug out in 24 hours or have to go on a 20+ milers then hit the rice and pasta. Pig out as you will burn all this and more. It is a bit more complex than I am saying here but just upping the carbohydrates prior to the start for 24 to 48 hours will help.
JUST DOING IT:
Set rest intervals and enjoy them:
I use rest intervals every hour and a 5 minute walk or a full sit down if I am in trouble. Vary these as you do not want to ever stop on an uphill as restarting is hard. Momentum is vital but so is adequate rest and hydration and nutrition from the very, very start of the event. Sure you are hyped up and can keep going but it has been estimated that every minute of sensible rest in the first half of a race equals two to four minutes of less time taken to do the last half. Simply put going to hard and/or for too long at the beginning will make the journey much longer, much harder, and often causes failure to finish. You are doing something very hard so be nice to yourself.
Later on keep the rest intervals at 5 minutes and walk or sit but increase their frequency. You might find yourself doing one minute rest and one minute walking after many hours. Is it worth it? I have revived and gone on to finish well but mostly the smart move is to stop the event and recover. With a bug in or a get home scenario camping out might be dangerous so again your mind has prepared for this and you have sites preselected in case you cannot make it without sleeping.
Water, water, everywhere:
Drink 500ml (one pint) an hour every hour. If it is hot increase this. At 40C I found I needed about one litre (two pints) every ten to fifteen minutes but I was running hard and in great shape. Dehydration will end your journey and can easily end you in very hot or very cold conditions. Drink a lot of water and do not ration it. Have the resupply sources (shops are not a good idea for us but gas stations are great in normal events) fixed in your mind in advance. Rivers, industrial pipes, pools, and best of all are buried caches of snacks and water along the line of march. Think no effort water treatment and fast. A life straw is not a smart move here as you need effort to get clean water. You are going to be very, very tired. There are multiple sports bottle filters that work great. Scoop them full and put in a tablet as well (better safe than having diarrhea). Bladder type bags are excellent and I recommend one that you have trained on. They can be a bit fiddly until you get used to them. Even with this I would have a minimum of two liters in four bottles as well.
Water alone will kill you:
Not going to be technical but hard efforts lasting hours need you to drink a lot of water but you need to add in salts or your brain will swell and burst (literally in the worst case scenario). Drinking any sports drink you like that comes as a power (you can easily make your own). Mix it half or a third strength but never full strength. Keep one bottle sizes in separate small plastic bags and dump one in and add water are you are all set without thinking. This is not your only source of salts and you want to avoid slow egress from your stomach which happens with full strength. Get trained to drink hot water and hot sports drinks in case you need to move mid-Summer. Sure cold drinks work better in being absorbed and cooling you but will you have an ice bucket with you in SHTF? Salt tablets and capsules are meant to work great but for me they did nothing and they sure cost a ton. Again, get out of the house and train for the event using what you would use in the event. Have multiple varieties of flavors here not just one or two. Variety gives you a focus and helps you focus on planning what flavor you want at the next rest stop. Sounds silly but really helps to get you through events after being mobile for eight-hour or more.
I have used very light beer in races and it works very well after 4 hours in getting your mind back into the thing. Basically the liver has little resistance to the alcohol after prolonged exercise so you get smashed in a more controlled way but it is not a great idea. I use it as a last-ditch method to finish and it worked all 5 times.
Please use and carry sports gels and bars. Eat every hour at the beginning at least 500 Cal. Up this later on. This sounds a lot but works out to one gel packet every 15 minutes. Again resupply is going to be useful. Have different flavors and different makes. Use hard and soft bars. Variety is vital here. Crush up chips into small bags and pour into your mouth before a water break. You are burning massive calories here even if just walking hard. Running out of energy to fuel yourself is painful and a horrible thing so avoid it.
Trail mix is dreadful on the trail. Choking hazard and very dry. Same with nuts. Big chewy bites is the way to go. You are likely different from me so train and use what works for yourself. I am fine with that!
Mentally it will not be long before you are focused on what you will eat at the next rest stop. It gets to be a main motivator or a main failing as the cravings hit. You have done this before and know what you want, when you want it, and are actually carrying it. Dates work great for me but if I use them every snack I get very fed up of them very fast.
Ultramarathoing tips for Sanitation:
Pee in the middle of the trail. Do not waste effort going off trail to pee behind a tree. Look at your pee and up the fluids if too yellow and decrease them if too clear. However after multiple hours clear may mean you are also in a critical salt shortage but you have been taking salts in from the beginning right?
Carry a small pack of Kleenex. Hop slightly off or next to the trail. Scoop a small holes and vacate your bowels. Do it quickly as on trails the flies come real fast. Wipe, wipe, cover reapply Vaseline to your nether regions. If weight allows a good baby wipe is a thing of sublime beauty in these situations.
My first outdoor bowel movement was a classic in how not to do it. I tried for 10 miles to hang on to it to get to an aid station. It was very painful. Your bowels are partially shut down and go as soon as you need to.
Getting there without effort:
Use a car. Otherwise use these tips to make the crushing pain a bit less.
Roads have camber as do trails. This means hard top roads generally are higher in the middle than at the sides while trails generally are lower in the middle than the sides. If you are walking the side of the road or trail move over every 15 to 30 minutes to the other side and do this from the start and keep on doing it. It sounds insane but the extra half-inch your outside leg has to move compared to the inside leg will cause all sorts of problems if you keep doing it for hours. Ideally walk down the flat middle or the flat outside of all trails and roads. Security issues might make this a bad move so plan it out in advance.
Most trails and roads curve a lot except in Florida! Seriously cut all corners from the beginning if safe to do so. Cut them very gently and about 50-100 yards out from the turn. Over miles this is cutting down the distance you have to walk or run by a decent amount.
Jog/Walk on the flats and the down hills. Walk gently uphill taking extra rests. Focus on the next visible objective not how many miles you need to go. The event is over if you do not make the next tree and if you keep thinking “I’ve got 40 miles of this to go!” you are literally talking yourself into failure.
Pace is a key issue. As I said go slower than you can right from the beginning. Every 5 to 10 minutes alter your pace a bit. Either walk a bit slower or a bit faster. Swing your arms more or less. Do this for a minute and then relax back into your natural pace and rhythm. This pushes back the time your muscles fail due to repetitive strain. If you are in good shape jog a little of safe down hills but not too much as that will cause muscle strain. Put your main faster intervals in on flat terrain (if you have any. If not then whatever passes for “flat”).
Night Owls are a hoot:
If you plan at doing this at night practice it. The world looks very differently at night especially if the grid is down. A decent head lamp is what most people use but I always used a hand flash light. I found I could sweep the trail much easier with the light source in my hand while going forward. Have at least two flashlights with spare easily obtainable if the one in use just switches off.
Most people pushing for 24 hours or more crash at 0300 and revive after sun up. Plan on that. If the terrain is very hard sleep through the hardest hours. But we are all unique and I find that time I am relaxed, awake, and very functional. When the sun comes up I crash badly. I have worked night shifts for decades but the dawn hitting me and myself falling asleep as I walked was unexpected.
Women tend to be better at long distance than men and lighter men better than heavier men. Take this into account if you are in a group. The slower member is at the front or next to the front and never 200 yards behind. They go faster at the front. If the group splits up for any reason the explorers move while the rest stay put spread out along the probable route of return for the explorers but in visual range of each other. If both groups continue to move but at differing paces expect finding each other again to be impossible. I would never recommend splitting up. I have done it in races when our lead pack gets lost (this happens a lot in ultra-marathons!) but it burns time and is risky.
Look after each other. If you are the leader and no one is checking on your mental and physical state you are doing a bad job. Everyone has a buddy and everyone looks after everyone else. People will crash mentally so those who are okay need to be able and willing to take the lead and push the nearly dead.
Honestly trails are tough and some people are much netter at reading terrain and maps than others are. Use the good navigators and trust them. One rule is use a paper map and check it at each and every fork in your road no matter how obvious the route seems to be. At night this is a practiced skill so do not move at night unless you have been on the terrain before and have great navigational skills. I have seen runners take the wrong route and literally end up twenty miles off course before they realized it.
Post event issues:
Every muscle will ache for days unless you are fit. The harder you push yourself in terms of early pace the worse this will be. This will get better but to get it gone faster try these tips
- Keep the pace slow until the hall way mark
- Do not run all out ever even for short distances
- Avoid smashing down hills at speed. It sure feels great and I can do it but most people cannot
- The next day go for a two-hour walk. Seriously this helps
Often after arrival lying in bed or on the floor of a shower is all you can do. Get up, get dry, change those clothes, and get fatty high calorie hot foods into yourself. You will actually not feel hungry at all but once you start eating you won’t stop. Beer is also very helpful afterwards especially heavy stouts.
I hope this helps with your bug out or return home plans. I would love to see tips from serious cyclists, trail bikers, and triathletes illustrating those secret parts of their sports that preppers could use when hauling ourselves long distances. The main rule I would say is each of us is unique and what worked for me may very well mot work at all for you. Practice makes perfect J