Running an ultramarathon is all about the prep, says athlete Emily Young

Most of us wouldn’t even contemplate running a marathon, let alone a 55-mile ultramarathon. For Emily Young, an experienced Ironman athlete already, it’s all about getting the preparation right. Her four tips for effective training are things we can all benefit from understanding, and who knows, maybe in time you’ll be able to tackle that big race too!

Always have a fitness goal

Each year I tend to pick one big race or challenge to structure my training and focus around… I love having something to work towards and motivate me.

Over the last few years I have competed in Ironman distance triathlons, with the ultimate goal to qualify for the World Championships – which I finally achieved at Ironman Taiwan 2018, competing at the WC in Hawaii in October 2019!

After finally achieving that goal, 2020 needed a completely new challenge, which is why I’m taking on my first ultra at the Hardmoors 55 event in March! The race takes competitors through the North York Moors and the Cleveland Hills and contains over 2000 metres of ascent in what will likely be wintry conditions.

As with all of my big events, I follow a structured plan which is dictated by my coach… this ensures I don’t get carried away and under or over train. My fitness levels are regularly tested to help me progress, as well as monitoring my fatigue, rest and recovery to ensure we’re always heading in the right direction!

Food as fuel

With endurance sports, it can often be tricky to fuel yourself enough to be able to perform and recover at the level you’re asking your body to do. I’ve worked really hard to train my stomach to handle food when running, as it’s a necessity when taking on so many miles!

When we exercise, we put our bodies under a lot of stress which has a direct effect on our immune system. Although I never follow any kind of diet, I’m always conscious to make sure that I’m getting a really varied one that’s packed with nutrients to make sure that I’m guarding my system as much as I can.

As athletes we also have a higher need for nutrients to help aid our recovery. If our gut isn’t working properly, affecting our digestion, it’s going to decrease the bioavailability and absorption of all the good stuff we’re eating. This brings me to my next key aspect of training…

The extras that make all the difference

As mentioned, long distance sports require a lot of food to fuel races and big training days. Although I’ve got a pretty epic appetite, my tummy tends to struggle after a big day of trying to achieve plenty of miles and calories at the same time.

I take a shot of Symprove every morning – it can help support a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut, which can easily be disrupted by the stress of training and high calories taken in on the move!

When we start a training session or a race, all our oxygen and blood is going towards our heart and muscles to support the exercise… away from our gut. That’s great for giving the strength to exercise, but it means that without the normal amount of oxygen and blood heading to our gut, it is unable to remove toxins efficiently. This causes inflammation and in turn weakens our poor immune system… so it really is essential to keep on top of gut health when training for big events!

Your mindset is key

Personally, I believe the key to success is having goals and a plan to achieve them. For example, if I don’t have a race booked in, or a pro-active plan to help me achieve it, I really struggle to get my head into training.

With that in mind, you need a pretty big ‘why’ as a reason to get you out of bed and put in some tough training days… the ‘why’ is what will get you out of the door when motivation is lagging!

Don’t think anything is too small or too big. If you want to achieve it, you can do it! I like to break daunting training sessions (or even races) up into small stages… don’t think about the 55 miles ahead, think about the first 10 miles and what you need to do to get there and so on.

Your head is going to give in before your legs do, and I always like to remember that when I feel tired and as though I can’t push any harder. Like your body, your mind is a muscle… you constantly need to work it and challenge it to improve.

We wish Emily all the best for her ultra in March!

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