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My first multi day ultra - how do I pick?

  • Africa? Asia? South America?

  • Desert? Mountains? Jungle?

  • 3/4/5/6 days?

  • Supported? Unsupported? What even IS that?

  • Will I DNF (not finish)?

How do I pick?

Embarking on your first multi day event is a big deal. You are far from home, have invested quite a bit of money and effort, and really want to have a great time. How can you do your best to ensure success?

Well a bit of research can really help. Here are the top things I recommend you look at when choosing your first event.

1. Weather. Look up the weather for the location at that time of year. Will it be hot and steamy; hot and dry: cold and wet; cool and dry? How does that compare with the weather in your home town that month? Are you a person that is very affected by weather? When you take on a multiday event you will be exposed to that weather for more than just a few hours. You will race in it, cook meals in it, sleep in it, and do it all again the next day. My recommendation is you pick an event with weather you KNOW you can manage, to give yourself the best possible chance of success.

2. Elevation. Every event publishes the elevation (the up and down) of each stage. Take a look at the profile to see how steep the course will be. If you are a mountain goat, and used to steep trails, then this is less important. But if you live in a town at sea level and do most of your training on flat ground, I suggest you look for a course with moderate elevation for your first outing. Same, same with altitude. I have several friends who are very fit but were absolutely floored by the altitude at an event, forcing them to withdraw. Try and match your home town altitude or lower; alternatively plan to arrive early and acclimatise. High altitude is not suited to flying in from work to the start line!

3. Cut off time. The cut off is the time allowed to complete the stage. You need to make a realistic assessment of whether you can achieve it. In calculating your likely time for a stage, look at the elevation (are there steep climbs?) and terrain (especially sand). I recommend choosing an event where you know you would finish at least an hour ahead of the cutoff. This hour buffer gives you assurance that you can make it on day 3 and beyond, when you are fatigued; as well as if you sustain an unexpected injury, like blisters/joints/tendons.

4. Supported vs unsupported. There are basically two kinds of multiday events: unsupported - which means you carry all your own gear except for the tent and water resupply; and supported - which usually means a bag with your overnight gear and food resupply is transported from camp to camp. If you are going to choose an unsupported event, then you need to train with and judge your pace (for assessing the cutoff) based on carrying approximately 10kgs. If you are really unsure and want the best chance of success at your first event, choose a supported event.

5. Read the fine print. Like any time you are making a major purchase, always read the fine print. Look for reviews from past participants, especially around safety, first aid, water provision and the attitude of the crew and volunteers. Check out the withdrawal and refund policy, just in case you can't make it. Can you transfer to the following year?

Finally - Follow Your Passion. No matter how much you prepare, I can guarantee that at some point that multi day event is going to test you. It may be an injury, the weather, fatigue or self doubt - but you are going to have to work through it. Therefore my advice: pick the location that you are passionate about. The one where at your lowest point, you can look around at the surroundings and say: Wow! I am so lucky to be here in this place. It really does make a difference!

Check out some of the options on the events page, and drop me a line if you have some other top tips to share. Happy running and hiking!!

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