Ultra-events such as triathlons, running across the desert or rowing the length of a river have become common place in the sporting calendar.

Active people are looking for ever increasing challenges and those that were not particularly active in the first place use them as motivation to get fit, lose weight and raise money for charity.

Such events are major challenges and the preparation required will have an impact on many if not all elements of the participant’s life. The better the preparation, the better the performance and the lower the risk of injury.

The most obvious element is being physically fit enough to meet the challenge. However, fitness is a multifaceted characteristic. Cardiovascular, aerobic fitness is probably the most obvious component for ultra-events but to be comprehensive one must address anaerobic fitness, strength, power, flexibility and range of movement. Some of these elements may be more or less important depending on the event but all should be part of a training programme.

Any event will require a certain level of skill or technique. This could be the athlete’s running gait or the sequence of movements required to transition from one discipline to the next in a triathlon. The higher the quality of movement, the more efficiently the athlete will complete the task resulting in improved performance. As has been discussed in the blog post Motor Control of Movement Dysfunction, moving well also protects against injury.

If the athlete is training more than normal for an ultra-event then clearly more calories will be required. It is important that the right amount is consumed to prevent putting on weight or to prevent a lack of energy. It is also important that the extra calories are the right type and are consumed at the right time such as before, during and after long training sessions. However, extra calories are not the only nutritional requirement. Protein and fat are important components of an athletic diet required for maintenance of body structures and their function. The most important element of diet other than enough calories are micro nutrients found in all foods but mostly in fruit and vegetables. These nutrients are vital for the body to function efficiently.

It is obvious that the athlete will need to replenish water lost through sweat when training but what many people won’t consider is the water lost through increased breathing via the lungs. These water losses are increased when the temperature is higher. This along with human thirst sensation being less sensitive than other mammals means a lot of athletes underestimate how much water is required to re-hydrate. During long training sessions, the athlete should re-hydrate whilst exercising. Of course, re-hydration should continue after training. It is very hard to overdose on water but it is possible. A rule of thumb is 500 ml of water per hour exercised. A good way to check how hydrated one is, is by the colour of urine passed. It should be clear, like gin, if one is well hydrated.

When preparing for an ultra-event the obvious focus is on training but the importance of rest and sleep should not be underestimated. When preparing for an ultra-event the athlete may be training twice a day. Rest in the short term is required for the body to re-charge. Periodic longer rests or relative rest should be built into long training programmes to allow the body to change and to prevent certain body structures from moving from a state of anabolism (building up) to a state of catabolism (breaking down). For example tendons can become pathological if the same stresses and strains are placed on them over and over again for long periods of time. And of course rest in the form of sleep is vital for life. It allows mental and physical recovery and processing. Athletes who increase their training load will probably require more sleep and spend more time in non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

The athlete who is undergoing an increased training load and who is having to attend to all the other factors that relate to preparation for an ultra-event will need to re-organise many elements of their life. Scheduling of training around all other activities of daily living will be required. More than one training session a day might be part of the schedule. Time will be required to attend to food acquisition and preparation. Other regular activities will almost certainly need to take a back seat during the preparation. The minutiae of life as well as of the training schedule should be attended to to make marginal gains in performance.

Each ultra-event has its own characteristics such as location, altitude and likely weather and equipment required. Travel to/from the event should be organised appropriately to allow the athlete to prepare effectively prior to performing. The training programme should factor in training in the heat/cold/wet/on uneven ground/at altitude etc. so that the athlete is adapted to the environment. Any equipment used should be specific and of good enough quality. Skimping on equipment could lead to problems during the event, which after a long lead in period would be disastrous.

The mind needs to be fit and prepared as well as the body. To maintain concentration and focus over a long period of preparation and when completing the challenge is not an easy task. There are techniques that can be utilised to enable the athlete to stay on track and not just finish the event but attain their pre-planned goal.

Super Fit can assist in planning all the above in detail in conjunction with you. Contact Simon for more details and booking an appointment.