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Tuesday, July 16, 2024
HomeRunningMental Components in Multi-Day Ultramarathons – iRunFar

Mental Components in Multi-Day Ultramarathons – iRunFar

Mental Components in Multi-Day Ultramarathons – iRunFar

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by guest contributor Nickademus de la Rosa, a mental performance consultant with a master’s degree in Sports and Performance Psychology from the University of Western States. He’s also an accomplished endurance athlete, having placed second at Italy’s Tor des Géants in 2014 and winning the Barkley Marathons in 2013.]

If the psychological recreation makes up a large a part of completing a 100-mile tournament, what portion do mental components play into the more and more fashionable 200-plus-mile distance races? And extra curiously, what makes multi-day occasions psychologically distinct from their extra commonplace 100-mile opposite numbers?

Multi-day occasions, not like maximum 100-mile races that require no multiple night time of sleep deprivation, final for more than one days and nights. And in contrast to degree races, the clock by no means stops whether or not athletes are transferring, sound asleep, or resting. Some fashionable multi-day occasions come with the Moab 240 Mile, Tahoe 200 Mile, Tor des Géants, and L. a. Petite Trotte à Léon — repeatedly referred to as the PTL. Whilst degree races, such because the TransRockies Run, would possibly quilt identical distances as steady multi-day occasions, they’ve distinct day by day phases adopted by way of an opportunity to sleep and relaxation, making them an entire other recreation.

There are a number of mental facets that make those continuous multi-day occasions uniquely difficult. Many of those variations stand up from the truth that maximum 200 milers, and occasions like Giant Canine’s Yard Extremely or the Barkley Marathons, can’t be finished in one 24-hour duration, this means that athletes should be wakeful and centered for more than one days and nights. Of different demanding situations confronted by way of athletes making an attempt multi-day occasions, sleep deprivation, isolation, and tedium are the commonest and regularly felt at a lot a better level than in 100-mile occasions.

Ihor Verys - 2024 Barkley Marathons winner

Ihor Verys wins the 2024 Barkley Marathons on his first try in a time of 58 hours, 44 mins, and 59 seconds. Picture: Howie Stern

Sleep Deprivation

Regardless that now not by way of definition a facet of psychology, sleep deprivation and its affect at the mind and cognitive serve as constitute some of the largest variations between multi-day occasions and different ultramarathon codecs. Maximum human beings require between seven and 9 hours of sleep consistent with night time for optimum well being and functioning. In 2019, Corrine Malcolm wrote an in-depth piece on the significance of sleep in coaching, racing, and general efficiency. Then again, in an effort to both end the occasions ahead of cut-offs or care for a aggressive edge, athletes in those multi-day occasions will have to move days with out good enough sleep. Whilst a unmarried night time of sleep deprivation all through a 100-mile effort is something, a moment night time with out a sleep is a lot more tricky to handle.

Tolerance for sleep deprivation and particular person sleep wishes range immensely between athletes. Some, like Ihor Verys, winner of the 2024 Barkley Marathons, are able to operating for almost 60 hours directly without a sleep. Others, comparable to Jeff Browning, who positioned moment on the 2024 Cocodona 250 Mile and has received a number of 100-mile occasions, together with the 2018 Hardrock 100, have a extra built-in sleep plan for his or her occasions.

The primary affect of sleep deprivation at the mind arises from a disconnect between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala (1). The prefrontal cortex controls our talent to suppose rationally, make selections, care for motivation by way of remembering our “why,” and management our feelings. Once we are sleep-deprived, the amygdala takes over, and our decision-making, connection to our “why,” inner motivation, and emotional management all plummet (1).

Rachel Entrekin, this yr’s winner of the Cocodona 250 Mile, mentioned upon reflecting at the mental toll sleep deprivation on motivation, “I recall getting midway up Mount Elden towards the top of the race and considering, ‘I’m performed.’”

Rachel Entrekin sits during 2024 Cocodona 250

Rachel Entrekin struggling with sleep deprivation on her approach to profitable the 2024 Cocodona 250 Mile. Picture courtesy of Rachel Entrekin.

“One little mistaken resolution because of sleep deprivation will cascade into a large mistake, which, in flip, can price you the race,” says Verys. “Runners fail to remember their what and their why. A few of them even finally end up forgetting their names.”

Sleep deprivation can result in a lack of emotional resilience and would possibly erode one’s unique motivations for endeavor the development within the first position.


Tolerating lengthy sessions of time by myself, each bodily and emotionally, is a vital element of multi-day occasions. Support stations, workforce, and pacers — if even allowed — are regularly many extra miles or hours with the exception of extra standard-distance ultras. Some runners thrive on this time spent by myself, whilst others need to strategize in an effort to keep away from intense emotions of loneliness.

3-time Barkley Marathons finisher John Kelly mentioned, “I in reality benefit from the isolation as a rule, however that is the place it’s occasionally tricky for me to stay aggressive targets in thoughts.” He speculated on his talent to tolerate isolation, but in addition his combat with it and mentioned, “It’s one explanation why I feel I’ve performed neatly on supported quickest recognized occasions and a explanation why I would possibly lose any type of aggressive center of attention on loop 5 at Barkley [Marathons] the place my “festival” goes the wrong way.”

To battle probably the most loneliness all through those lengthy miles, some athletes wish to expand particular tactics to stay their center of attention at the purpose. Kevin Goldberg, who has finished a dozen 200-mile races, reports those acute bouts of loneliness. “I am getting lonely always in the market,” mentioned Goldberg. “A large number of those races are in very faraway puts. Happily, it’s 2024, and oftentimes, I do have mobile provider. If I do, I love to name folks and connect to family and friends I won’t have spoken with just lately.”

Kevin Goldberg on way to finishing tenth at 2024 Cocodona 250

Kevin Goldberg will regularly name up family and friends all through later hours of a multi-day effort to battle loneliness. Picture courtesy of Kevin Goldberg.


Boredom, distraction, a wandering thoughts — none of those are distinctive to multi-day occasions, and so they occur in to runners in ultras of just about any distance. Then again, the period of multi-day occasions, regularly lasting over 60 hours, regularly require a better degree of mental resilience and a extra powerful skillset to battle the larger degree of boredom that comes along side hours of motion. Most of the athletes interviewed for this newsletter didn’t essentially suppose a wandering thoughts was once a foul factor.

Galen Reynolds, who positioned moment on the 2023 Tor des Géants, a 205-mile race in Italy, mentioned of his wandering thoughts, “If it’s on a portion of the race that can require some center of attention, like operating down a mountain, I’m glad for the thoughts to get lost to anything else. This doesn’t affect my velocity.” Then again, Reynolds famous that occasionally a wandering thoughts can lead to a lower in his tempo, just because his center of attention isn’t there.

In a similar way, Browning said, “I let my thoughts waft and wander the place it is going to, so long as it’s sure. If I am going unfavorable, it’s time to refocus. Every now and then you wish to have sleep, occasionally you wish to have energy, and occasionally you simply wish to be tricky on your self and alter it. No excuses.”

Psychological Abilities Building for Multi-Day Occasions

There are a few other tactics that may be helpful for staying centered because the hours and miles upload up in a multi-day tournament. Training those tactics in low-stress, non-race scenarios can assist cause them to moment nature and more uncomplicated to make use of when wanted.

“Be Right here Now”

Presentness, mindfulness — we’ve all heard those phrases utilized in one context or any other, however the significance of those talents in multi-day races can’t be overstated. Athletes at those occasions will have to stay provide amidst an ever-ticking clock, declining cognitive serve as, mounting fatigue, sleep deprivation, out-of-control feelings, high-stakes festival, and apparently unending miles.

Regardless that tricky to imitate the precise instances of a multi-day tournament, the mindfulness “muscle” may also be advanced each day and in just about each second. When operating with athletes, a method I depend upon is the “suppose out loud” protocol (2). I counsel athletes to move on a run, and all through the process the exercise, file 3 30-second movies voicing no matter they’re considering out loud. Via practising being conscious about their ideas, athletes can higher perceive what goes thru their minds and whether or not it’s serving to or hindering their general efficiency.

Ihor Verys - 2023 Big Dog's Backyard Ultra

Ihor Verys (left) begins any other lap on the 2023 Giant Canine’s Yard Extremely. Picture courtesy of Ihor Verys.

Segmentation and Compartmentalization

Segmentation, the method of breaking down large result targets into smaller bite-sized items, is among the maximum cited and applied talents for buying thru multi-day occasions.

“[Segmentation] is much more vital in multi-days than in ‘commonplace’ duration ultras,” says Kelly. “Focal point at the subsequent checkpoint, the following hill, the following visual landmark. I additionally like to repeatedly divide [a race distance] in part, and each and every time I hit that midway level, fake it’s a brand new race and don’t consider what I’ve already performed. As I am getting extra drained, the ones halves get shorter.”

Jonathan van Geuns, who was once 8th on the 2024 Cocodona 250 Mile says, “Compartmentalization is a commonplace tactic that works neatly for me, and I love to take that a couple of dimensions additional by way of now not handiest dividing the race up in items and that specialize in the instant but in addition put in force new methods and making sections of the race other, like choosing up the tempo at extra runnable sections.” Van Geuns additional defined, “This implies you have got one thing to stay up for or one thing to mentally get ready for, and by way of doing so, keep within the second.”

Procedure Targets

As I trainer athletes getting ready for multi-day occasions, I’ve them define all in their result targets, after which we paintings in combination to wreck the ones down into actionable, controllable procedure targets that may be considering within the second. For instance, an athlete would possibly need to end the Cocodona 250 Mile in beneath 80 hours, which is an result purpose.

It will stay a purpose, however I will be able to additionally inspire the athlete to create procedure targets that maximize their possibilities of achieving their result purpose. Those procedure targets would possibly appear to be consuming 70 to 80 grams of carbohydrates consistent with hour, practising an energetic revolutionary muscle leisure each half-hour, or desirous about the race relating to operating help station to help station, versus begin to end.

John Kelly - 2017 Barkley Marathons 7

John Kelly and Gary Robbins beginning loop 3 of Barkley Marathons in 2017. Picture: Jessi Kelly

Overcoming Mental Demanding situations

There are an immense collection of mental components at play in multi-day occasions. When pushing the frame thru more than one days on finish, maximum athletes must undergo sleep deprivation, lack of motivation, boredom, and loneliness, amongst different components. Happily, there are variations, talents, and strategies that athletes can make use of to triumph over those mental demanding situations and reinforce their efficiency. Those talents come with segmentation, compartmentalization, staying provide, and growing procedure targets along with result targets.

Extremely skilled with staying centered for lengthy sessions of time, Reynolds explains that whilst each and every of those talents calls for other skills, all of them get started with “staying calm, remembering what I’m doing, and refocusing on achievable targets.”

Name for Feedback

  • Have you ever for my part used any of the above-mentioned mental talents on your coaching or racing?
  • What do you understand your mental energy at ultramarathons to be?


  1. Khan, M., & Al-Jahdali, H. (2023). The results of sleep deprivation on cognitive efficiency. King Abdullah World Scientific Analysis Middle, 28(2), 91–99.
  2. Ericsson KA, Simon HA. 1980. Verbal reviews as information. Psychol Rev. 87(3):215–251. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.87.3.215.



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