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How to plan your own Ultra


Posted by Jack Atkinson of KnowJack - doesn't do well indoors... under Ultrarunning on 8 June 2013 at 12:40 PM

I've been planning my own ultra run for a while now - the idea of my own personal race on a route that I've chosen and racing against no one but the little voice in my head just seems like it could be a truly epic experience.

My idea seemed simple - to run from my house in Devon to my parents house in Dorset along the coastal path, carrying all my own gear and wild camping every night. I had planned on completing the run a few weeks ago but I decided to delay the attempt until I have all the details fine tuned.

Planning such an epic trip has been far more of a task than I imagined so here are a few things to research before attempting your own ultra.


Seems like an obvious one but when off-road running the distance can end up being a lot further than you'd imagine due to the winding nature of trails.

Having driven between the start and finish many times I very foolishly assumed the distance would be wasn't! It turns out instead of 120miles the coastal route was so twisty it ended up as a whopping 250 miles.


I train on the coastal path year-round so I had a pretty good idea of what this was like but you need to be prepared and at least have a good idea of what terrain you'll be coming across.


  • Bag - This totally depends on your distance. For example I regularly run with a 12litre running pack but having to carry food, water, camping gear I'll be using a larger 30-35litre pack.

  • Shoes - What terrain are you running on, road, muddy trails, rocky terrain? Suitable shoes really will make a difference so be sure to get the right ones for the terrain.
  • Clothes - For multi day events I would recommend merino wool clothing as it's really good at keeping the smell at bay! Whatever you choose make sure it wicks moisture away as you're going to be on the go for a long time.
  • Sleeping Bag - This is where you want to go super lightweight! Sleeping bags are not generally small but there are some great ones there that will compress to a reasonable size. The smaller ones tend not to be so warm so be wary of this and make sure you get one that will keep you warm, the last thing you want on a multi-day trip is to get cold and have a bad nights sleep.
  • Sleeping Mat - This is a must! Without this you will get cold, it's as simple as that. The idea is to put a barrier between the cold ground and yourself and they really do make a difference.
  • Bivvy Bag/Tent - For me I like sleeping in a bivvy bag (a thin waterproof shell designed to fit over your sleeping bag), it seems like more of an adventure and it takes up considerably less space. I do however know people who have some great ultralight 1-2 person tents which will give you more space but at the cost of extra weight.


Food choice is a very personal thing and not something you want to be testing on the go. If you're planning on a single day ultra then keep your food similar to what you would have for a normal long run. For example I'm a big fan of peperammi, soreen, jelly babies and naked ape paleo snacks. 

For multi-day ultra's you want to look at getting as many high quality calories in as small a space as possible. For me I found military ration packs were ideal as they have everything you need, taste good and don't take up too much space. You can also get freeze dried food packs which are super light but expensive and don't taste as nice.


  • Tell someone where you're going and what time you expect to be back
  • Bring a mobile phone
  • Carry some spare food just in case!
  • I always run long distance with a small medical kit (bandages, space blanket etc.)
  • A headtorch is always useful and a neccessity on multi-day ultras


Know your route, bring a map and go explore somewhere awesome!

While I'm still yet to run my own ultra I am getting closer and the plans are finally coming together. The main thing I've learnt is that without all this planning I could have ended up in real trouble so I've taken my time and I'm making sure that everything is prepped for this epic adventure!

If you have any advice I would love to hear it or if you've already done your own ultra let us know how you got on.

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    This is great. Thanks for the time you took to lay this all out. I'm at the point of my running where I want to see if I can push myself to be an ultra runner, but have no clue how to proceed. This is great knowledge shared!


    Thanks @jamesg5! You should definitely give those riverside routes a go! Have you done any back to back runs? I think that's next on my to-do list before I attempt something like this.

    Alan L encouraged this.


    Thanks @jack - I'm at the crossroads of go for it or stick with what is working now. But I get bored really easy and need to be challenged constantly - so thanks for this. Inspiring!! and Congrats on finishing your first Ultra - you should be so proud!!! Enjoy the day~

    Jack A encouraged this.


    On packing I know you already put in a small medical kit, but experience has taught me to make some alterations to mine: make sure to bring a whistle and some duck tape! Duck tape is so versatile and helpful.


    @ltwolff - started taking duct tape with me recently actually, found lifesystems make mini rolls of it which are ideal for running/adventure racing! Great shout on the med kit too, should have mentioned that I always customise mine and put it in a waterproof bag, no point letting all that kit get wet! Have you done any multi day events Lucille?

    Lucille W encouraged this.


    @jack - I have done a 3 day 60km run in Lijiang, Yunnan (China). It is part of Action Asia Adventures. It is multi day, but no need for a tent. We ran from village to village. We stayed in villager's houses at night. It was crazy beautiful. I have a few friends who just ran the Gobi 250 (although this year it was cut short to 220 on account of weather - still amazing). I am not quite there yet. =) I just like to go exploring. Thanks for highlighting lifesystems. Did not know about them before. Btw - I like your photos. Have a good one!

    Jack A encouraged this.

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