Run Your First Ultra: Trail Running Tips

Ultra Trail Runner Janne recently competed at the IAU World Trail Championships in Portugal, covering 85km and 5000D+


I still can’t really believe it. I managed to get myself selected for team NL for the 2016 Trail World Championships!!

ultra trail running

I got injured 3 weeks before the selection race took place, so (trying to look at it from the bright side) I had a very long tapering period.. This wasn’t ideal, but yet I managed to finish this race as the first Dutch lady. This meant I was going to represent my country in Portugal! I hadn’t quite thought about what this would really mean, but one thing was for sure: it was time for a bit of training.

I decided it was probably time to stop ‘just doing something’ (my own training schedule). Even though my ‘just doing something’ has lead to several good results, I knew there were probably improvements to be made if a professional would give me some tips. And that’s how I ended up having a phone call with Shaun.

Shaun analysed my running technique and gave me very good and useful tips. He also put me on a training regime that was much different from my ‘just doing something’. It involved much shorter training sessions and more interval training. It got to the point where I got a bit nervous, because until now my ‘just doing something’ had proven to work. I also wasn’t training for ‘just a’ run, but I was training for ‘the’ run. But Shaun assured me that there is a philosophy behind his schedules, and I knew I needed to trust him. Which is what I did.

A week before the race

A week before the race things started to become real. I felt strong, and at the same time nerves started to kick in. I didn’t quite know what to expect or where I would end up in comparison to other competitors. My aim was to finish, to learn lots, to enjoy, and to finish not too far away from the other Dutch women.

The atmosphere in Portugal was very good and relaxed. I discovered that the other athletes and support crew of team NL are all great company to hang out with. My parents and boyfriend were also there to support me, and it was great to spend some time with them in the Portuguese sun.

Race day

I woke up half an hour before the alarm clock, but that was ok. I quickly got into my race gear, and then I tried to eat as much breakfast as possible at 3am in the morning. The busses left late, and the journey to the start was much longer than I expected. We arrived there only 10 minutes before the start (5am), so we had to quickly line up. Before we knew it we were on the go. It was still dark, and I love running in this train of torches. It took a while before I managed to find my right pace; maybe because the start was so sudden that I hadn’t quite had the time to focus on ‘oh, we’re actually going to run soon’. I was already wearing my cap, which was a bit of a mistake, because my light was shining up instead of down. This made the first decent difficult, because I couldn’t see properly. I was happy when it finally started to get light. This is also my favourite part of the race. It is sooo beautiful to see the contours of the hills, whilst the sky is getting lighter and brighter. I loved it.

I was soon running with an Austrian and a Canadian girl. It felt like we were having a great day with friends out in the mountains. We chatted quite a bit, and I enjoyed their company. The Canadian girl had to let us go on the decent before the first aid station, but the Austrian girl Verena and I stayed together for the rest of the race. We discovered we had exactly the same pace going both uphill and downhill, and mentally it helped a lot to have someone running next to me, even though we didn’t say much to each other. I ran in front of her for most of the race, but when I suffered she took charge and would run in front of me for a while. I think Verena and I took out the best of each other.

We were both determined to finish, but for some reason we didn’t really feel the ‘race spirit’. I hadn’t managed to run another longer distance over the summer because of long holidays and a big adventure race. I didn’t quite know my ‘new’ stronger body yet, and I didn’t want to blow my body up so that I wouldn’t finish. Verena and I both wanted to finish at around 13 hours, but halfway through we discovered we were probably not going to make that, which unfortunately didn’t encourage us to run faster.

From the other hand, I don’t think there’s a race I’ve enjoyed more than this one. It was just beautiful, great and brilliant. The course was super well marked, super beautiful (sometimes there wasn’t a path and we had to just go straight up a mountain), and sometimes it was much more technical than I’d expected. I remember thinking whilst running there that there wasn’t anything in the world I would rather do. I simply love running. A lot.

I was mentally suffering a bit at about 5k before the finish, because we discovered there was more climbing to do than indicated on the race profile. Verena helped me push through, and together we finally finished.

I was so proud to be finishing a world championship. I had enjoyed it so much. I had made new friends, seen a new a beautiful piece of the world and experienced the great vibes of this race. My parents and boyfriend were there to support me, which probably made me enjoy it even more.

After race thoughts

Janne Geurts Ultra Runner

I guess there are not many runners who take the World Championships as a race to experiment with their running, but for me that’s just the way it was. My goals were to finish, to enjoy and to learn lots. I also wanted to finish not too far away from the other Dutch women. I managed to achieve all of that. I’ve learned that I could probably have pushed myself a bit more if I’d run less conservative. I’ve learned I could have taken much less water and food. I’ve learned things about the logistics of such a race and how the Dutch support crew works (thanks!). I’ve learned that my trust in Shaun’s training regime did pay off (also big thanks to Shaun!). I’ve probably learned lots of things I can’t even express in words. I think most importantly, I’ve learned, once again, how much I love running. I see this as a start, and I’m really curious where this journey will take me. Shaun and I are laying out a plan for the next season, and I can’t wait for it to start.