Things I have learnt: Top ultrarunner Sarah Sawyer shares her tips on how to perform in a 24-hour race

We’re delighted to have top ultrarunner Sarah Sawyer join us for the second in our ‘Things I have learnt’ series. Winner of the recent Crawley 24-hour race, Sarah not only excels at track races but she has also won ultramarathons including ‘Racing the Planet 250km Patagonia’ and ‘Racing the Planet 250km Ecuador’. And if that’s not enough, she’s also achieved podium finishes in the ‘Atacama Crossing’, ‘Thames Path 100’ and ‘Wendover Woods 50’ races.

So we think she’s pretty well qualified to share some top tips on how to optimise your performance during these gruelling track races. Over to you Sarah…

Sarah Sawyer_w Longhaul

1. Practice Makes Perfect
As with all races, specificity of training is key. This doesn’t mean you have to do lots of long runs around a track, although I did, as I love zoning out and running laps! But what you do need is lots of long, slow runs on the flat, at your 24-hour pace. And be aware that GPS watches tend to be inaccurate on a track. So make sure you’ve had plenty of practice at your 24-hour pace so you don’t have to rely on your watch on race day. This way you’ll intuitively know what your pace should feel like.

2. The Two Ps - Pacing and Patience
24-hour races are a game of pacing and patience. In one race, I was in 23rd place after the first hour. As the race progressed, I slowly moved up the leaderboard, while other people who had gone off too fast blew up, slowed down and even dropped out. After eight hours I was first female and had moved into the top 10, and after 16 hours I had moved up to second overall. The lesson here is to be patient, stick to your pace plan and ignore what’s going on around you.

3. Break the Race Down
In a point-to-point ultra you might break the race down by aid station to aid station. Similarly, in a 24-hour race, don’t think of it as running a full 24 hours. I broke the race down by hour (where I walked a lap of the track and took on food), and also by four hours (when we changed direction). And seriously, don’t underestimate how amazing it will feel to change direction. Every four hours felt like a brand new race re-starting!

4. The Right Fuels Are Key to Your Calorie Intake
In the past, I’ve had what I thought was a well thought out nutrition plan which should have given me about 200-250 calories per hour. But it turned out that I struggled to chew solid food after about 6 hours in. And if I hadn’t consumed enough calories I would suffer from an inevitable lack of energy in the later stages of the race.
However since I’ve started using Longhaul, I know I am getting 200 calories of proper blended food per pouch. For 18 hours, I rely on a combination of Longhaul food and electrolyte drinks, which gave me a slow and steady release of energy. This means I no longer suffer from sickness or drops in energy levels.

5.Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Whilst it’s possible to do a 24-hour race without a crew, a good crew does all the thinking for you. My wonderful husband makes my drinks; passes me my food; helps me change my clothes after it rains; does the maths to calculate what pace I need to maintain my target in the final few hours, and so much more! On reflection, I think I have the easy task of running around a track for 24 hours, while he has the far harder task of making sure everything works smoothly for me during that time!

You can follow Sarah’s adventures via Twitter: @SazzleRuns





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