Ultrarunning - When it all goes ‘a bit Pete Tong’

Dogtag Blogger Audrey McIntosh checks in with some Ultrarunning tips when things go a bit wrong! 


Some description

We know the saying: ‘fail to plan and plan to fail’ and this is particularly true for the ultra-runner and adventure racer. Somewhat ironically, you also need to plan for when things do not go to plan. Here are a few a few tips.

Think on your feet

If it starts to go wrong don’t stick with plan A, think on your feet and create plan B, plan C: whatever it takes. Be prepared to and expect to have to deviate from the plan. Just as they told me about giving birth: have a plan but don’t expect it to go to plan on the day. (They were right: twice).

The chances of you, the weather and the underfoot conditions all being tiptop on the day are quite slim. Ditch the anger and frustration. It’s a waste of energy.


Changing plans means changing your expectations. Re-set the goals to get as positive an outcome as you can. A finish is still an achievement. Remember it is better to exceed expectation than to fall short. You can still be ambitious. It is the targets and goals that you set that keep you motivated and drive you. Just be realistic and base them on what you can achieve with your training, fitness and the environment factored in.

Fight or Flight

Don’t run around flapping like Jonesy (in Dad’s Army) shouting ‘Don’t’ panic! Don’t panic!’ all the while panicking. Things often seem worse than they are when exhausted and hungry. Perspective can be lost and minor setbacks appear to be catastrophes. A couple of times when mild disorientation I’ve had a near full-on panic attack. This is not helpful. It is the very time you need to stay calm. Easier said than done but; pause, breath, take a moment, assess the situation logically and come up with a plan.

The I have no idea where I am moment

We’ve all done it at some point: gone off course. If the route is marked, and you haven’t seen a marker or another runner for a while re-trace your steps back to the last marker you remember.  When a couple of us went off route and lost sight of the support vehicle in Namibia we decided to head towards a line of telegraph wires in the distance which we knew would be next to a road. We found the route before reaching the road. Always carry the route map and a compass and know how to use them; they’re useless if you don’t, or have the GPX file. Carrying a mobile phone is often mandatory: you can call the race HQ or use a mapping app (but do not rely on this).

The vomit Fest.

For no apparent reason you don’t want to or can’t eat or worse still you can’t keep anything down (or in). Disaster. You can’t run an ultra on empty. What to do? It’s always good to throw in some extra alternative provisions that might tempt you. Some people find that coke can reduce nausea, ginger is another good rescue remedy and sometimes just taking a bit of a timeout and resting for a while will get you eating again. It’s worth checking out the ‘leftovers’ table too: that tasty morsel that you never thought of might just be there to save the day. 

I can’t stand up for falling down

Ouch! You’ve taken a tumble and hurt yourself. What do you do? Always carry a small first aid kit and a foil blanket, and always have some food with you. Your fellow runners will stop to help: that is the ultra-runners code: look after your running family at all times. Assess the damage and patch yourself up. Try to get to the next checkpoint where there may be first aid. You will be a bit wobbly as you set out, so walk for a while and then ease back into a run if you can. Worst case, wrap yourself up in your blanket and call for help.

I’m done! I need to quit

No one wants to be a DNF (Did Not Finish). Mentally and emotionally it can feel worse than the cause of the DNF. This is when even plan Z fails: you are hurt, injured, too tired, so off the pace that it is just not worth continuing or just not in the right headspace. After my success in the Antarctic races, someone said to me; ‘There’s no DNF for Audrey McIntosh now’. That was just nonsense. Sometimes there is no choice. Sometimes it is the wisest and bravest decision to make. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and live to fight another day.

The Voices

The voices in your head never appear on a good day. They are never there offering encouragement and praise. They come to plant that seed of doubt when you are at a low ebb, encouraging you to throw the towel in. Should you ignore them or take heed? Sometimes the heart is willing but the body is weak. Sometimes it’s a case of getting on with the job. Often I have staggered into a checkpoint determined to stop, only to change my mind. A brief rest, some food some encouragement from your crew or the marshals can make the world of difference. Remember one thing though your crew and the marshals will be the voice of reason.

So, when it all goes ‘a bit Pete Tong’ there will be options. You just need figure out what they are and which is best for you.

Share This Post