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If / Then Strategies

Over the years I’ve listened to countless runners calling out all the things that could go awry on their ultra. What’s key is the binary language often used; “if things go well I’ll finish and if they don’t I won’t”. Although this is completely logical it is also a very unhelpful mindset for ultras where there are so many variables involved. 

The real problem is in the ‘meaning’ attached to the things going wrong, which is commonly absolute - ultimately that if something goes wrong it will consequently lead to a Did Not Finish (DNF). Which is not true.

There are three words ultra runners may want to have to hand - ‘DEAL WITH IT’. They say what they mean, deal with it, then go again and if you can’t deal with it (or cope with it) to keep moving, then and only then you DNF. Which I will add is not the end of the world, you learn and if the desire is still there try again on another event with the wisdom gained from your previous attempt - you’re learning.

With so many things that can go wrong we can easily lose clarity and feel a vague cloud of doom over our head, or to give it a name - anxiety or worry. A great way to reduce or even eliminate worry so you may actually enjoy the ultra you’ve worked so hard for (yes you are allowed to enjoy it!) is to find such clarity and address the issues one by one. 

If nothing can be done to fully remove the issue, then aim to mitigate the damage and then accept it as part of your race. Go to a 100 mile finish line and find me a runner that didn’t have to finish with an issue - you’ll struggle! I’ll add the caveat that sometimes perhaps it may be better to stop but that is a personal decision weighing up the issue.

Here are some common ‘If / Then’ examples:

Low Sugar

Take action immediately to have a sugary drink or take on some food containing carbs / sugar asap. Then monitor fuel intake more closely throughout the race. Keep going.


Assess the problem, mitigate damage. Could a change of footwear help if possible, perhaps walk for a few miles. Could using poles help, or taping. Decide on the severity of the problem as to whether you are willing to continue.


Take on electrolytes and fuel as best as possible. Potentially self medicate with imodium or similar. Keep going.


Deal with any hot spots / soreness upon first noticing - immediately. Potential options are air feet, applying tape or lubricant, and changing socks / shoes. Keep going.

Kit Issue

can it be replaced / fixed. Can I get a hold of something I need but don’t have (crew / aid stations). If not, accept it and manage without it. Keep going.

Inclement Weather

react fast to changing weather / poor conditions by wearing waterproofs / warm layers or cooling off if heat issues. Avoid getting wet, cold or too hot before reacting. Adapt pace if needed (windy/poor visibility/heat). Assess safety and own well being continually. Keep going if safe.


Retrace steps back to the last trail markings if possible. Use gps or a map to locate position. Relax and get back on route. Once on route avoid pushing hard to make up for lost time, let it go. Keep going.

I’d encourage you to write out a list to make it real to you. Print off our handy PDF form to create your own list.

Download PDF

Ronnie Staton

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