Ultrarunning: Tips for Running a 24-Hour Race

August 7, 2012

This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “Tips for Running a 24 Hour Race”, please leave it below in the comments section…

A 24-hour race is a type of ultramarathon. Instead of a set distance, there is a set time. The ultrarunner’s goal in such an event is to see how far he or she can run within 24 hours. Usually the course is a loop that goes for a mile or two. It’s also not uncommon to hold such races on a good old fashioned 400 meter track. The specific aim is different but the general objective is essentially the same. Thus much of the tactics used in a 50 or 100 miler are still applicable.

Setting your distance goal

In a typical ultra where the distance is set, your intention is probably to make a new personal record (PR). You want to know how much faster you can complete 50 miles or 100 kilometers for example and therefore measure any improvements in performance. In a 24 hour event on the other hand, you want to establish a target distance.

It’s really up to you on how far you want to go. Is a hundred fifty miles doable? Would you be satisfied with such a goal? You apparently have to base the feasibility on what you accomplished during your training.

Setting your pace

This aspect of your running is just as critical as in a set distance ultramarathon. In fact this is likely going to be your main pre-race planning preoccupation. Some decide to go out strong in the beginning and shift to lower gear as the day winds down while others use the opposite approach and attempt a strong finish. Then there are those who plan to maintain a steady pace all through 24 hours. Ultrarunners who move fast on the course usually spend longer rest periods off it. Those who go relatively slow and steady almost never leave the course except for short breaks.

It can be helpful to break down the day into more digestible morsels and set your run/walk strategy accordingly. You can for example take it 30 minutes at a time and set a 25-minute run to 5-minute walk ratio. Others cut it up even smaller and run for only 5-minutes followed by a minute of walking.

24-hour races are more of an intervals game. This type of training run should at least have been part of your pre-race regimen if not one of the greater focus. A timer with alarms set according to your planned pacing is going to help a lot.

Preparing your provisions

Aside from a good watch, you’re obviously going to need lots of fuel and extra gear. If you’ve already run a set-distance ultra then you know how important replenishing lost calories and fluids are to a successful performance. Plan for how many times you’re going to change shoes and socks and other necessary clothing such as a raincoat for when the weather turns inclement. Bring along first aid medication and tools and treat your blisters and chafing before they start becoming a problem. 24-hour events allow for crew and aid stations which are usually located at the starting point of the loop.

Take especial note of how you plan to stay up and running when the sun sets. When it’s the graveyard shift, coffee is going to be your best friend.

Preparing your mind

You’ve probably heard how some ultrarunners get more enjoyment from set distance events that run through a trail. Seeing varied landscapes can certainly take your mind off the numerous aches. A 24-hour race with its looping course however doesn’t offer such an advantage. After 6 or 12 hours you’ve probably memorized every detail in the surrounding area.

This is one of the reasons why it’s often recommended to divide the day into smaller intervals. Thinking about how many hours are left can just discourage you. 30 or 10 minute distance goals on the other hand are so much more manageable sanity-wise.


Do you have questions about 24-hour races, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.

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