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Productive Pace vs. Unproductive Pace: The Key to Success in Ultra Running, Trail Running, and FKTs

In a recent video, I addressed a question I have gotten from numerous of the athletes I coach—pacing during long efforts. These range from FKTs to ultramarathons and even just long days in the mountains or thru-hikes. This concept is vital for anyone aiming to keep a schedule, hit a time goal, or even get an FKT. Here, I summarize the key points and strategies around my philosophy of productive vs. unproductive pacing.

Understanding Productive vs. Unproductive Pace

Productive Pace is the speed at which you move efficiently towards your goal. It's a pace that allows you to cover your daily miles on a thru-hike, hit your ultra-running targets, or achieve your FKT. It's about moving steadily and efficiently, ensuring you are on track to meet your objectives without overexerting yourself on the trails, and being quick enough to make it.

Unproductive Pace, on the other hand, is when you move below the necessary speed. While you're still making progress, it's inefficient and can jeopardize your overall goal. Spending too much time at an unproductive pace means you'll have to compensate by moving faster later, which can lead to fatigue and burnout.

Fixing an Unproductive Pace

There are three primary areas to address when you find yourself moving at an unproductive pace. Sometimes you need to take care of all three, and sometimes just one reason is the culprit:

  1. Hydration

  • Ensure you're drinking enough water and replenishing electrolytes. Dehydration can quickly sap your energy and slow you down.

  • Plan hydration breaks, ensuring you drink regularly to maintain your energy levels.

  • If Hydration is the issue, make a one hour plan to up your liquid consumption and get your body back on track.

  1. Nutrition

  • Follow the 80/20 rule: 80% of your calories should come from efficient sources like gels, liquid calories, and anything else with high calories per ounce, while 20% should be foods with an emotional boost. Use the emotional boost foods to pull you out of the unproductive pace and get calories in simultaneously.

  • These enjoyable foods, such as a Snickers bar or Goldfish crackers, not only provide calories but also lift your spirits, helping to push you back into a productive pace.

  1. Rest and Recovery

  • Sometimes, you need to stop and recharge. I recommend setting a timer for a few minutes, taking off your pack, and lying down to rest. Let your body completely let got of thinking and moving and simply relax with a purpose.

  • This short break, which I call "corpse mode," allows your mind and body to relax and recharge. When you get back up, you'll be refreshed and ready to move at a productive pace again.

Key Takeaways

  • Hydrate Regularly: Keep water and electrolytes flowing to maintain your energy.

  • Balanced Nutrition: Use a mix of efficient calories and mood-boosting snacks to keep moving.

  • Strategic Rest: Use short, timed breaks to recharge and maintain a productive pace.


Maintaining a productive pace is crucial in ultra running, trail running, and setting FKTs. By addressing hydration, nutrition, and rest, you can turn unproductive moments into productive progress quickly. All this advice is grounded in experience on FKTs, thru hikes, and ultramarathons. Specifically having to take a total rest on the John Muir Trail mere 30 miles from the finish. But this rest is the reason I ended up getting the FKT.

If you are looking for coaching or more tips like these, reach out at

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