Your First 100-Miler

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24 Hours of Adrenalin was a popular mountain bike race that consisted of riding a technical course all day and night until 24 hours had elapsed. I’ll never forget a biker grinding to a halt near the timing table in the middle of the night. He was splattered with mud and thoroughly beat from negotiating miles of rocky trail. He got off his bike, shook his head and said, “This ain’t bowlin’.”

Running your first 100-miler is going to put you in a similar frame of mind. Compared to shorter ultras you may have completed, the 100-mile race is a strange and formidable beast and nothing like bowling. It’ll be harder than anything you’ve done before, so here are some ways to prepare and ensure your first hundo is a success.

Logistics for a 100-miler can be a nightmare. Everyone in your party – crew, pacers, parents – have to travel, find a place to stay, understand your plan and the event, and be ready for the C.R.E.W. effect (crabby runner, endless waiting). The better your advanced planning, the better the outcome. Create a race plan, which includes an estimated guess of where you’ll be on the course and when your crew can expect you. Include a list of what you’ll need such as sunblock, skin lubricant, fuel, clothing, lights and shoes. Incidentally, put all your critical gear in drop bags, as it’ll be delivered to designated aid stations ahead of time. Crews have a way of not appearing when they’re needed, and you don’t want them to be carrying your essentials.

Study the race course and then focus your training on similar terrain. Better yet, many races offer organized training runs on the actual course which is invaluable experience. Also, don’t shy away from inclement weather. Race day might be perfect with mild temperatures, but all too often it’s the opposite. Get used to being out in the elements beforehand so that on race day, bad conditions are less likely to become show-stoppers.

If you haven’t spent any time running in the dark, get out there and give it a try. Night running is surprisingly different from running during the day. Familiar places will look totally different. Even the best lights jump around and create weird effects, which is your main source of navigation on the trail. You’re probably going to be tired, cold and uncomfortable, and your eyes will play tricks on you. It’ll be spooky, especially if you’re all alone, which is the likely scenario in a race.

To prepare for the darkness, pick a night and follow your usual evening routine. When bedtime comes, get your gear and head out the door for a 10-mile night run. Get thoroughly used to your lights by adjusting the beam and changing the batteries. If your race is between late fall and early spring, you could spend almost half of it in the dark. By practicing your ability to push through unpleasant things, you’ll improve your training because in the last half of your 100-mile race everything is going to be unpleasant.

This brings me to my final point. A 100-mile race is going to require a lot more mental toughness than a shorter race. As you encounter the inevitable pain and fatigue, the key is to think positive. Pay attention during your training to those moments when you feel really pushed to your limit and your mind starts registering self-doubt. Practice replacing those thoughts with a positive mantra or a calming routine. Cultivate a mindful attitude where you focus on the present, accept the pain as just part of the experience and then move to other sensations. Regard the pain as a natural part of pushing hard and doing your best. You can’t make the pain go away, but you can take the sting out of it.

So, yes, your first 100-miler will be full of challenges and mentally taxing, but it will also be remarkably rewarding. Moreover, you’ll become a member of an exclusive club with an unofficial motto that states, “If it were easy, anyone could do it.”

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About Author

Gary Dudney writes the “Running Wise” column. A native of Kansas, he followed his Polish wife to a job located in Monterey, California in 1982 and signed on as a Technology Project Manager at CTB/McGraw-Hill. Unbeknownst to him at the time, he had landed in the center of prime Northern California ultrarunning territory. Over two hundred ultras later, he still finds every race a fresh and unique experience, evident in the dozens of quirky race reports he’s submitted to UltraRunning over the years. He’s also published a raft of short stories in magazines such as Boys’ Life, Highlights for Children, Boys’ Quest, and several lit magazines. He's also the author of two running book The Tao of Running: Your Journey to Mindful and Passionate Running and The Mindful Runner: Finding Your Inner Focus available on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble online. Visit his website at: thetaoofrunning.com.

2 Comments

  1. I never ran with crew or pacer as it is not very common in Europe (even most ultra trail aid stations are on the basic side) so on one side it’s taking off the logistic stress of that organisation part but adds some more responsibilities to the runner in the preparation and completion fo the run. What would be your main advice in that case ?

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