The “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’.”
What do I Need to Know Before Running my First 100-Mile Ultra Marathon?
Running your first 100-mile ultra marathon 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.
Step 1: Make a Plan Before the Ultra Marathon Begins
Logistics for a 100-mile ultra marathon 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.
Step 2: Study the Ultra Course
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 an 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.
Step 3: Run and Train at Night
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.
Step 4: A Positive Attitude Helps You Power Through to an Ultra Marathon Finish
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 positively. 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-mile ultra marathon 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.”