I can do this, I thought. Four months is plenty of time to train adequately for my first 100 mile ultra marathon…
When Planning Fails
I signed up for my first 100 mile ultra marathon riding the high of having just finished my first 50 mile race. Sixteen weeks was plenty of time to train for the race; I would capitalize on what I learned in training for the 50 and what I experienced on race day. This 100, the belt buckle and all of the emotions of completion, was mine.
Your Why?, and the inward appeal for something more needed to establish it, is the foundation for success in any great challenge. My Why?, was rooted in value and belief; consequently, I was eager to train and put my values and beliefs to the ultra marathon test.
I found, however, even with a value and belief system backing my Why?, that physical preparation mustn’t be neglected. Preparation is not a light term. I mean training. A lifestyle adjustment.
I finished my first 100 mile race in 29 hours 50 minutes and 43 seconds.
The final cutoff time was 30 hours. Above all, it was the greatest accomplishment of my life; it also contained some of the worst pain, mentally and physically, I had ever endured (read more about that: here). I did not have fun during my first 100; when you’re racing the clock for 30 miles in much pain for a goal that has already taken so much physically and mentally, enjoyment is not on the agenda.
But I finished. I accomplished what I set out to, and I earned the finisher’s belt buckle.
It was not because of my training.
I don’t blame poor training for poor performance. Instead, I blame poor discipline, poor awareness, and a little bit of ignorance to the task. A person controls each of these and each heavily contribute to training. Do not neglect discipline, awareness, and understanding of the task at hand for something as monumental as running 100 miles.
Disclaimer: Wicked Trail and the author do not advise following any of the training advice presented in this article. See a doctor before beginning any training regiment and especially before running an ultra marathon. Nothing about the physical training presented here is useful in training for an ultra marathon.
Want to know what kind of training will leave you crossing the finish line dead-last with some great stories and an indomitable will you didn’t know you had?
We’ll start 16 weeks before the 100 mile race, when I ran my first ultra marathon, the Umstead 50, in Raleigh, North Carolina.
My 16 Week Training Log for burning river 100
Week of 50-miler: 59.53 miles run (including 50 mile race)
I came out of my first ultra marathon healthy and relieved. Above all, the injury prevention measures were successful and, aside from a few blisters, I was in good shape. A few days of recovery and I started running. I’ve never been one to rush training, and this was no different. I did, however, quickly sign up for my first 100 mile ultra marathon. It would be 16 weeks later, on July 28, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Week 1: 5.01 miles run
This first week after the 50 I took it slow, stretched a lot, and found enjoyment in casual running. I knew this wouldn’t last as I strategized for my 100. Happy to be back on my feet, I set my sights on the 100.
2: 5.01 miles
3: 9.03 miles
4: 13.32 miles
5: 23.03 miles
6: 30.06 miles
I went out for an intense, short trail run Week 5 and felt a bit of hip strain after. It remained relatively sore, but not debilitating, until the end of Week 6, when the pain told me to stop and fix it; I’ve never been one to run through injuries in training. I took Week 7 totally off of running but intensified strength training and stretching. By Week 8 my hip was as good as new.
7: 0 miles
8: 11.06 miles
9: 40.04 miles
10: 47.05 miles
11: 25.03 miles
I’m new to trail and ultrarunning; I continue to learn and adapt my preparation, training, nutrition, and recovery. Sometimes your body responds in ways that you don’t anticipate. Week 11 I developed a sore Achilles. By the end of the week, it was painful. I’d had it worse before, but there’s something dreadful about having a throbbing, aching Achilles tendon 5 weeks before a 100 mile race. What can you do? Drop out? Run through it (don’t do that)? Rest until race day?
12: 0 miles
13: 10.02 miles
14: 6.04 miles
15: 3.02 miles
16: 5.02 miles
17: Burning River 100
These numbers are a bit terrifying in hindsight. Did I, in an anxious desire to peak near 70 miles, rush the rebuild that led to the Achilles heel issues?
Yes, as witnessed by my final six weeks.
My new strategy, established week 12, was to stretch and strengthen in preparation for the race and in compensation for the frightening lack of mileage. As a result of my Achilles pain, I knew I wouldn’t get in any real ‘training’ runs. I stretched for about 6 hours every week and built my foundation on single-leg exercises, lunges, and core exercises.
It worked. [well, kind of]
As a result of the intensified stretching and strengthening, I toed the starting line as healthy as I’d felt in weeks and confident in my supplemental training.
Following the race, also, I had no injuries.
During the race, however, the folly of my training showed itself. I was miserable from miles 70 onward. To clarify, I took over six hours to cover a technical 16 mile stretch during the night and was projected to miss the cutoff by a mind-numbing 7 minutes when I reached mile 92.
This is not a place you want to be nearly 30 hours into your first 100 mile ultra marathon.
In short, I wouldn’t ask the 2018 me how to train for an ultra marathon.
The only voice keeping me company was the one in my head. Sure, I had a pacer on the trail, but no one understood how distraught I was. As I recalled my training for this ultra marathon, I wondered if even starting the race was a good idea!
Don’t put yourself in this position. However, ultra marathon completion really is all in your head. Pain, fatigue, anxiety, and hopelessness all dissipate with decisions.
Decide in moments of What if? to carry on regardless of circumstances.
“What if my training wasn’t good enough?”
“Was I ready for this?”
“What if I can’t finish?”
“Should I even show up?”
Look again at the mileage leading up to my first 100.
Don’t imitate, don’t even refer to it for comparison, but know that possibilities are simply choices, disguised as challenges, that we have to make. Decide to finish the race, to move faster, to run when you don’t even want to walk.
Above all, decide to start.
I did. And, after that, I decided to finish. Injuries, weather, illness, fatigue, bodyweight, race, religion, location, wealth, support: flush circumstances down the toilet.
Visualize your goal. Adapt the strategy. Decide to finish.
I would have done much better with a Discomfort Mindset.