How to Run 100 Miles.
Hint: It’s Easier Than You Think
“People don’t do that,” I thought. “Nobody can run 100 miles! How do you run 100 miles?”
When I first learned of ultra running, this was my initial reaction. Who what when where why and HOW do you run 100 miles?
After a bit of research, the wheels in my mind started turning. Could I run 100 miles? How does one prepare (not like this)?
Wait…do I really want to run 100 miles?
Apparently I did. Why? That’s a topic for another day… [click here to read about “WHY?”]
Let’s get back to the “How?”
On September 9, 2017, I signed up for my first ultra marathon, the Umstead 50 in Raleigh, North Carolina. That race was just about 6 months away. Less than 3 months after the Umstead 50, I would run my first 100 mile race, the Burning River 100.
On September 9, 2017, the farthest I had ever run was 10 miles.
I was mentally and physically preparing to run ten times farther than what I had done up to that point.
Through training for my first 100, I’ve determined there is one THING that separates those who run the race and achieve, and those who will always wonder if they have what it takes, or what it would’ve been like to run 100 miles.
That THING is ACTION.
It’s cliche. Overused. Obvious. Motivational Instagram accounts and podcasts pound it into our heads: “Just Act!”
They’re right. And this message applies to ultra marathon running, be it 100 miles or 50 kilometers, just like it does entrepreneurship, finances, and relationships.
So, how to run 100 miles? What kind of action does it take? What does it look like? Where do you start?
Step 1: Your “Why?”
You ended up on this page for a reason, so I won’t bore you with words like ‘purpose’ and ‘goals.’ If you need a reminder about why you should run 100 miles, click here. Don’t skip this step. Establish your “WHY?” As cool as those finish line pictures look and as much as your Instagram needs a few mountain sunrise pictures from a Wicked Trail, DNFs are not fun.
Actually, 100 mile races usually aren’t ‘fun.’
So have a good reason for doing it. And that link above is probably the only reason you’ll need.
[Read about how Charleston 100 champion Scott Waldrop uncovered his “WHY?” after beating alcoholism and tackling a few ultras without an understood purpose: click here]
Step 2: Just Sign Up
Yes, seriously. Just sign up. The perfect race is the one you’re looking at right now. Many people get hung up on finding the race that aligns best with their schedules, fitness, location, and everything in between.
The views, the scenery, the community, the environment, and any other attractive piece of a particular ultra marathon will be universal in your first race; you simply won’t find anything wrong with any of these things because it’s your first ultra marathon! The accomplishment will overshadow any “negative” aspect of the race.
Do yourself a favor and stop looking for the perfect 100 mile race.
Just sign up.
Step 3: Deal With Expectations
I wrote about expectations in my Burning River 100 race report. Expectations in training are bars we construct for ourselves, bars that we place over the windows of opportunity. We build these obstacles, these bars, out of our past experiences; you know what you’ve been able to do in previous training sessions, so ‘expect’ something similar. ‘Expect’ distance or speed or strength or endurance to be somewhat like yesterday, the day before, or last week.
Expectations are self-limiting thoughts; they give us a way out, a time to quit. “I expected to do this much, and I’ve done it.”
Imagine if we always went beyond our own expectations, or completely abandoned them.
Rather than ‘expecting’ and even planning to see a certain result, I offer two options.
Option number one is to acknowledge the expectation when it comes up and plan an ambush for it. You may not realize it, but at some point you will say “I could probably do…” or “Today let’s see if I can…”
When you hear these thoughts, speak these words, or write your plan down in your training journal, the ambush is set. You are prepared to kill. You are prepared to destroy. Now, think ahead to the time in your workout when the ‘expectation’ will be fulfilled. Is it after the eighth interval? The fifth set? The hundredth squat?
FIND THE MOMENT. Find the moment of expectation.
The ambush is set and you know when it will take place. When that moment comes, when you’ve met your initial expectation, attack it. Keep going. Go Farther. Push your mind beyond your perceived limits and crush the expectation. This attitude, this ambush on ‘expectation,’ instills a drive to Go Farther in other areas of your life; it is a revolution of thought.
Option number two is to let go of expectations for unfamiliar terrain and experience. Writing your first book? Starting a new business? Getting married? Trying to determine how to run 100 miles?
This is what I did for my first 100 mile ultra marathon.
Why? Why not evaluate possibilities and manipulate conditions to arrange a specific result?
Any task of great importance, in vast and unfamiliar territory, will provide much challenge and adventure and change. The opportunity to be present in your moment, whether its 100 pages into your new book, two years into a struggling new business, five years into a marriage, or at mile 90 of your first 100 mile race, will provide a plethora of information that can be taken and used elsewhere in life, information that can be used on your next book, your second business, a friend’s struggling marriage, or your next ultra marathon.
These could be your thoughts at mile 90: “Why didn’t I reach mile 80 as fast as expected?” or “Why are my feet in such bad shape?” or “I didn’t expect it to rain!”
Take a step back. You’ve never been here before. Why did you expect anything? Why are you not focused on the end, the actual goal, rather than reminiscing about expectations for something completely unknown and mysterious? Be present and focused on the goal, not the thoughts, hopes, and fears that plagued you before starting.
Mental fatigue is real; if you cannot plan to ambush and crush expectations, abandon them and learn. Experience and grow.
Step 4: Structure a Plan
We don’t currently have any training plans (other than how not to train), but a simple Google search will give you a plethora of great ideas to incorporate into training. If you’ve made it this far through this article, I’m assuming this is your first 100 mile ultra marathon, or just your first ultra marathon. I can offer some good guidelines in putting together a training plan.
Work backward; start with race day, and work backward to today. Figure out what your peak mileage ought to be (it depends on your current fitness and goal for race day; Google will help here) and take 10% off each week until this current week. Is the final number, this week’s mileage, a distance you can tackle? If you’re brand new to running, you don’t want to sign up for a 100 mile ultra marathon that requires you to start at 40 miles this week. Push that race date out a bit and find another.
Do some research on tapering to include in your training if any of the guidelines you find don’t mention the practice.
Also, do not neglect strength training and stretching. Stretch religiously and train your legs, back, and core intensely, and intentionally, for injury prevention and endurance.
In my opinion, there are three intangible practices I would use in preparing to run 100 miles.
Simplicity. Volume. Discomfort.
Simplicity in training aids consistency. It’s the foundation for longevity and data collection that allows you to explore your body and your capabilities. Volume is a mental game; some try to bypass training volume with strength-endurance, but I can’t neglect the mental effort of back-to-back 20 mile runs, or a 50K training run. Build your body for the event and avoid shortcuts. For more on discomfort, continue reading below…
We wrote something interesting you may want to check out, 5 Ultra Marathon Workouts You’re Not Doing; these workouts are crucibles. Practice them every few weeks to gauge your physical and mental progression. Scale these workouts to your fitness, but don’t look for an easy way out; they’re not for the faint of heart.
Remember, none of this is meant to be easy. You’re preparing for a feat, and an accomplishment, most will never know; Comfort is your biggest enemy.
Step 5: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
I would start with reading Comfort Is A Lie. Then I would reread it. Then I would act intentionally on it’s guidance.
Step 6: Discipline in Small Actions
Did you notice how the smallest details mattered in Comfort Is A Lie?
That’s not an accident.
You MUST sweat the details.
And nothing is more important than committing to discipline in small actions.
These ‘small actions’ don’t all need to be training related, although some of them will be. The key is to establish patterns of repetition centered on positively impacting your environment or your pursuit of your goal (running 100 miles).
Can you think of any training related ‘small actions’ to establish discipline in?
Stretching and mobility work. Sticking to your plan, even on the rainiest and coldest of days. Taking the route with more hills. Getting your mileage in, regardless of social activities.
Training discipline can be summed up as commitment to the end product.
Those are the first things that usually come to a person’s mind when the topic of ‘Discipline’ is brought up.
But do you know what’s even more important?
The discipline in small actions not centered on your biggest goal of running 100 miles, those small actions that are just supporting the big picture of your life.
Maintaining a clean living space, practicing patience, prioritizing your duties in life to family and work. These disciplines, through training and hand-in-hand with training, are the foundation for strong and disciplined training.
Discipline in actions outside of training can be summed up as commitment to the lifestyle.
What lifestyle is that?
Let’s venture back to your “Why?”
Why are you running 100 miles? Why did you sign up? Why did you find a training plan and commit to a discomfort mindset?
Your “Why?” is a summary of your desire, your passion, your purpose.
Inspire your children and family.
Unlock your potential; create an indomitable will.
Explore the pain from years of drug or alcohol abuse on your own terms; conquer your mind.
The ultra marathon will change you as a person in a huge way; you already anticipate that, I’m sure.
But it also demands change from you.
This Wicked Trail, this adventure of purpose, has a gatekeeper. He expects you to be prepared. Mental preparation, physical preparation, and emotional preparation. Leave no stone unturned; begin the life you want the race to create in you, now.
Life is an ultra marathon; if you’re unable to sweat the details, to be a good steward of your duties, and to live the Wicked Trail on a simple, daily level, 100 miles, and the high of crossing the finish line, will remain elusive.
Summit that peak, one step at a time.
Make your bed. Fold the laundry. Stretch. Foam roll. Do the dishes. Walk the dog. Run in the rain. Run in the heat of the afternoon. Do something nice for your spouse. Set an example for your children.
Run the Wicked Trail.
Run 100 miles.