Running your First 100 Mile Race will come with a lot of questions…
“What’s your weekly mileage?”
“Are you ready?
“It’s going to take how long?”
“Why would you ever do that to your body?”
“I could never do that.”
Not enough. Probably not. At least a whole day. It’s not about what happens to your body.
Most importantly, yes, you could.
After I ran my first ultra marathon, a 50 mile race, a simple question burned in my mind: What else can I do?
I stood at the finish line of that 50 mile, 11-something-hour run, and thought: Look at those people. They’re going to do 50 more miles!
That simple 50 mile race altered my understanding of challenge, altered the way I interpreted the world. I’d caught the bug.
Two weeks until I run my first 100 mile race
With only two weeks until the day of my first 100 mile race, it honestly doesn’t seem like a big deal. I’ve spent so much time thinking about it on my own terms, deeply in training and preparation, I don’t often stop to think about how crazy the idea once seemed to me. [Update: its done. Read about it.]
I once categorized marathon runners as crazy. I didn’t even know people ran 100 mile races.
To clarify, “What’s the point? Why do people run races of 100 miles?” summed up my opinion of ultra endurance running.
I now look at it another way:
Why aren’t more people jumping on board and running ultras? Does the danger of exploring one’s mind, one’s capabilities, scare people away? I can’t believe more runners aren’t wondering if they have what it takes to conquer 50, 100, or more miles!
Do I have what it takes?
On April 7 2018, the day of my first ultra marathon, it rained for 12 hours and the temperature stayed below 45 degrees. It turns out a windbreaker can’t cut it as a rain jacket; I was soaked by mile 20. I only had two spare shirts. “Movement is warmth” became my mantra.
The weather necessitated rain gear and I wasn’t prepared. I walked about 10 of the last twelve miles because of blisters and chafing, peed on my own hands multiple times to warm them up, and refused to take hand warmers because, once the sun went down, the 100-mile runners’ teeth would be chattering harder than mine.
The last lap of the 12.5 mile course was the most difficult; I was chilled to the bone wearing only a long sleeve polyester shirt (soaked) under a veil of a windbreaker (more soaked) and running shorts in 45 degree, rainy weather. My feet had over 8 hours on them. To further my physical deterioration, I attempted to dry off at the last aid station and wiped all the BodyGlide off of my nipples. They chaffed raw.
Uncomfortable hardly describes that first 50 miler.
While my clothing choices left much to desire, I finished in 10 hours 41 minutes and 26 seconds, a time burned in my mind. That’s about a 12:49/mile pace. In other words, physically I was decently prepared. Additionally, I felt mentally prepared for the race. I didn’t get frustrated or upset, I had positive thoughts the entire time, and I finished with a smile and a deep breath of relief.
Now, in early July, with only weeks to the most physically demanding challenge of my life, I feel similar to what I felt before the Umstead 50. Only this time, I’ll repeat the distance back to back at the Burning River 100 in Cleveland, Ohio.
“Are You Ready to Run Your First 100 Mile Race?”
This ultra marathon is my first of many 100 mile races, I hope.
And if someone asked me today “Are you ready?” my answer is: “I have no idea.”
Because I don’t. I have no idea. Is a person ready to run for 24+ hours with only one other ultra-distance event under his belt? Does pain exponentially get worse? What mile will be the hardest? Will the mild elevation changes of Northeast Ohio play to my advantage, or is it still enough to dismantle my legs? Does anyone have an advantage in his or her first 100 mile ultra marathon? What exactly does it feel like at mile 70, 80, or 90?
As my first 100 mile race approached, these are the questions I asked. I haven’t talked to many people about their first 100 mile experiences because frankly, I never thought the experiences of others mattered much. It’s 100 miles: suck it up and keep moving.
But now, as I stare down the barrel of 100 miles, I’m listening to others’ experiences. Did you have doubts? What was your peak weekly mileage? Was there any moment of the race you thought you’d throw in the towel? What was the hardest part? Is it really all in your mind? (Turns out: YES)
As I prepare to tackle my first hundo, I feel calm. Either I have trained enough, or I have not; it’s too late to try and catch up. I genuinely don’t think the training matters after a certain point, unless you’re after the podium. In other words, it really is all in your head.
If your mind is right, if you have mental clarity heading into the race, you are ready.
This is why I’m doing it. I’m not a great athlete. I had never run an official race (of any distance) until four months ago. But does it matter? When the race clock hits 24 hours at 4 AM on July 29 and the morning darkness is thick & chilly in Cleveland, everyone on the trail will be exhaustion beyond comprehension. Everyone. Time, distance, and darkness will leave everyone in the same shoes, not realistically capable of continuing.
But we’ll run on…
When Your 100 Mile Race Training Falls Short
My training plan fell apart for my first 100 mile race [in fact, THIS is how bad it went]. I have battled Achilles, hip, and foot issues all on the right side of my body due to running and non-running activities.
Consequentially, my peak mileage was never where I wanted it. Last month I adopted a “healthy not ready” mindset. This decision certainly gave me peace. I was no longer racing a clock to squeeze mileage in. Instead I was preparing my mind and body in a way that carried no anxiety or hurry.
“Healthy not ready” means lots of cross-training and less running.
I am ready. Even if my training log doesn’t say so.
And you are too, you would-be-100-mile-runner reading this. Or you who would embark on your first ultra marathon.
Just show up to the starting line and start running. Value lies in the passing of the miles, the steps toward the finish line. As the pain passes by, something will be left…
A hardened man or woman who just traversed 100 miles; one who can shut the voices off and just keep putting one foot in front of the other, relentlessly.
Over and over again. No matter how you feel.
Anything life can throw at you, any hill that rises in front of you, will be easier after your first 100 mile race. Sure, you get a belt buckle and a great set of finish line photos for Instagram. Above all, though, the moment of your finish will never die.
Your First 100 Mile Race Is Just One Long Hill
Earlier today, a steep hill interrupted one of my casual runs. People normally take it easy on hills so I choose to run them faster solely for the reason that most people don’t. It’s also great for the glutes, I suppose. As I was gasping up this steep incline today, I realized something: my first ultra marathon was, and this impending first 100 mile race is, just a long and steep hill.
Too many people avoid the hills or use them as an excuse to slow down. We all have these hills in our lives; I challenge you to not slow down on the hills, to not take it easy, and to search them out.
Look for the hills.
If you find them and run them hard, harder than anyone else, you’ll build your glutes and hamstrings and grit and confidence. Then, when another hill comes along, a Wicked Trail you didn’t plan for, you’ll be ready. Your legs will be strong, your mind will understand the value of the hill, and you’ll run up it, passing everyone who wasn’t prepared, who chose to avoid hills and remain comfortable in life.
Hills are meant to forge an uncommon mindset. Comfort Is A Lie, and if you don’t challenge yourself on some hills, you’ll slip into a dull, comfortable, life. You’re going to get knocked down by life. Go forge an uncommon mindset so you’re prepared.
When you find a hill, whether it’s a jog tomorrow morning or your first 100 mile race, remind yourself of the prize at the finish line: you will be that much more prepared for the next hill. And the next, and the next. Your body will be more capable, and your mind more endurable.
That’s what it’s all about. And anyone eager for hills, eager for growth, eager to develop that uncommon mindset, is ready for their first 100 mile race.
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4 thoughts on “Your First 100 Mile Race: Are You Ready?”
Thanks, George. These posts have been really helpful as my first official 100 miler comes about in less than 2 weeks. I appreciate the direct, real thoughts that you have put out there. I began to get nervous a few days ago, and your post helped reaffirm that getting out there and just making relentless forward progress is enough (for this time).
Hey, Steve! I’m glad this post found meaning in your approach to your first 100 mile race! What an exciting adventure; experience each moment of the race and ENJOY IT! Even during the hardest times. My first 100 mile race report from the Burning River 100 might be worth a read for you! Here’s the link: https://wickedtrailrunning.com/burning-river-100-race-report-my-wicked-trail/
George, Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Thanks for the race report and your words of encouragement! I did the 100-miler in 27:00 even. Ended up a little hillier than I thought with about 14,500 feet of gain over the race.
I just ordered your book. Looking forward to reading it and sharing it with friends/family.
Glad it went well, Steve, and I appreciate you getting back to me about it. Any more planned? Thanks for checking out the book.