Running your First 100 Mile Race always comes 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 my body. Most importantly, yes, you could.
After I ran my first ultra marathon, a 50 mile race (half of the real event, the 100 miler), I only had one question:
What else can I do? (win an ultra marathon, apparently)
I stood at the finish line of that long run, that 11-something hour plod, and thought:
Look at those people. They’re going to do 50 more miles!
That simple 50 mile race altered my understanding of challenge and the way I interpreted the world; I burned for more. In other words, I’d caught something.
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, I don’t often stop to think about how others think of such a feat, such an adventure, and how I once thought of it. And how I’m actually going to run 100 miles in a few weeks. [Update: its done. Read about it.]
At one time I saw marathon runners as crazy; ultra marathoners didn’t even exist. To clarify, “What’s the point? Why do people run races of 100 miles?” summed up my opinion of endurance running athletes.
I now look at it another way:
Why aren’t more people jumping on board and running an ultra marathon? Does the danger of exploring one’s mind, one’s capabilities, scare people away? Can’t we celebrate a person wondering what it takes?
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 without the aid.
Discomfort was a mild description, brought on by my ill-preparedness.
With all this discomfort and cold and rain, my mind never left me. I was never distraught or in a place of fear or regret because my “Why?” -my purpose- warmed the embers of drive. The finish line was always within sight. My favorite songs filled my head as I limped along, my fingers gripping my shirt to prevent it from further chaffing my nipples. I peed on my hands to warm them up and kept my mind on the next aid station and eventually, the finish line.
This run was just another hill…
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 one long run, 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)
These questions race through my mind when I lay down at night; therefore, I’m sharing my thoughts for other first 100 mile racers.
As I prepare to tackle this Wicked Trail, I feel calm. Either I have trained enough, or I have not; its too late to try and catch up. I genuinely don’t think the training matters after a certain point, unless you seek the podium. In other words, it really is all in your head.
Yes, even you’re ready for your first 100 mile ultra marathon.
This is why I’m doing it; I’m not a great athlete, I had never run an official race 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 and the air chilly in Cleveland, everyone on the trail will have massive exhaustion. Everyone. Time, distance, and dark will leave everyone in the same shoes, not realistically capable of continuing. But we’ll remember the first ultra marathon we ever signed up for because, quite honestly, that probably wasn’t realistic either.
And so, we’ll run on…
When Your 100 Mile Run Training Falls Short
My 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.
To sum up “healthy not ready:” Stretch more, run less, and lots of lunges.
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. Regardless of circumstance.
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 A 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.
You are building a mindset few people possess. 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 find a hill, a Wicked Trail, and prepare.
When you find a hill, whether it’s a jog tomorrow morning or a 5k or running your first 100 mile race or a bench press PR goal, remind yourself of the value bestowed upon reaching the top; you will be that much more prepared for the next hill. And the next, and the next.
What is your ‘hill?’ Your Wicked Trail? Go find it…