100 miles? Why? How? When? Where? Do you sleep? How do you go to the bathroom? How long will it take you? I had no idea races were that long.
Just a few of questions I would receive whenever I mention I was training for a 100 mile running race over the past few months. When I answered these questions, I was using my chemist background and just hypothesized what I thought were good answers. Now being an official 100 mile finisher, I feel like I can elaborate even more. Like all good scientific research studies, what works for one person in a hundred in a particular race, may not work for another.
“Devote yourself to an idea. Go make it happen. Struggle on it. Overcome your fears. Smile. Don’t forget, this is your dream.”
100 miles? Why?
March of 2017 I ran my first ultra, a 60K. I ran it as a revenge adventure when my first 50K was postponed due to my cancer diagnosis. By the time I ran this race, I was a 4 month cancer survivor. It was great to be on the trails and run my first ultra, but I felt like the race was missing something - the excitement and zeal I had when I was training and finished my first Ironman. I told my husband I doubt I would run an ultra again. He told me to try another. In my head, I thought if you just put the time in the training you could run for however long you wanted. Not the same as the excitement and nerves that go into learning to swim, bike, and run where dodging swimmers and mechanical bike breakdowns are all factors to get through a triathlon, but I was done with tris and looking for another fun adventure.
|Crewing Marian in her Superior 50 mile race|
My friend, Marian and I had talked the past few years about running a race that was at least 40 miles to celebrate us turning 40. After the 60k letdown, I wasn’t fully on board, but still wanted an adventure to celebrate. Marian crushed that goal with a 50 miler and a 100K to celebrate her 40th last fall. Two races both over 40 miles. After brainstorming lots of great ideas, I got it in my head to run a 50-100 mile race - taking my husband’s advice and try another ultra. When I signed up for the Ironman, I had only done one Olympic distance tri and 2 sprint tris. I knew with training, mentorship, and researching, I would be able to give my best shot at completing one. This is how I approached running my first half and full marathons and therefore approached 100 miles not having run a 50 miler race as is typically recommended. I felt like I could run 50 miles based on my 60K experience. Running a 100 miles, I would be learning more about the sport not only in physically training, but also the mental and nutrition aspects of it which was intriguing. I like new types of races, distances, and adventures. Why not try something that challenges your limits while learning and growing? I have wanted to test my limits. Would the mileage or the nighttime running do me in? I am an early to bed person, so I was gambling on the nighttime.
“You can’t really tell how much you can do until you try to do something that’s more.” –Lazarus Lake, Barkleys Founder
Several 100 mile races call for you to run an ultra of a certain distance to be eligible to sign-up for their race. Fortunately, I found a race that welcomed first time ultra runners with no prerequisites, Lake Martin 100 in Alexander City, Alabama. It was the perfect time a year for a race for me - March (the month I turn 40) and a drivable distance (7 hours). I signed up for it the day after my 1 year anniversary of being cancer free to celebrate.
Soon after, Marian signed up for the race, so our 40th adventure together was set! We were looking forward to another fun winter of training adventures together. Then, the unexpected happened which unfortunately something unanticipated always happens during a training cycle. Marian had a bad bike accident while traveling in Costa Rica in January, breaking a few of her ribs. We both realized that she was going to have to drop out of the Lake Martin 100. Our fun plans of spending early weekend morning long runs together was shattered. Half the fun is training with your friends. However, we knew she would recover and be back in business for future adventures together.
|Stacey and I on one of my weekly training runs|
How do you train for 100 miles? Excellent question by many people I encountered. There are several books, blogs, facebook groups, websites to help you out. Marian had great success with her ultras using the training plan from Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell. I bought a copy of the book and thought his training plan for a 100 mile race on 50 miles per week was a perfect fit for me. I am a mom of three fun, active kids (10, 7, 5 year old) and work part-time, so I did not want this to take completely over my life for the next few months. The plan has two rest days with 5 days of running. Cross training can be added as needed. I was able to add in strength training 2x a week (meeting up with my friend, Stacey) and bike when the weather or time didn’t allow for safe running outside. Picking a plan that you have confidence to help you reach your end goal is key along with you being able to fit it in your life craziness. You do not want to be doubting yourself when your are halfway through the training cycle. The rest days were Mondays and Fridays with back-to-back long runs on the weekends. At least every fourth week was a recovery week and as the mileage increased, more recovery weeks were added. It is better to head into a race undertrained, than overtrained. The highest weekend mileage was 51 miles that I split between two days due to family fun commitments. So heading into my race, I had not run longer than 31 miles in a day! However, I felt I would be okay due to mileage I ran over the course of the week, running on tired legs, and the added strength training.
Another important aspect is the mental strength not only for running the 100 miles, but also training for it. Mental strength is just as important, if not more, than physical strength. Your mind can play games on you, give you self-doubt, and come up with lots of reason to not train a particular day or quit the race. Again there are books, websites, podcasts to help you in this area. Build up your mental toolbox on ways you can overcome and adapt to your weaknesses and negativity. Those things waste too much energy and are not productive in helping you reach your goal. Remember your why’s and keep focus on working towards your goal.
|Training with fellow BAMRs on their own journeys to their longest races|
Learning about nutrition and hydration is also a very valuable detail to know prior to running 100 miles. I needed to learn how to eat solids food and get calories in me. This area has always been a struggle for me. It is difficult for me to eat when I am not hungry while exercising. Moving forward for over 27-30+ hours, I knew I needed to eat a continuous stream of food. I had to practice eating solid foods along with electrolyte drinks and other fuels so my stomach would be use to it. I learned that I prefer nibbling and sipping along the run versus just ingesting alot of calories and water at once. I also learned that I really liked my husband’s homemade pancakes - just plain - before my long runs. This ended up being my pre-race 100 miler breakfast!
“No one is born a perfect runner. And none of us will become one. But through incremental steps, we can become better runners. And that’s the beauty of our sport; There are no shortcuts, nothing is given to us; we earn every mile, and we earn every result.”
Two last points regarding the ‘how’ is every long training run is a practice for the race and to learn as much as you can. Since I trained over winter, I wasn’t able to run long runs in my race clothes, but when I ran on the treadmill, I learned what running clothes worked well since the race would be in warmer weather. Long training runs gave me a chance to try different sock, shoe combinations, food, electrolytes etc. It is highly recommended to not try anything new on race day. With that said, that isn’t always possible. Sometimes, what worked before may not work in the race. Being mentally prepared for the unexpected and adapting will take you far. Also learning as much as you can about the race itself and in general just how to prepare for a 100 mile race. I read several race recaps of Lake Martin, listened to podcasts such as Trail Runner Nation, read articles online on preparing for an ultra that gave me good guidance. One thing I read the week of race was from Deuteronomy 8:4 "The clothes you wore did not wear out, nor did your feet blister during these 40 years.” This reminded me to not doubt God’s protection as I embarked on this journey as keeping my feet in good condition during the race was a concern I had going in. I bought the book, Fixing Your Feet to help me prepare. I also asked Marian questions about her experiences with your last few races: about what she liked/didn’t like etc. Everything I learned, enabled me to compile a list of gear that I might need on race day. Not only building up my mental toolbox, but also suggestions for dealing with blisters, hot spots, nausea etc.
|Jenn joined me for my last 10 miles of a 51 miler weekend in the cold and rain.|
The race was Saturday, March 17, 2018, starting at 6:45am Central time. As mentioned earlier, I trained in the winter weather. The whole month of February was cold and rainy, making trail running nearly impossible. I think I got one short trail run in near the end of the month. Also, my body was not use to the heat we had on race day - predicted to get up to 78, but may have gotten hotter. I had not run in that temperature since last fall.
Alexander City, Alabama. Russell Lands. During the race, I talked to a fellow runner who told me this race gives you a taste of all the topography in Alabama. Having never run a race or really visited the state before, it was a great exposure. We ran close to the Lake Martin which is a huge lake, by streams, climbed past big boulders, crossed lots of creeks, pine forests, horses and stables, open hill where you could see stars forever at night, and more. During the night was the only time I saw wildlife: a small snake and an armadillo. I could hear fish jumping up the creek, bullfrogs croaking, and the insects. It was pretty amazing besides seeing the snake of course.
The course had about 14000 ft elevation change. In January, I was able to train in Jefferson Memorial Forest which has about twice the elevation per mile as the race course. I was hoping to get on that trail more, but Mother Nature didn’t allow for it. The last run I had there, I was with my friend Amy and other MRTT friends. The trail started as ice, so slippery. It warmed up within an hour or two and quickly switched to slippery mud. That was a long 24 mile day. I still remember my body was twitching when I was falling asleep that night because I felt like I was still trying to catch myself from slipping. Most of the time I trained in my neighborhood. Its elevation was slightly less per mile as compared to the race course. Training on similar elevation is important as the hills were relentless like they told us.
The past 6 months prior to the race, I gathered as much info as I could from friends, websites, books, podcasts, and facebook running groups. I felt a nervous calm and excitement heading into race weekend.
My oldest son made this at school for me the week of my race and adapted as a mantra for my race.
I attached it to my hydration pack for the race and heard it clicking my road ID often during the race, a great reminder.
|All my gear: one tub of running clothes, one tub of nutrition/gear and backbag for non-race stuff.|
Race weekend recap up next.