Note: Although the tips below are targeted primarily towards 100 mile races, I’m sure those contemplating a 50-miler will find most of them useful also. Simply replace words like “this is going to be extremely tough” and “this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done” with words like “50-milers are for girls. Why bother?”
Before the Race
You’re going to be hard-pressed to find an article on ultra-running, whatever the length, that doesn’t stress the importance of training. After all, how can you expect to run 100 miles without getting your body used to the idea beforehand? This all makes perfect sense. And all of that training takes a lot of time.
The thing is, do you really have that much time to spare? I know I don’t. Heck. The 100-miler itself is going to take at least 6 hours out of, typically, a summer weekend. And that doesn’t even include travel time!
I find a better approach is to do the minimal amount of training possible. The fact is it’s going to hurt no matter how much training you do. Why take away all of that valuable socializing time with training runs?
How much should you taper before the “big event”? One week? Two weeks? Three? This may seem like a hard call but it’s really very easy to figure out once you realize there’s one important aspect that all tapering programs share … In order to taper, you have to have something to taper from! If you have nothing to taper from, you can’t taper. Simple!
Forget it! If you mentally prepared yourself for a 100-miler, you wouldn’t be running it now would you? Duh!
Seriously, though, I found the best thing here is to create confusion. Waver for several weeks leading up to the event on dropping back to a 50-miler. I believe the phrase I told myself was “90% sure I’ll be doing the 50-miler, not the 100”. Then, at the last minute, switch back to the 100-miler. This confuses your mind so that it really has no idea what you’re doing. You’ll probably get to the 60 or 70 mile mark before your brain realizes what you’re doing. That leaves only 30 or 40 miles of hell rather than the full 100.
During the Race
Crew is extremely important in order to successfully complete a 100 mile run. There are two basic approaches here:
- Provide your own crew.
- Sponge off of somebody else’s.
I prefer the second approach as it requires much less planning. Try to look particularly pathetic to get the attention you deserve. This approach is most effective if you make sure you reach the crew slightly ahead of the runner they’re supposed to be crewing for. That way, when that runner arrives, the crew is already pre-occupied with you. This adds a competitive advantage also. I used this approach with Maureen Wiens (Tim’s wife) and it worked great.
If you decide to provide your own crew, just make sure that at least one of your crew members is named Cheryl (last name can be either Johnson or Picot – both seem to work very effectively).
What about sleep? How can you run for 24 hours or more without sleep? Well, as it turns out, in my case, at least, you can’t. When you’re tired enough, you’ll sleep. Never mind that fact that you’re still running while that’s happening. The trick is to make sure you still make the correct turns while you’re sleeping. It’s really quite cool to wake up and realize you’re still running, haven’t walked off a cliff, and are still on course.
Break up the Run
You may find it too overwhelming to think of all 100 miles of the race as a single entity. It’s often much easier on the psyche to break the race up into several smaller, more-manageable segments. Try breaking the race into quarters, for example. Aid station to aid station is another approach often employed. Here’s what worked for me:
1. First 25 miles
2. Halfway point
3. Next major aid station
4. Next aid station of any type
5. Just get over this frick’n hill
6. Just make it to that next rock … No wait! That’s a bear! Ahh! … Oh! It is a rock. Like I care at this point.
7. Just let me survive to the finish and I’ll promise never, ever, to do this again.
Finally, there will almost undoubtedly be times during your run that you’re ready to give up and call it a day. For times such as those, make sure you have something waiting for you at the finish line to keep you going. Some alternatives:
· Have someone waiting for you who you really want to see and who will give you a big hug even though you reek and are probably covered in mud and blood. Someone who is wavering on whether or not to show up if you’re “only” going to do the 50-miler and who is probably the only reason you’re doing the full 100 but you’re not bitter about it works great.
· A cold beer
· A pillow
Alternatives? Yeah right. All of the above.
Well, I think that pretty much covers it. Not really much to it is there? Given that, I expect to see a lot more of you out there next year.
Bill Dagg, PRR, CFA, DA