How to Run 100 Miles……One Step at a Time:
Do you ever think of something you would like to accomplish, but give up on that dream before you even start? You decide that it is darn near impossible, or even worse, you are afraid that you’ll give it your all and get close, but not quite make it? Never be afraid to set seemingly impossible goals and go for it! Let’s get started……..
I have been an endurance athlete for several years now…..completing several marathons, and longer triathlons, gradually improving my times through the years of training and tweaking my strategies. One thing I am not good at is running on trails….my lack of 3D vision, general clumsiness, plus not being naturally strong all contribute.
I love being outdoors in the woods, so I would like to improve my trail running and racing. I completed two ultra trail races with very little success or enjoyment, so I had a lot of work to do.
This goal would require advance planning. I started doing Crossfit three years ago to work on core and general strength, balance, flexibility……and although I was horrible at it, I lost weight, became stronger, and felt less likely to get injured or sick. I took a course on running form and worked on efficiency. I cleaned up my diet, eliminating junk, and trying to eat real foods only.
I set multiple goals. I wanted to run a great 50 miler, or to complete a longer distance of 100k or 100 miles and enjoy doing so. I knew I would not win, but I wanted to run my own best race. I signed up for the Hinson Lake 24 Hour race with a group of friends……..it was 9 months away, would not interfere with marathon season, and would allow for different goals at the same time.
My initial goal was to complete 50 miles more quickly than before, go on to complete 100k, and feel great at the end. A loftier goal was to complete 75 miles, or even 100. The pie in the sky goal was to finish in the top 5 women, and stay moving all 24 hours.
I didn’t want to keep my goals to myself. Enrolling others in the plan would keep me accountable, and allow others to help when I reach low points. It also gives you people with whom to celebrate your wonderful accomplishment. Who knows who else you might inspire? Check in with these friends so they can share your challenges and successes along the way.
When I told my friends and colleagues I was doing a 24 hour race, they thought I was crazy, but they also were very excited for me, and always wanted to hear how my training was going.
I did research, talked with others who had done similar feats, read articles, made lists. Luckily I had done some longer events, so I already had a basic idea of how much I needed to drink and eat to fuel my body for this long, and what sorts of foods and drinks my stomach tolerated. I wrote out an entire plan of what I was going to eat and drink the whole race, and in what portions. I planned what I would wear from head to toe, how often I’d change shoes and socks. I came up with a pacing strategy with planned walk breaks and rest breaks that would allow me to complete 100 miles in 24 hours.
I visualized myself reaching my goal. Everyone from Olympic athletes to CEOs to successful performers utilize the technique of visualizing themselves doing what they are seeking, and it works.
Even the best preparation will not do you any good if you let negative thoughts erode away at your confidence. I was in great spirits on race day. I needed to stay focused, certain that I would finish 100 miles. I usually read articles on athletes accomplishing amazing things in the days leading up to a big event. I continually tell myself that I will do this. I try to erase feelings of doubt quickly. I was excited in the days leading up to my race, ready to go out there and have a great time running. Sure there were many things that could go wrong, but I thought only about what would go right.
On the day before the big race, we set up our camp…….which consisted of a canopy, a food/drink table, comfortable chairs, a changing tent, a sleeping tent, a picnic table with bins of first aid, electronics, clothing, backup food, coolers and other assorted odds and ends. We decided to increase the fun factor by decorating our camp for Halloween, which included a glow in the dark skeleton, giant spider webs, and a ghost that flies through the air howling.
On race day we woke up early, started eating and drinking, taped up our feet, lubed up our toes and any place where an article of clothing may rub the wrong way after hours and hour,and off we went. We organized all of our nutrition on the main table, filled up the water cooler, iced the drinks, laid various clothing changes out in order, and lined up at the start. The race started, and I settled into an easy pace about two minutes per mile slower than my marathon.
For the first few hours I settled into a relaxed pace, established regular walk breaks, and practiced an efficient, consistent visit to the food table every lap in order to get in enough calories. I was happy and I felt great. I completed the marathon distance in just over four hours, and 50k shortly thereafter. I was starting to get a bit tired, and there was also the realization that I had over 18 hours left to run.
I recited positive mantra to myself for the next few laps, focused on looking forward to each morsel of nutrition, high fiving the volunteers, or cheering on other runners. I made it to 40 miles, and now could count down only 10 more miles to 50. I would look forward to seeing my lap counter every lap, friends on the course, and the fact that at 50 I had promised myself a full change of clothes, shoes, and a wipe down with a cool cloth.
I reached mile 50 at about 4:30, so I had over 15 hours to complete the second 50, and I was in great spirits. The new outfit felt divine, and I sat down in a chair and put my feet up for a few minutes. I was about to enter new territory, as 50 miles was as far as I had ever run. I decided that even running just a few more miles would make the day a success and with that burst of positive energy I was off again.
I maintained the same pace, but made sure to take short walk breaks every lap and never miss out on food or drink. My stomach felt amazingly good for what I was putting it through. The next significant milestone was 100k, or 62 miles, and I would reach that before the halfway point in the race, which was my goal. People were starting to tell me that I was leading the women’s race, which gave me a huge mental boost that kept me surging ahead. It was also announced that McDonalds hamburgers had arrived at the main aid station, so I wanted to make sure not to miss that.
The sun started to set and I was nearly at 100k. This is one of my favorite times of day to be outdoors, and I focused on how beautiful my surroundings were at this time. The next few laps were a bit slower, because of the fading light, but I felt excited that I had completed one of my mini-goals. I celebrated by sitting down for a few minutes, stretching, eating, and thinking about how to go about the next twelve hours.
I knew that I could virtually walk 38 miles in 12 hours, and still complete 100………..if nothing went wrong. This was completely foreign territory for me, so I knew anything could happen. I could have stomach problems. I could fall in the dark and roll an ankle. I could cramp up. I could strain something. I could fall asleep. I could lose my mind out here in the darkness.
By midnight, it was lonely on the trail. My mind started to play tricks on me. It was all I could do to keep moving at a reasonable pace, keep track of the time that was going by, and stay focused on eating and drinking. I was mostly walking at this point, and was taking longer stops at my camp to stretch and who knows what else. I enjoyed finding someone to walk along with for a bit, or to pass a familiar face here and there and exchange encouraging words. I was sick of my food, and I also started rummaging through the other aid station for anything that looked appealing. I was losing more and more time.
My mind was full of doubt and fear now. After all of this planning and effort, would I fail? I kept telling myself to stay focused, to dig deep, to just keep moving forward. Four hours to go, and I was at about 86 miles, so I was still on track, but I had to make sure nothing went wrong. I tried to do a bit of running, but my right foot felt like I had dropped a sledge hammer on it. I had hot spots from rubbing clothing all over the place that hurt every time I took a step.
It was all I could do to just keep going. I kept telling myself that I was strong and I was tough, and every step was getting me closer to my goal. 90 miles……..just 10 miles left, and about three hours to go. I move and take on a whole new life as I was overcome with lack of sleep. I swear I saw a root slither in front of my feet like a snake………oh wait, it WAS a snake……that made me start to run a bit.
I decided that I wanted to exceed 100 miles, and to do that I was going to have to start running! I started running the flatter sections with little debris, and walking the hills and aid stations………it felt great to run again and my confidence returned. Daylight started to filter in, and I felt a spring in my step. More people were back out on the course for the final 90 minutes. Everyone was full of life and encouragement, and we were cheering for each other to finish strong.
One hour left, and I was at about 98 miles. I wanted to do at least 3 more miles and I had to wake up my boyfriend to run the final lap with me. I felt the full range of emotions all at once. We ran slowly together the last few laps. Just a few minutes to go, and we both wanted to run as far as we could……we sprinted down the trail until they sounded the finish horn.
Bill and I gave out a triumphant cheer and embraced each other. We did it……..I ran 101.46 miles in 24 hours, and Bill ran 50.5 miles in about 14 hours, and we had a blast. This experience will always be a benchmark of what is possible, and will give me strength and confidence in all areas of my life.