Updated: Nov 4, 2022
Are you interested in running a 100-mile race for the first time? Other ultra-distance races have their own unique challenges that are not experienced with marathon running, but 100-mile races have even more challenges than shorter ultra-distance races. Finishing a 100-mile race involves a lot of strategy with pacing, hydration, fueling, crew/pacing support, drop bags, running through the night, and mental challenges. Here are some tips on how to succeed with your first 100-mile race:
Training for a 100-mile race is not going to be much different than a 50+ mile race. The focus is on volume and back-to-back long runs. What does that look like? On the weekends, building miles is really important. The back-to-back long runs simulates a very long race because the second long run is done on tired legs. This forces muscle fibers that are not typically used while you run to kick in and get trained to become stronger. When building your weekend miles, try following the 10% rule. Add up the miles you do on Saturday and Sunday, and try to increase the total miles for the following weekend by only 10%. This will allow your body to adjust effectively to the increase in volume, while also avoiding chances of injury.
Gear is really important for 100-mile races. Even with races where aid stations are close together, it still means multiple hours of running without outside aid. There is no “right” type of gear. Try out running with a vest with bottles, a vest with a bladder, or handheld bottles. Practice wearing the gear as much as possible during the long runs so that you do not have unexpected issues during the race. Take weather, terrain, and trail conditions into consideration.
The importance of fueling during a 100-mile race could not be stressed enough. Getting through a race on gels or other sugary products like that will likely lead to your stomach feeling upset and a lack of desire to eat later on in the race. Aid stations typically have a large variety of food options - chips, pb&j sandwiches, cookies, candy, pickles, fruit, etc. Practice eating real food during your long runs. Your body will not suddenly be able to digest real food while you run if you do not practice this during your training. Try balancing out eating sugary and salty foods. Focusing too much on one can lead to getting bored with the food. Also, expect to feel nausea or a lack of desire to eat by the last part of the race. This is very common, but keep eating! Your body needs fuel to keep you moving forward.
During training, find an electrolyte drink that you like best. This will be important so that your body utilizes the water that you drink during the race.
100-mile races are LONG. Many people go out too fast, leading to doing the death march for the last part of the race. Avoid this by starting slow for the first half of the race. The pace will feel REALLY easy and like you are not working that hard. But, that pace will feel really hard by the last third of the race.
Have a crew of 3+ people who will support you, but also push you if you are wanting to drop. Create a handout for your crew so they know what you want at each aid station. They can go to the aid stations (or at least most of them) and provide you with your individual supplies (food, electrolyte drink, shoes, socks, clothes, etc.). With most 100-mile races, they can also be your personal pacers. Typically, they can start pacing you once it gets dark. Having a pacer run with you later on in the race is a great way to keep you awake at night, give you a brain break so you do not have to think about where you are going, and to remind you to eat and drink.
Getting through the night:
Running through the night is a new challenge for those who have not done a 100-mile race. By this time, you have run all day. You will likely feel tired, like you are sleeping while running, and like you have no idea how you are going to get to the finish line. Most races allow pacers at this point in the race. Pacers are a great way to lead you through the night so your sleepy brain can take a break from focusing on where you are going. Allow your pacer to run in front of you so that you can follow them. To stay alert at night, some people like to use caffeine - coffee, caffeine pills, run gum, caffeinated electrolyte drink. Carrying something in your vest/hydration bottle pouch is advisable since extreme mental exhaustion may hit hard and out of nowhere.
100-mile races are really hard. It involves running for 24+ hours with no sleep, likely through not so ideal conditions, with difficult terrain, while also feeling nauseous and not wanting to eat anything. Preparing for these moments is so important. Having a crew that will push you along and keep you going through these moments is also important. There will very likely be times where you want to quit, but the race being hard is not a reason to DNF. 100-mile races will never be easy, so knowing that going into it, mentally preparing for that, and having a supportive crew will help you overcome those moments. 100-milers are like an emotional rollercoaster. You will have moments where you will feel down, but those moments will pass. Just keep moving, even if you are walking. Walking is still moving closer to the finish line.
Want more guidance with running your first ultra-marathon? As your running coach, I can provide you with a running schedule that is specific to your goals, race conditions, and running history. Learn more about my coaching services here: https://www.physicaltherapyontherun.com/bookings-checkout/running-coaching
Do you and your running friends want more detailed information about completing your first ultra marathon? E-mail me to set up an in-person or virtual workshop (email@example.com). Learn more about my workshops here: https://www.physicaltherapyontherun.com/bookings-checkout/training-for-your-first-ultra