It is important to have a well thought out training plan that is followed passionately. My experiences have shown me that 45-50 miles per week including a long run of no less than 20 miles in that week is sufficient conditioning. Obviously the more training miles the stronger you will be during the run and the quicker recovery will come afterwards. In my opinion anything over 50 miles per week are garbage miles which are good but also can put you at risk to injury. There is a fine line between training and over-training. That line is different for each of us so each individual must try to identify that line. How close to that line a person trains will ultimately determine how strong that he or she will be on race day. I also believe that exercises that strengthen all the muscles in the body are very important. Doing these will not only make you perform better but they will also help prevent injury. Exercises such as push-ups strengthen the arms, which will prevent fatigue during a race or training run. Sit-ups will strengthen the abdominal muscles to help prevent injuries such as sports hernias. There are several easy leg exercises that can be done to strengthen the abductors, adductors, and quads. These can help prevent tears and strains and also relieve stress from the knees. Performing these exercises 3-5 times a week will significantly improve your performance and make you less susceptible to injury. Finally listen to your body and take time off when needed. Physical conditioning will not disappear overnight. I also recommend taking 1-2 days off completely from running during the week no matter how you feel.
I can only assume that prior to making an attempt at 100 miles most are experienced runners at shorter distances and have had some success at it. I would recommend maintaining whatever form you have established over the years. Any changes at this point could put you at risk for some type of injury. There are however some things that you can do to help with your concerns over deficiencies in certain elements of running . Have confidence in yourself and don't get intimidated by others that are seemingly blazing by you on downhills or ups. Don't force yourself to do something that you may not have the capability of doing. Work within your limits and be satisfied with whatever results. I can assure you that you will make up for any lost time later on when you reach a different section of the course. Just as we have our weaknesses we are also strong in some aspect of running whether its downhills, uphills, flats or just plain consistency. Be patient and wait for your moment and take advantage of it. Personally I'm not a very strong downhiller but I make up for it going up. Train hard and focus on what you do best and there will be nothing that will stop you.
There are so many factors involved in successfully running 100 miles that it is easy to overlook something especially for someone who has never attempted the distance before. Those that focus entirely on physical training for an event may tend to overlook the mental side of it. If this is your first one hundred miler there are many things that you may not realize. First of all it is normal to experience pain during the course of 100 miles. Some feel it sooner than others but all feel it eventually. Some can disguise pain better than others so it can be intimidating to think you're the only one in pain. I will tell you a little story about the 1st one hundred miler that I attempted in 1999 that captures my first experiences with pain. I crawled to mile 75 in the Old Dominion 100 in Woodstock, Va. before quitting. I honestly thought I was done. Every muscle in my body ached and I was freezing to death in 70-degree weather. I quit and told the volunteer I would never attempt another one ever again. The next morning I watched as a guy crossed the finish line in 29 hours and change. His finish was over the 28-hour time limit therefore he would not even be considered an official finisher. I was amazed with the amount of determination he showed and could not understand how or why he did it. He stood there very proud of his accomplishment and alone reveled in his glory. I wanted that feeling but still was not educated enough to know it wasn't going to come through physical training alone. I will tell you that physical training is obviously an important factor in running ultra distances but at the same time I will tell you that the mental side is more important. You have to have confidence and that confidence can only come from experience. Confidence is something most first timers lack. Gaining it on his or her own is improbable if running on a course alone without the help of anyone. I went into my second oner hundred miler, Arkansas Traveler, in much better shape physically but once again almost quit this time at mile 85 because I wasn't mentally prepared for the challenge. Luckily for me I hooked up with an experienced runner who literally taught me how to persevere under the most difficult conditions. He did this by teaching me to focus my attention on moving forward rather than the pain I was experiencing. He taught me to take it mile by mile rather than looking at the entire distance that was left. He taught me to concentrate on moving forward and nothing else. You can't allow pain or distance to overwhelm you.
I am here to tell you that you can command your body to perform no matter what kind of pain you are in. It takes desire, determination, and the willingness to push yourself to your limits in order to succeed. Now there are definitely times you must make rational decisions as to whether it's smart to continue or not. If, for example, you have a broken bone or you are experiencing symptoms of the three H's (hyponatremia, hypothermia, or hypoxia) you should consider quitting. If your goal is to finish than you must make yourself overcome the aches and pains generated from running the distance and trust me you can do this. I go into a run knowing that ultimately I am going to feel awful but I also know that I will feel good again only to feel bad again and then good again and so on and so on. It's a matter of how much you want it. If you don't have the desire than the pain will be your main focus and you will give in to it and never experience those second, third and fourth lives. If finishing is what you are concentrating on than I can guarantee you that you will overcome.
In order to be successful at running 100 miles it is also important to make reasonable goals and be willing to readjust those goals as the run progresses. Placing in a race or shooting for a sub-24 are both aggressive goals and good ones to shoot for but ultimately finishing should always be priority number 1. I think a lot of people DNF (did not finish) because they realize their primary goal is unachievable and therefore feel it's not worth running in the race anymore. Readjusting your goals as you go is critical to success. The initial goal may be unachievable but if you keep making new goals you will eventually satisfy one of them even if it's finishing dead last.
Relentless forward motion is a motto to stand by. Run when you can and walk when needed but always stay moving and eventually you will cross the finish line. Be patient and take it mile to mile rather than looking at the entire distance. Use tactics such as running for 5 minutes and walking for 2 minutes. Run from tree to tree and then walk from tree to tree. Walk uphill and run down. Try your best late in the race to incorporate at least a minimal amount of running at all times. If you allow yourself to walk for a significant period of time the death march will begin. The best way to stop the death march is to breathe deeply, remove any negative thoughts, and start to shuffle your feet. A slow shuffle will loosen the muscles and eventually allow you to run freely again. How much running depends on your thought process. If you're thinking negatively your body will shut down very quickly but if you're thinking positively you'll run for a long time. Remember as you run that it doesn't matter what obstacles lay ahead whether it's uphill, downhill, or through water the bottom line is you and everyone else are going to run 100 miles.
When the sun goes down it can take your spirit with it. The darkness will suck the life right out of you if you allow it too. Your mind must take full control at this point because your body wants to sleep. Allowing your mind to overcome the body is what will help you persevere throughout the nighttime hours. It' s a matter of how much you want it at this point. Think about what it is that motivated you to attempt to run the distance in the first place. Were you teased as a child? Were you picked on by a friend or family member or do you just feel the need to prove something to yourself? Whatever it is use the energy from these situations that may normally cause anger or frustration to your advantage. Keep your mind occupied with something other than pain or distance remaining. If with someone talk as much as possible. Silence normally means you're not staying focused and you're allowing thoughts of doom and gloom to enter your mind. If you persevere until the sun rises I promise you new life will be given.
Even if you train hard physically and prepare mentally it still may not be enough to get you across that finish line. I do believe everyone is capable but before attempting to take on the distance each should take some time to look deep inside themselves. There is a passion that burns deep inside the heart and the soul and that passion has to be brought to the forefront not only during the race but also in training. It is the desire to attain what few have accomplished that will drive you to be willing to succeed above all costs. It takes heart and desire and those are things that you can not condition yourself to have. You either have them or not. You must find them because I believe each of us has them....just find them!!!!
Things to do and use during the run
Succeed sodium/potassium caplets to help reduce or eliminate cramping. Recommended dosage 2 per hour but should be adjusted based on the outside temperature.
Pre-cut and carry several pieces of self-adhesive moleskin in case blistering occurs. Stop at the first burning sensation and care for any blisters. Hot spots turn into major problems as the run progresses if not taken care of immediately.
I recommend sprinkling some Baby Powder in your shoes before the race to keep your feet free from moisture produced by sweat. This will help reduce the possibility of blisters.
If prone to blistering change your socks periodically throughout the race. Take the time to wipe your feet clean and dry. Any lost time here will not be as significant as the amount of time lost due to severe blistering. Pack clean socks in your drop bags.
Have a blister kit available along with a roll of duct tape in case severe blistering occurs. As long as you can suck it up your race isn’t necessarily over just because of blistering. Duct tape can be a lifesaver if used properly. Be knowledgeable of the proper way drain the blisters and tape the feet. Creasing in the tape will cause more harm than good.
Carry a disposable rain jacket with you. Hypothermia can and will set in late in a run when your body loses control of it's own thermostat. Wet clothes, cool temps=DNF.
Caffeine in the form of Coke and Mountain Dew are both usually supplied by the aid stations and should be taken when needed. I recommend placing Red Bull, Sobe Adrenaline, or Amp in your drop bags for later in the race. Train using these items to see what works best for you.
If you must use Ibuprofen use it sparingly. Try Arnica as a replacement anti-inflammatory.
Carry at least one water bottle the entire way. If you carry the bottle in your hand you will remember to drink every 15 minutes or so. I recommend carrying 2 bottles in any race where the aid stations are more than 5 miles apart. Personally I carry two all the time and have been known to carry 3 or 4. Dehydration will shut you down.
Be knowledgeable of the symptoms of dehydration as well as hyponatremia. Drinking too much water can actually be more dangerous than not drinking enough. Bottom line is both conditions could potentially cause you to DNF but more importantly could cause long term health problems.
Drink both water and sports drink to reduce the possibility of cramps.
Eat early and often. Learn what food appeal to you most during your long training runs and go for them during the race. Don’t gamble and eat something your stomach isn’t used to. There are solid food supplements such as Ensure and Perpeteum amongst a few others. Again don’t experiment during a race but rather learn if these settle in your stomach during your training runs.
Spend as little time in aid stations as possible.
Avoid sitting for too long.
No matter how enticing it seems never stand in front of a fire.
Do not do anything different during a race than you do during your training runs. Where the same shoes, clothes, hats, socks, etc.
Have an emergency flashlight in one of your drop bags. If possible carry spare batteries but definitely have spare batteries in your drop bags.
No matter the course or the amount of exposure put sun block on before and then again mid-day.
Lubricate sensitive areas of the body before the run and periodically through out.
There are a few ways to prevent blackened toenails including the following:
1) Good trail shoes
1) Toe guards
1) Permanent removal of the nail. (too radical for me)
The odds are that if you become an avid ultrarunner you will eventually get your share of black toenails. It’s a very painful condition but not one that will cause you to not finish.
Bring ginger along with you (not ginger from Gilligan’s Isle) to help settle your stomach if you become sick. If don’t have any ask the aid station volunteers if they have Ginger Ale. The stuff works wonders.
If possible bring something inspirational with you to the race. When I did the “Slam” in 2003 I wore a shirt with pictures of all my nieces and nephews on the front. Hard to quit when you have them watching you part of the way. Finally I always bring a picture of my grandfather to gain inspiration from the toughest man both mentally and physically that ever walked the face of the Earth.
Top 5 one hundred mile races to consider as a first based on my personal experience.
1. Rocky Raccoon 100-Less than 5500 feet of elevation gain on soft easy terrain. The most difficult challenge is your own mind. 5-20 mile loops
2. Heartland 100-Minimum amount of elevation gain on gravel roads. No mountains or rough trails to traverse. Since the entire run is in the open prairie the most difficult challenge is dealing with the wide expanse of space before you. 50 mile out and back.
3. Javelina Jundred-Minimum amount of elevation gain run on hard packed sand in the Arizona desert. If given the respect is deserves as a 100 mile course it can be easy. If the ease of the course conditions is taken for granted it will eat you alive. The heat can be a major factor. 6-15 mile loops and 1-10 mile loop to finish.
4. Arkansas Traveler-Held in what I consider beginner mountains with a couple of difficult trail sections. Mostly ran on gravel roads. Excellent aid and organization. Should be used as a step up after doing one of the top 3 easier hundreds. Could be used as a first 100 too with the knowledge that a few more challenges exist. 16 mile loop and then an 84 mile out and back.
5. Vermont 100-Tame mountainous run held on mostly roads. Heat and humidity could be a major factor. Made my list of top 5 easiest strictly based on support alone. Aid stations approximately every 2 miles cater to your every need. Several loops in a race that starts and ends in the same location.
Warning: Ultrarunning is not for the faint of heart. If you have any questions or concerns about your health then you should consider another activity.