Can you run your first ever 100 mile ultramarathon? The answer is simply: Yes! You can, because I could!
Let me tell you about my first 100 miles attempt a couple weeks ago. It’s a bit tricky distance to train for – not like you can do a 100K long run every Sunday. So instead of training specifically for this event, I spent the past eight months working on being “ultra ready” which to me means I am capable of running an ultra marathon anytime I choose. I am still a rookie of the ultra community having completed my first ultra distance only last year. During training, I focused on time on my feet including walking, a lot of double runs (running twice a day) and doing a monthly ultra (usually between 45 and 50K).
My first 100 mile attempt was at Endure 24: 24 hours long relays that one can opt to run solo (if mad enough). The route was a 5 mile trail lap with an aid station at around 5K and access to own supplies at the start/finish area. Hence, this was an excellent opportunity to have a go at a long distance while being able to access own nutrition and gear without carrying it all around.
Obviously, preparation was crucial (and somewhat stressful and exciting at the same time). I brought a crazy amount of gear and nutrition with me. As expected, I did not use most of the things I brought, but the comfort of having it all accessible unburdened my mind a little.
I set myself A B C goals. My C goal was to conquer 100 miles (even if it meant walking), B goal was running until the end of the event (I somehow always assumed that I would be able to fit 100 miles well within 24 hrs), and A goal was to be a top 3 female. I realise my goals were rather ambitious given the fact that it was my first time doing this kind of event and distance, but I felt they were still realistic enough.
Now let’s talk about mindset. In my opinion, the key to running long long distances is not to get intimidated and not to overthink things. There are terrible stories being told about DNFing due to all sorts of stuff: cramps, fatigue, stomach issues, injuries, the list can go on forever. One needs to be prepared for eventualities but not get fixated on them. I said to myself “How hard can it really be?” It may sound oblivious and naive, but in my experience, a little bit of naivety is goes a long way (check out my blog post about it). One just needs to carry on putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what.
Some laps felt real hard and I though how on earth will I be able to carry on? And then the next lap came and felt easy and joyful. So I figured out it does not stay difficult forever and there is always an end to whatever pain one feels. I am lucky to be a natural survivor which is an important trait of an ultrarunner. I managed to keep my spirit up whether it was by smiling no matter what, my terrible singing through the night or a random shot of Fireball at 2 am.
When it comes to nutrition, after a couple laps I figured out I don’t need to carry anything with me as long as I have water and couple slices of orange (I have never eaten so many oranges in my life) at the aid station and something more substantial at the start/finish. I went with High5 gels, shortbread, salted crisps, bananas and rice pudding which together with Tailwind was my nutrition through the 24 hours. I kept electrolytes topped up with my favourite Totum Sport sachets. It comes without saying that everyone needs to find their go-to food for long distances.
I soon got into the rhythm of doing a lap after lap – and boy, did time flow quicker than I thought it would. I had set uphill sections which I walked and a specific point where I started pre-planning in my head what nutrition and gear I need for the next lap (to avoid unnecessary faffing at start/finish). I didn’t waste any time sitting or standing around – I ate either while walking or sitting in the portaloo (yuck!).
Issues and mistakes
Speaking of portaloos – it was not all smiles and unicorns. During the first 30 miles I was going through some digestion troubles and there were times when I though I might genuinely poop my pants. I spent a lot of time in the toilet. Luckily around mile 40, it settled in, because (as I said) nothing unpleasant lasts forever.
When it comes to running itself, I started sensibly and made sure my breathing was easy on the first few laps when one is tempted to go fast (I didn’t really look at heart rate or pace). I managed to keep a decent pace until about 80 miles and then I started to struggle running. It was not due to specific pain or injury, my legs just got fatigued and I had a hard time lifting feet off the ground. So I grabbed poles (that I never used before) and started walking. Several times, I attempted to restart running, but my legs were not cooperating. So walking it was. I didn’t panic, I just accepted it as a fact and kept going, trying not to stab anyone with my poles because I clearly was a pole amateur.
At that time I also made my first and (luckily) the only mistake at this event: I stuck to my current nutrition routine of refuelling each lap at the start/finish, but because laps now took me longer to complete, I ended up consuming fewer calories per hour. This resulted in a drop of energy level and left me drained on my last (22nd) lap. I was worried I won’t complete my last lap before the cut off of the event. During the last few miles I cried, because I just felt emotional, especially when I realised I will actually make it and also bank 2nd female prize.
I could barely stand when the prize was given to me, but felt lucky because the winner spent the prize giving in the medical tent. Shortly after that, I fell asleep in my tent snuggling my trophy, only to wake up in an empty field because most of the participants have already left.
So back to the initial question: Can you do it?
I am not going to pretend it was easy, but I found running (walking) 110 miles easier than I thought it would be. All you need is to simply carry on with forward motion, no matter how slow, and keep smiling. There is something intensely magical about running through sunset into the night while most of the nation sits on a sofa in front of TV. For me, running ultramarathons certainly satisfies my love for nature and my lifelong search for unknown adventures waiting in the woods and mountains. There is something spiritual and elevating about sunset and sunrise on the trails, so if you are looking to starve your muscles but feed your soul, get out and do an ultra. I recommend ❤️