Thursday, October 23, 2014

100-Mile Lessons

When I started running ultramarathon distances, I had no idea what it would take to be successful in this sport. After a few years of these things, you have no idea how gratifying it is to truly understand that nobody really knows what they're doing.

For everyone fabulously chasing things that scare them, here's a few tips I've picked up along the way:

1) Training and recovery are nice to minimize the suffering of a 100-mile race, but if you're willing to suffer a bit, neither are required to actually finish. Worried that you're undertrained? That you didn't taper enough, or tapered too much? Stop it. Worrying can't help you. You are where you are. No matter where that is, know that you can finish. Be confident in that fact.

2) If all else fails, when you can no longer run, a brisk hike and limited aid station time will get you to nearly every finish line in time. No joke.

3) During the race, only think about the distance to the next aid station. Once you're at that aid station, only think about the distance to the next aid station. If anyone ever tells me, "You're halfway done!" at mile 50 of a 100-mile race, I'm going to punch them in the nuts. The thought of doing ANOTHER 50 miles after you've already done 50 miles is horrible, but thinking about going 5 miles to the next aid station feels like an easy, daily run. You can always go 5 miles.

4) Throwing up, alone, should never end a race, and actually gives you a nice few-minute endorphin rush. Sure, if you're not processing anything, your top end may be gone, but you can still run downs and flats. A bad stomach just makes things uncomfortable--not impossible. People go days without drinking and weeks without eating. You can make it 30 hours.

5) Most pain isn't real. It's merely your body telling you that it doesn't think you can sustain what you're doing. Don't listen to it. You can ignore that kind of pain. Jared Campbell gives that pain to an imaginary friend. I've convinced myself I didn't have feet before. This stuff works.

6) Accept your current conditions as they are, then make the best of things. That's the key to happiness in life, and it works beautifully in these events. It's raining? So what? That's just how it is now. You've been wet before. You dried. Keep going. Things aren't going the way you planned? So what? Change the plan. Keep going. Fallen off your pace? That wasn't supposed to be your pace. You have a new pace now. Keep going. Feet hurt? That's just how they are now. Keep going. Quads shot? That's just how they are now. Keep going. Adopt the mantra, "This isn't hard; this just is." Unless there's a significant risk of permanent damage, keep going. You'll figure it out.

7) Fake it until you make it. If you pretend like you're having a good time, pretty soon you'll find yourself having a good time. When people ask you how you feel, and you actually feel horrible, lie to them. Tell them you feel great. Smile a lot. Offer encouragement to others. It all helps.

8) Get all negative thoughts out of your head, and distance yourself from everyone that's being negative. Constantly remind yourself how awesome it is that you're doing a 100-mile race. Someone around you talking about dropping? Get away from them. Negativity is more contagious than yawning.

9) If you're falling asleep, sprint for 30 seconds. Seriously, the momentary rise in blood pressure will wake you up, and engaging different muscles for even a little bit will loosen you out of that 100-mile shuffle you've been suffering at all day/night.

10) Remember that we're the lucky ones that even get to attempt these things. There are people that would kill to be able to take 3 steps on their own, let alone run 100 miles. If you can take one more step, take one more step. To not take that step is an insult to everyone who physically can't. Do it for them.

11) Never make decisions during the race. Your brain wants you to stop. Of course it'll come up with 1,000 reasons to quit. Don't give it the opportunity. If you're not cut off, keep going. You will always eventually find a second wind. Things never always get worse.

12) Don't ever do math during the race. You're probably wrong, and will just scare yourself. If you can keep going, keep going. Simple as that.

13) Remember, at the start of the race, that you're entering a tunnel, and there is no way out other than the other side.

14) "Courage. We all suffer. Keep going."
"The greatest battle is not physical but psychological. The demons telling us to give up when we push ourselves to the limit can never be silenced for good. They must always be answered by the quiet, steady dignity that refuses to give in. Courage. We all suffer. Keep going."
-- Graeme Fife
15) You are marvelous. These things we do are fantastic. We're choosing to live life, to cheat death. How can we not laugh, smile, and giggle the entire time?
"Your life is your life,
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
Be on the watch.
There are ways out.
There is a light somewhere.
It may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
Be on the watch.
The gods will offer you chances.
Know them.
Take them.
You can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes,
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
Your life is your life.
Know it while you have it.
You are marvelous.
The gods wait to delight
in you."
-- Charles Bukowski, The Laughing Heart
16) You are so much more than the outcome of any race. Don't ever forget that.
"I have learned to take the falling short with the successes, and no longer let this sport so narrowly define who I am. I am so much more than that." -- Jason Husveth


  1. Brilliant. A lot of self determination required by the looks of it. ;-)

  2. An analogue of life not just running me thinks. Top blog

  3. Nicely put! I'll bear your pointers in mind for motivation during the next few weeks when I take on three races longer than I have done before.

  4. Cracking blog.... love the tough love/glass half full mentality

  5. This is top notch ultra writing if I ever saw it. Should be required reading. Wishing you all the best in running and beyond. (Translation: If you haven't yet, please spend backdown weeks writing a book. If you have, where do I find it?)

  6. Great post. Can't stop laughing at #3.

  7. OK I've re-read this probably 6 times now in the past however many weeks. My first 50M trail race is only 3 days away. It's a leap from the 50K's I've done before. I thank you for your post. It's what I needed as I obsess about the race at this point: perspective! Love this stuff!

  8. One of the best distillations of ultra/life wisdom I've read. Good stuff. Glad to have stumbled across your site, Edward!

  9. Best tips I've ever read for running an ultra. I needed this, thank you!

  10. Saw your post referenced on Reddit, and think this is great! I am running my first trail marathon in a couple of weeks, and although it's not the ultra distance, I will certainly take away some of these great points. Thank you!

  11. Words I needed to hear and ones I will definitely be looking at as I train. Thank you.


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  15. I can't love this more. I read it out loud to my son. We are happy because of it. And because we run ultras. Thank you!