Your First 100 Mile Race

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These tips are intended to provide some advice for your first 100 mile race. Not all tips will be applicable to all racers, but some of them may be useful to you. Some of these are applicable to other ultramarathon distances, but the focus is intended to be 100 miles. As always, if you have tips you'd like to suggest, just let me know.

1 Critical Tips

These are the tips that are important to your safety, health and success.

  • It gets colder at night Have enough extra clothes with you for when the sun goes down. You are likely to be tiered and depleted, so Hypothermia can occur much more easily and at much warmer temperatures than you'd expect. It's important you think ahead, as it may take you longer to reach the next aid station than you anticipate.
    • I saw several runners with serious Hypothermia at Umstead in 2011, just after sunset. The temperatures were relatively mild (low 50s Fahrenheit/low teens Celsius) and no rain. I also saw many more runners with mild Hypothermia.
  • Blister Management People are far more likely to have blister issues in a 100 than in training or other distances. Blisters will not only cause you pain, but they will slow you down and can prevent you from finishing the race. If you start to feel a blister forming, deal with it as soon as you can. The longer you leave it, the harder it will be to work on. See Blister Prevention and Taping.
  • Hydration In any endurance race, hydration is important. However, because hydration errors become compounded over time, so hydration is particularly important in a 100. It is vital that you get an adequate supply of both water and salt. Some runners get on well with Electrolyte Capsules, but I suspect that these may not work for all runners. However, it is vital that you maintain your sodium intake as well as your fluid intake.
  • Eat what appeals For most people, a 100 miler requires some solid food. I've found that eating foods that appeal at the time rarely causes digestive problems. I will go up to the aid station, look at the foods and see what, if anything, looks appetizing. This advice seems to have worked well for other runners. If nothing appeals, then I recommend going without, at least for a short while. There is little point in eating something that your stomach can't digest. If I feel my blood sugar is low, but no food or drink appeals, then I will slowly take a gel pack, rubbing the gel around my mouth and gums with my tongue.

2 Important Tips

These tips will help you finish the race, and possibly mitigate the suffering you will experience.

  • Remember the past. Read Essential Ultrarunning Tips and remember that everything you learnt on your shorter races also applies on the 100. Some of these tips are elaborated on here for emphasis.
  • Don't go out too fast. At Umstead the typical runner takes 1.3 times as long to complete the second 50 miles compared with the first 50. Many runners slow up more dramatically. The better you can pace yourself in the early stages, the stronger you will be later. Thinking of the 100 miler as a marathon with a 75 mile warm up may help.
  • Beware Aggressive Goals' I've seen a number of runners DNF trying to make a sub-24 hour finish. I've also seen much smarter runners finish in 25 hours in good shape (for a 100). Be careful setting aggressive goals, as they inspire you to go out too fast.
  • Walk early, walk often. Do not try to run until you can't run any further and then walk. Walking Breaks are vital for nearly all runners in a 100 mile race. See Walking Breaks
    • Don't walk too slowly. Try to keep up a reasonable pace when walking, rather than a slow stroll. Your overall time may be influenced more by your walking pace than your running pace. Going slower means you are on your feet for a longer period, making the race harder.
    • Don't walk too fast. Walking uses different muscles and can have a very different Foot Strike. You should have practiced your walking in training and have a good idea what pace works for you. Trying to race walk when you have not practiced this is likely to cause problems.
  • Remember you can rebuild. If things go badly, but you have time on the clock before the cut off, use that time to rebuild. A little food and rest can restore your body and spirits.
  • Use a pacer. A pacer can help keep you moving and improve your morale. The two things I think are important in a pacer are the ability to cover the paced distance (obviously) and a sense of optimism. You can also use your pacers as mules, carrying extra gear, especially warm clothing.
    • Note that not all races allow pacers while others such as the West Highland Way Ultra or HURT allow pacers but do not allow them to mule.
  • Don't look down. Do not think about how far you've got to go. Focus on getting to the next aid station. Break down the race into segments and tackle each one in turn.
  • Take 2 lights. If your only light fails, being alone in the woods in the dark is no fun. See Running in the Dark
  • Depression It is quite likely you will hit a low point in the race, possibly more than one. I've felt overwhelming despair and depression in each of my 100 mile races, and some shorter races as well. Unless you have a specific problem, keep moving and it will pass. Taking something to raise the blood sugar may help, such as a gel pack.
  • Caffeine A little Caffeine can help a lot, especially at dusk or in the early hours of the morning.
  • Nausea Some runners have more digestive problems than others. Nausea can be a sign that you are overheating, so if you are nauseous in hot conditions, try slowing down and cooling off. Another cause of nausea can be eating something your body doesn’t want (see 'eat what appeals' above). Ginger can help with Nausea, especially ginger ale.
  • Nightfall The toughest point for many folks is dusk, as the desire to be somewhere warm and light can be overwhelming. Aid Stations that are warm and well lit are particularly hard to leave at nightfall. If you can get past this point, the night itself is often not as bad. Hooking up with other runners at this point can help. I met up with a small group for the night at Massanutten and I am deeply grateful for their company and support.
  • Watch the weather You are out there for a long time, and the weather can change dramatically. Be prepared for these shifts in weather. Thunderstorms on a warm day can trigger rapid Hypothermia.
  • Have a crew A good crew can speed up your time in the Aid Stations, but more importantly they can provide the intelligence that you will lack as the race progresses. Having a crew make sure you have all you need before you leave the aid station can make the difference between comfort and danger. See Crewing an Ultra for more details.

3 Useful Tips

General tips to make your race easier.

  • Beware the Aid Stations These are wonderful places, but time passes quickly. See Aid Stations
  • Stay awake For most runners, the race will last most of the night, making sleep deprivation an issue. I wish there were a cure for this, but the best I can do is covered in Sleep Deprivation in Overnight Events
  • Drop Bags If you have the option of using Drop Bags, I would take it unless you have a crew that will be there. See Drop Bags
  • Post run clothes Think ahead to after the race and pack a change of comfy clothes and some slippers.
  • Second dawn The second dawn on a race brings hope that is hard to describe. I have found it to be a deeply spiritual experience. If your finishing time is going to take you through the second dawn, look forward to it; things do get better when the sun comes up.

4 See Also

5 External Links