Written by 2019 DBR Ambassador Ana Hinz
You’re at mile 71 of 100. It’s the middle of the night, your feet feel like throbbing lumps of wood, and you’re gamely trying to stay awake because you’ve still got more than a marathon to go until you can finally stop moving.
You’ve got a mouthful of something from an aid station, and swallowing it has become a Herculean effort, but you know you desperately need the calories. You’re wondering what the hell you’re doing out here.
OH, you think, this is when it gets hard.
When preparing for a 100 miler, there’s a large focus on the physical training for the distance. But physical readiness is only half of the equation: Mental readiness is the part that we talk much less about.
So let’s talk about it.
What does it take to run 100 miles?
Getting to 100 Miles: It Takes a Willingness to Try
Is 100 miles scary? Totally.
To add to the equation, there will be so many things out of your control during a 100 miler and the option of finishing or not finishing might be completely out of your hands. For instance, there could be unexpected weather, aggressive flora or fauna encounters, bodily fluid expulsions, or simply missing a cutoff.
There’s no way to succeed unless you try, and sometimes trying is all you can do.
Getting to 100 Miles: It Takes Faith in Your Training
Unless you’re seriously undertrained, you’ve likely put in some serious miles. All of those 50+ mile weeks have slowly (but surely) made you stronger. You can do this.
Personally, I’ve had to remind myself of this numerous times before a race. The training is done, and with race day comes the opportunity to both enjoy and utilize the results of all that hard work.
Our bodies are capable of incredible things if we would only trust it and ignore our brains for a bit. It’ll just tell us to stop at mile 40 anyway (most likely to go watch Netflix on the couch forever), and where’s the fun in that?
A rhetorical question, by the way, please do not answer…
Getting to 100 Miles: It Takes Flexibility
While I’m not talking about touching your toes (I certainly can’t), what I do mean is finding a way to deal with the aforementioned issues that might come up.
Many things can go wrong over the course of 100 miles. However, they also can go very right!
What is crucial is the ability to go with the flow and deal with the problems as they arise.
Getting to 100 Miles: It Takes Having a Plan
Having a plan goes beyond training (but please do that too). I’m talking about creating a plan for race day (I use this one from Racing Wisely), even if it just makes you feel more secure going into the event.
For instance: What will you do if it’s hot, or cold? What will you do if you have blisters, or chafing, or you’re vomiting? What if your drop bag is missing, or your pacer can’t get to you?
It’s almost guaranteed that something will go wrong, so it’s important to anticipate any number of surprises that might pop up along the way. When they do, you can deal with them both efficiently and effectively.
It’s easy to think about the physical challenges, but just as important to think about the mental ones. There will be many ups and downs throughout the race. What will you tell yourself when those negative thoughts start creeping in?
My solution was coming up with a mantra ahead of time, and one that meant something. What I used: “I AM strong and I AM determined” which was repeated anytime my brain started to rudely call me an imposter.
When your mind tells you to quit because you don’t belong here or that you’re not strong enough, know that you do, and you are.
Find your motto and use it.
Getting to 100 Miles: It Takes Determination to Keep Moving Forward
Finishing a 100 miler really comes down to one thing: the will to keep going despite everything else you’re experiencing.
You’ll be exhausted, hungry, filthy, and sore.
The comfort of the aid station could prove to be a source of weakness, but valid reasons aside, there can be no questioning or allowing yourself an out when you reach one. Anytime I’ve let my mind even consider dropping without a truly legitimate reason, I ended up DNFing the race and regretted it later.
Everyone has ups and downs throughout the race. If you’re wavering, tell yourself you’ll reconsider at the next aid station. But then you’ve already done more miles, so why not continue for a few more?
Ask yourself honestly: if you quit now, will you regret it later? Remind yourself of what this accomplishment will mean to you.
Other effective tactics to try if it just gets too noisy in your noggin: crank up some music, ask your pacer to tell you stories, or simply focus on relentlessly moving forward.
Ultrarunners aspire to exceptionally high levels of grittiness. Here’s your chance! Find your inner Dory and just keep swimming (er, figuratively speaking. If you have to keep swimming during an ultramarathon, you may have missed a turn. Or it’s a new feature at the Barkley Marathons. I don’t know.).
Getting to 100 Miles: It Takes Surrounding Yourself with Good People
As runners, we like to think we’re solitary creatures but honestly? It takes a village, and good people will make a massive difference in your success.
Good pacers and crew are priceless because they can breathe life back into you when you’re deflated and ready to quit. We can’t forget our amazing ultra-spouses that make our races possible too.
Good volunteers and race directors create the vibe of a race and can make it bland or alternatively, incredible. My favorite race experiences have always included a spectacular community (the Highland Fling and Javelina Jundred are perfect examples – basically all races should have a red carpet and/or a dance party all night).
When it comes to running 100 miles, there are no guarantees. But when you’re well into your first one and start questioning all of your life’s choices… don’t worry, you’ve got this.
This was Ana’s first contribution to DBR. Check out her own blog, Will Run for Whisky, or listen to her (‘undignified and prickly’) 100-mile experience on the Boldly Went Podcast.
Looking for more tips? Check out The Mental Side of Ultra Training on the DBR blog.