A lot goes into preparing for a 100-mile endurance race as I have come to find out. The training, preparation, and travel all tie into the experience of accomplishing a distance that far. Through trial and error, I have learned a few things about the process and wanted to share them.
Travel-I live in North Carolina so most of my races require a good bit of travel. I don’t mind it too much because I love road trips and seeing new places. Traveling can be stressful, especially when more people go along. I have encountered trips with a friend that made ten hours on the road feel like an hour conversation because we were both so engaged and didn’t want to stop sharing our thoughts. Then I have had trips that resulted in arguing a good portion of the way that drains energy from my mind and body which only made the race more difficult.
It’s important to plan so that your travel has the least amount of stress possible. I book a hotel room in advance for one or two nights before a race. I try to arrive at the area of the race two days before it starts so I can rest for two solid nights and have plenty of time for the packet pick-up and preparation before the event. I arrived the night before one race and slept in the car when it was 30 degrees outside. This was not the best idea, and needless to say, I was a walking zombie-like runner at the end of that race. We try to anticipate issues with traffic or the car when we can. Leaving with a day buffer can help you remain calm if there are traffic issues. I bring along a portable battery that can jump the car if necessary. This has saved other runners and they were very thankful. There is nothing worse than your car starting after running for 27 hours straight and wanting to get to a warm room with a bed. I also have the best coverage AAA offers. It gives me peace of mind to know a tow truck will be available to take me 200 miles if I need it. If I am traveling alone I make sure to bring a few forms of protection with me. You have to stop for gas eventually and it may not be in the best area. As a small blonde girl, I feel that I might look like an easy target so I try to be smart about it. I call my boys (Matt and Mark) before I stop and let them know where I am. Then I call when I am done so they know I’m ok and not being whisked off to the Canadian border. It may be overly cautious but at least I’m still around and plan for it to stay that way. There is a great taser device you can purchase on Amazon that I carry with me at all times as well. I also have a really high pitched alarm that is easy to activate and draw attention. You can’t be too careful and it’s good to have protection and not need it than the other way around.
Rest-This is one of the most important pre-race priorities. I am not a super fast runner so I can safely plan to be out there for over 26 hours. To be on your feet and moving forward for up to 31 hours takes some pre-race rest planning. Even if you plan to do a 24-hour our race you need to go into it well rested. I try to make my main resting day/night 2 days before the race. Things often don’t go as planned so I like to have a buffer night if I can. I have used Melatonin and sometimes take a little Unisom to help me get to sleep and stay asleep. Even taking these supplements the night before I can get so excited that sleep is not as good as I would hope for. That’s why 2 nights before is my main priority to rest. Of course it is important to rest after your workouts as well to help with recovery so if you can establish a routine that is usually helpful. I typically strive to be in bed by 10pm and my body wakes up on its own around 6-7am. I have never been good at being able to sleep in late, and knowing that I try to go to bed at a reasonable time. Pre-race nights I have gone to bed as early as 5pm, knowing I had to get up at 3am for a 5:00am race start.
Food-This has been one of the biggest challenges for me. It is an ever-developing experiment to get the right type of foods for these races. I know a lot of what doesn’t work for me and that just comes from trying different things on training runs and during races. Be sure to write down what does work for you and what doesn’t work so you can avoid repeating mistakes. My tastes change for each race so bringing a variety of food seems to work best. Tomato soup is something that works well for me. I don’t mind eating it hot or cold, plus the sodium helps. Beef jerky is a definite no for me and my tastes. Nuts are hit or miss. Fruit does not seem to provide enough calories alone so it’s good to have with a protein source. Watermelon has been a life saver for most of the races and luckily the race director often supplies it at the aid stations. Fig Newtons are a quick snack that has worked. I experimented with protein shakes and they seem to work well in training but not during the races. When I get to a pain level that is more than uncomfortable I tend to lose my appetite right away. The taste of protein shakes has not been desirable for me in those times. It’s good to get the calories and protein from them but it doesn’t work when you can’t get the liquid down. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have worked and are easy to carry. Candy and sugar are a great boost but I try to save that for the end, usually the within the last 10 miles or so when I need the boost the most. GU and gels work great for some people but they seem to tear up my stomach too much. I have tried the gels and GU multiple times and have always had an issue with them so I have to avoid them.
Supplies-Having everything you need and being organized is a big relief. I started out very unorganized and that was a disaster. Now I have a tall plastic container with clear drawers that I have things organized in. One drawer for my electronics (music, headlamps, earphones, flashlights, batteries, etc..), a drawer for cold weather supplies (hand and foot warmers, a heat pad that you can stick on which is good for your back or abdomen, headband, snot rag, neck warmer, gloves, etc.. ), a drawer for food supplies (all kinds of snacks, energy drinks, emergency sugar like snickers bar, fig newtons, chips, electrolyte powder for my water, etc..), a drawer for medical needs (Ibuprophen, toe lube, extra socks, blister supplies, female surprises, compression sleeves, scissors, band aids, deodorant, extra chap stick, coconut oil used for chafing, etc.. ).
I will also get other bags together and label them. I’ll make a bag for my post-race outfit so I don’t have to find anything when I am done running and am exhausted. That bag will include my bathroom bag so I can shower. I’ll have a pre-race bag with my outfit and gear that I will start the race with. I’ll have 1-2 drop bags with extra warm clothes and chafing supplies. I’ll also have a bag with all my food and snacks for that particular race. Each race I tend to bring different foods but I like to have it all together so I don’t have to hunt around for things. I’ll also bring a bag with throw away clothes. I go to Goodwill and get warm clothes that I can use and throw out if I need to. Each race I have used some of these supplies so it’s good to have them, even at warm races. The Blind Pig 100 race started out warm and got hot during the day but at the night the tempature dropped dramatically and I was glad I brought an extra jacket and gloves.
I label each bag and have all of this organized before I leave my house for the race. I try to get all this together a few days before I leave so that as I remember things I can add them to their proper bags. Having everything organized takes away a lot of the stress before a race. The more organized I have been, the smoother things seem to go during the race. It’s especially helpful when your crew needs to get something for you and you can tell them which bag or drawer it is in. These races can make you very tired and irritable, so the less frustrations you have the better!
Tapering-This is most definitely different for everyone. Many people follow a plan or schedule before a race or have a coach that can advise them on when and how to start tapering. I will admit that I have never used a coach or a plan for a race. That would be why I have learned a lot from trial and error. A coach can give great advice and save you a lot of time with what will and won’t work. I have not been able to afford one and prefer to learn the hard way I suppose. That’s also why I write everything down so I can avoid the mistakes when possible.
I taper depending on how my body feels. I like to go into a race feeling strong and confident. I have done a long training run a week before a race and have been fine. I focus on doing hard training runs back to back during training. I’ll do a lot of hill work closer to the race time as well. About a week before a race I try to back off on the miles and focus on the quality of the workout. I’ll do 3-10 miles runs at a slower pace with some hills or hit the gym and do my usual routine there. My typical gym routine is an hour on the treadmill at a 5.3 pace and 0.5 incline, 1.5 hours on a stationary bike on level 6, then an ab routine, followed by a back and triceps routine on the machines. I focus a lot on abs and do an ab routine every day, especially before a race. When my abs are strong my whole body runs better, especially my low back. If I don’t have time for a workout one day I will still try to do some ab work real quick.
Before a race I try to stay in tune with my body and focus on what I feel it needs. Sometimes that is getting stronger legs so I will hit the hills and other times it is feeling confident with a longer distance so I will do a long run with a purpose such as running to school and then back (15 miles each way), or running to my mother-in-law’s house (20 miles). The longer runs seem to be more fun when I have a destination to get to. Make sure to keep sleep as a priority.
Mental Mindset-This is the most important thing for me before a race! I need to feel ready and strong and that is mostly in my mind. Your body will keep going and get through what you put it through but your mind is the one thing that can really make or break a race. This has also been learned through trial and error. I visualize the race a lot before an event. I constantly think about being strong, enjoying the run, running through the night under the beautiful stars, feeling the sunrise, and enjoying the experience. I think about how this is a big challenge and what I will learn through each experience.
It’s important to expect that you will hit a wall of some kind. There will be a point, sometimes many, in a race that are very difficult. These moments will pass and you can get through them. Sometimes the path seems so very long but just break it down into smaller sections. Or you might feel so sad and disappointed, but this will pass. Try to change the music or put on a movie. When these walls are hit it’s important to change your mindset in whatever way works for you. Sometimes that may mean turning off all the electronics and talking to people. More often than not it’s a calories issue. Please take my advice and carry spare food with you. I have made this mistake more than once and it has created some of the toughest times for me. When your calorie intake becomes too low it can send you into a downward spiral of emotions and physical depletion. Usually when I starting to feel it coming on I’ll try to get some more food either at an aid station or from my crew. Carry a spare snack with you. I made the mistake of not carrying anything because I thought the distance was not that far and I would make it through that portion without a problem but I was very wrong. When you get to a depleted state you really slow down and a ten mile stretch can take much longer than you would think. Be prepared.
Conserving Energy-Keep things simple and positive. Before the race it is easy to get overwhelmed and anxious. If you are prepared and have trained for the race let it go. You are ready and can do it even if you have doubts. You are stronger than you think and you need to have confidence that you can do it. Worrying and being stressed over everything is a waste of energy. Try to laugh with people around you. Remember, you are on a trip and should enjoy it. Tell stories and make connections with people you are with. That usually enhances the whole experience. Try not to overdo activities and plans. I try to get to my location, check in to the hotel or set up camp, and then take it easy. Watch T.V. or read a book to relax your body before a big race. Make sure you leave plenty of time for downtime and get plenty of rest. Rushing around and feeling unprepared will cause you to be nervous and worry. Have all your stuff organized and keep things simple. At one race I sent Matt and Mark to go enjoy the day exploring the area while I stayed in the room and slept and took a bath. You don’t have to be a part of every activity on a trip. You have to make conserving your energy a priority. Use common sense and try to go to bed as early as you need, even if that is 5 pm.
Having Fun-Enjoy the journey! This is a great experience and you have to embrace the good and the bad. The good moments keep drawing me back and the bad ones make me stronger as a runner and as a person in this world. I am forever grateful for all the concepts I have realized during these races. It is hard to explain the level you reach when you are out there getting through a race like these. The perfect combination of exhaustion, sleep deprivation, a little dehydration, willpower, strength, pain, hope, pride, and excitement all combine to send your mind into many different directions. I have had thoughts and feelings that I would not normally have and I cherish them. Appreciation and such gratitude for people and opportunities that is so intense. A true appreciation for your life and what you have the privilege to go through…both good and bad. Each experience makes you who you are and stronger as a person. Not to mention the amazing scenery that you get to run through. I have seen beautiful beaches and awesome trails in the mountains. I take a moment to soak it all in and appreciate the beautiful earth I am currently a part of during the race. Embrace it and enjoy it!