Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Allure of 100 Miles

In the minutes after completing a 100 mile race I usually have the same internal monologue with myself. The conversation typically involves me telling myself I will never run a hundred miles ever again, that I need to take a year off from ultramarathons, or I hate running and knitting seems like a rather painless hobby worthy of pursuit. Mike, remember that time you had ten functional toe nails? Neither do I.

For reasons unknown to man, about 24 hours after this, I am figuring out which 100 miler to do next. It's a twisted passion in that when it comes to running, I have a memory like Ten Second Tom from the movie 50 First Dates, or Dory in Finding Nemo. As soon as my body starts feeling physically better, it's like I completely forget how much stress it went through during the previous hundred mile escapade. But, there's something about the 100 mile distance that keeps bringing me back, eventhough I feel like the distance has gotten the better of me on most occasions. I have attempted six very different 100's and finished four. Even the races that I have finished, and seemingly finished well, I felt like my body felt good for maybe two thirds of the race, and then was basically in survival mode the final thirty miles. That's a long time to feel like you are just trying to gut out a finish and not DNF.

It makes me wonder if training for 100's is even something you can do, or if you just have to learn by doing them and finding out what your body does best, or worst, for one hundred miles. I have found that even with 100 mile training weeks and long runs of 20-30 miles at 8:30 pace, that you still can't fully prepare the body and mind for what will happen in the depths of the 100 mile distance (ie after 50 and 60 miles). If you have a rough patch in a 50 miler, you can gut it out for the last couple of hours and still finish well, yet a rough patch in a hundred could yield hours and hours of discomfort. In the case of a race like Hardrock, or Badwater, a rough patch may be an entire day's worth of slow hiking, walking, vomiting, and kidney failure.

Despite over 60 ultramarathon finishes, I find the challenge of 100 miles to be the most alluring distance. No matter the race, or terrain, there's that mystery of what will happen beyond the 100k mark. You can train day and night and somehow a hundred miles can still throw you the one curveball you didn't expect. My most recent race, the Graveyard 100, humbled me in that I felt like the race was a total disaster (given the 30 miles of walking), and yet I still ran a relatively respectable time. I suppose it still boggles my mind how I can run pretty much every step of a 50 miler, but end up walking historically 40-50% of the second half of each 100 I have finished.

Again, I am admitting I am still a novice at 100's. I still go out way too fast, though I wonder if running even 30 minutes slower over the first 50 miles will cause my gynormous second half positive splits to shrink a little. Before my first 100 in 2007, a friend told me that a typical runner sees a 1:1.3 ratio for the first and second half of a hundred, assuming the course runs similar for both halves of the race. This is fairly consistent, but it does make me raise an eyebrow at my 1:1.5+ ratio I've been churning out. Reflecting back at my awful splits from the Graveyard 100, I ran a 7:57 front 50, and a sloth's pace 12:31 for the second 50 miles. That 7:57 jumps off the page as looking too fast, but this is about 30 minutes slower than if I went full out for the same distance, thus it felt slower, though it was still way too fast. I'm thinking 8:30 would have been much more practical, and may have saved enough in the legs for a 10:30-11:00 second half which would have gotten me much closer to an achievable time of 19-20 hours (maybe not). It seems no matter how fast, or slow, I start a 100 mile race, my legs are reduced to a slow jog at best and a lot of walking.

After reading this and seeing how much I struggle the last 40 miles of all my hundred milers, you're probably wondering why on earth I would want to keep doing them. Why not just stick with the races I can run the entirety of and be happy with 50 milers and 50k's. Well, the answer is that I love venturing into the physical and mentally uncharted territories of my ability, and is often the reason I willingly choose to run 100 milers without a crew, or pacer. I also found that the things we use to distract ourselves from the pain, or monotony of 100 miles (like a pacer, or headphones) can often take away from experiencing the intricate details of a course and it's surroundings. Instead of tuning out, I really enjoy being forced into a sometimes uncomfortable place where I can't simply ignore my thoughts and physical nuances. It really makes it that much more of a symbiotic relationship between the run and the runner. I love it!

BTW, I wanted to give a last shout out to Graveyard 100 Champion Brenda Carawan. I don't know if people realize how amazing running a 16:33 for 100 miles is on any course. This is a phenomenal time for a man, or woman, and is really an elite level performance. It was the fastest female 100 of the year, and unless someone runs faster at a 24 hour run, Javelina, or Umstead, I dare say it could be the fastest female 100 time in 2012. This really does place Brenda up there with some of the elite US women who are running anywhere from 15-18 hours at road and trail 100's. Keep up the good work!

"The way you approach the first 10% of a race says a lot about your personality, but the way you endure the last 10% of a race says everything about your character."
-Mike Bailey


kelley runs ultras said...

Very well said Mike! I just started running ultras 1 year ago and completed my first hundred at Hinson Lake. I ran a very slow pace to start off but was still reduced to a walk around mile 92. I finished around 22 hrs. With the Graveyard I thought if I took better care of my feet I would not be reduced to a walk. Changed my socks at every aid station( dry max)and shoes at AS3. I too went out at a blistering pace and saw AS1 at 3hrs. My goal was 20 hrs and I was 2hrs ahead. Thought of slowing down but the pace felt really easy. Even at AS 4 I had " money in the bank" and could still go sub 20. I was ecstatic !!! This was the only thing that made me leave AS 4 and venture back out in to the cold and lonely night. But then my legs suddenly called it quits and would not let me run or shuffle. Most heart wrenching feeling!! Finished in 21 hrs with 10 miles of walking. I do not think the fast early pace had anything to do with how my legs felt. I average about 40-50 miles a week and 1 ultra a month. I have 4 small kids and work full time nights in the ER so high mileage is out of the question. I am sure extra mileage would help me not walk the last 10 but the faster miles in the beginning makes my finish time look better :-)

Happy running
Kelley Wells

Mike Bailey said...

Hey Kelley. Thanks for dropping in. I think I saw you as I was leaving Hatteras Lighthouse. We were both in the walking only portion of our races, but at least we both seemed upbeat about it. It was nice to exchange pleasantries with another runner, as I had not seen anyone for about 8 hours at that point. I felt like you all day. My goal time kept slipping from 17 hours to 18, and then 19. Finally, with the beat up feet and blisters, I just resigned myself to the notion of a 20 something hour finish. Sometimes you gotta take what the race and your body gives you. Still a great run for you, and it was only your second time at 100 miles. Way to tough it out! Being a mom and working professional IS a full time job. I can get away with high miles because I don't have kids yet and my work schedule is flexible. It's very impressive and inspiring you have found a good balance, and are able to do enough to run fast and strong. I'm sure I'll see you out on the trails soon :-)