A lot of people probably question my obsession with hundred milers. Goodness knows my wife does. So why do I keep signing up for race after race? It’s because the sheer quantity of nuances involved keep the distance fresh and challenging for me after all these years. Or it’s possible that I’m just a very, very slow learner.

Not to go all New Age on you, but the further you run, the more you come to realize how connected the body is to the mind. How a problem/issue with one part of your body can move over the course of your race from place to place to yet another place. You’ll learn about this well before stepping up to the hundred mile distance. The best example is how your mental state will deteriorate when you’re low on calories only to rebound once you’ve been able to start eating again.

PACING. The problem with pacing a hundred miler is you never practice your hundred mile pace. Your easy, long run pace? Too fast. Your average pace in that 50 miler you did? Too fast. You just need to accept you’ll go out too fast, you’ll blow up a bit, and walk it in at some point. My best advice is to start off about 20% slower than your long run pace. This will probably still be too fast, but it’ll keep you fresher a little bit longer.

NIGHT. Ironically, I find it harder to get lost at night than during the day. This is because races use reflective flagging on night sections so it’s easier to see where you’re going from farther away.

Many people worry about getting sleepy overnight and will plan out a caffeine strategy to combat. I’ve discovered two unrelated methods to stay awake. The first is to have the brightest light possible. The dimmer your light, the slower you’ll run and the more tired you’ll feel. There have been a couple times where I’ve either swapped out batteries or turned up my light and felt much more awake. The other solution is to eat more. Bonking during the day will lead you to a mental funk. Bonking overnight leads to being sleepy. Frankly, the solution to most problems in hundreds is eating more. Speaking of which. . .

STEADY NUTRITION. The longer you run, the more obstacles you will encounter to staying consistent with your calorie consumption. I’ve gotten behind on calories because I was eating based on mileage and as my pace slowed so did the amount of calories I was ingesting. When it’s cold out, I’m less likely to eat as frequently because it’s a hassle to take my gloves/mittens off. Likewise, if my food is buried at the bottom of my pack, I’ll delay grabbing something. I’ve also not eaten simply because I was carrying stuff that was difficult to chew (Starbursts). The easier you can make it to eat, the more likely you will be able to do so. And there have been many, many races where I’ve mostly stopped eating in the last 10-15 miles because I was moving well enough and didn’t have to eat.

AID STATIONS. The goal is to spend as little time as possible in aid stations. It is a race after all. The challenge though is that there’s a certain point where rushing through aid stations will be counter productive and could cost you a race. It’s difficult to know exactly when that is, but for me it’s typically right before it gets dark. From that point onwards, I’ll take whatever extra time I think I need to guarantee I keep making forward progress.

RISK MANAGEMENT. Hundred mile races are as much problem solving events than anything else. You will encounter a series of choices and your success will be determined by minimizing the worst possible outcomes. Sure it’s only supposed to rain for an hour, but what happens if it last for 6 hours? How sure are you that the hotspot won’t blow up into the mother of all blisters? Is a shot of tequila really what you need at 3am? Issues will come up and things will go wrong. For goodness sake, don’t help them to do so.

EVERYTHING ELSE. There are a ton of other little things that I’ve “mastered” in that it helps get me to the finish having fun along the way. Everything from toe socks to taping up my back in that one spot my pack likes to rub to carrying 2 bottles to mix up my tastes to saving my music until the second half. I’ve got a system for prioritizing needs in aid stations (ice fluid foods in that order) and how and when to write directions for myself. I have criteria for when to use poles (races with over 15k feet of elevation gain). There are many uses for a buff and several different ways to wear them depending on whether they need to be kept dry. Some races require gaiters. None require sunglasses. I know how to cool off in hot weather and heat up when it’s cold out.

I have made just about every mistake possible over the years, many of them over and over again, and learned how either avoid, ignore, or deal with them. I’ve yet to run a perfectly executed race. I’ve come close on occasion, but there’s always something that seems to trip me up. And that’s what I love about the distance. It’s really freaking hard. The challenge is that many issues will never come up outside of races so they’re difficult to prepare for ahead of time. My best encouragement is that experience is a great teacher and it does get easier. Eventually.