Ruminations on an 100-mile Race

As Jason Eades has already done a commendable job describing our Western States adventures, this note will be brief.  On that day, strategy and discipline and luck converged, and we were able to achieve a pleasing result, despite my nasty chest cold, and despite my body’s apparent cannibalism of significant amounts of my own muscle tissue.  These notes are notes that I wish that I could have written to myself before I ran my first 100-mile race and, indeed, before I ran my first ultra race.  For the most part, they are common sense; you and I have heard them many times; but they bear repeating. 


I am not a natural runner; nor do I have the discipline and mileage and time required to properly train for a 100-mile race. These notes come from the perspective of a duffer runner; I hope that they will be useful.

1.     Pacers: In most past races, I have been a lone wolf, relying on drop bags, and eschewing pacers. For WS100, I was blessed with patient yet firm pacers without whose intelligent and persistent motivation I might not have made it. Thanks, Ferg & Jason!

      2.     Nutrition: In most races, I have consumed a combination of gels and sports drink full of carbs and electrolytes. This may work in cooler weather or over shorter distances, but for WS100, ruthless simplicity and science carried the day. In hot temperatures, you do not know how much water you will drink, and guzzling sports drink will likely cause you to consume more than the 200-300 calories that you can digest per hour, or overshoot or undershoot the necessary electrolyte intake. Result: barfing or bloating. Thus I followed a strict separation of water; gels (1 GU gel every 45 minutes); and salt (1 Succeed cap per hour; 2 per hour during the heat of the day). Result: no troubles with my notorious stomach.    

3.     Taping feet: after my first WS100, every inch on the soles of my feet was hideously blistered. During the run, the knowledge that your feet are being shredded inflicts a psychological as well as physical pain. For this WS100, the night before the race I taped my feet with Kinesio Tape, pre-spraying with Tuf-Skin, a medical adhesive. Not a single blister. The tape fell off after my shoe change (at 62 miles), but most feet can survive the remaining 38 miles sans tape.  Jon Vonhof’s book is the Holy Text of feet.

4.     No underwear: For some past 100 milers, I suffered nasty chafing where one should never suffer nasty chafing: see psychological/physical pain, above.  This was caused in part by always wearing sports underwear, which is unnecessary and undesirable in mesh-lined running shorts. Going commando not only preserves your parts, but provides a refreshing breeze and spring in your step throughout the race.

5.     Compression calf sleeves: these absolutely work. The next day the only part of me not in agony were my calves. When buying, make sure to try them on in the store: they must be quite snug to work. For comfort and longevity, get the sleeves, not the socks.

6.     Slow & steady: In past races, I have always started too fast and burned myself out. The chest cold forced me to lower my expectations, and to strictly follow the pace chart for a 24-hour finish, minus a 35-minute cushion. I managed to stick to this pace consistently for the entire race. More admirable, and more successful in this strategy was Chad Hyson, who learned at the feet of wise 100-mile-master Karl Jensen.  Whereas I sped up and slowed down between aid stations, Chad continued along like a pendulum, catching up to me and beating me into every aid station, and ultimately, at the end, finishing 24 minutes faster, thanks to his precise discipline.

7.     Slow running is always faster than fast walking: both activities consume about the same amount of energy and are equally painful at the later stages of the race. Alternating 30-second shuffle runs with 30 second walk breaks makes a huge difference in avoiding inertia. Having a pacer prompt you and time you makes this routine even more successful (thanks, Ferg!)

8.     Be guided by your stomach at aid stations: a controversial study in the 30s posited that babies and children provided with a variety of food choices would naturally consume what their bodies required. Instead of forcing yourself to eat what you think you need, go with your gut. I suddenly found myself devouring an avocado and bacon at Foresthill: just the fat, salt, and protein the body was screaming for.

9.   Headlamps: In addition to a headlamp on my forehead, I wear three headlamps around my torso. Result: lots of light, with decent depth perception (which a single light will not provide). A hand-held light is an unnecessary bother.

10. Be grateful: Frustration, self-pity, and misery can drag you down in the last 30 miles of the race. Relentless gratitude is the antidote: gratitude for your family for letting you do such events; for your pacers; for the race volunteers and organizers; for Ean Jackson, for convincing me three weeks before the deadline for qualifying that I had to use my lottery draw for the Western States; for the course photographers (thank you, Glenn Tachiyama, for bringing your beaming visage to seemingly every race on the planet); for the organizers of the WS100 qualifying event (thank you, Ron Adams, for the years organizing the late Haney to Harrison race); for the beauty of the course; and for the blessing of health that allows one to attempt this mad glorious feat.

11. Buckled belt:  a rare place in Vancouver to buy a quality belt to which you can add a silver buckle.  


A final bit of unsolicited advice for anyone interested in ultrarunning: Bryon Powell, who hosts a great website (irunfar.com) has a very useful and comprehensive new book, the reading of which before WS100 crystallised many of the thoughts above:  Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons, available here, and at amazon.ca.



You rock!

 From one duffer runner to another way to go!  Very well written comments David.  I like your philosophy about gratitude, some times we forget.  I've always pondered doing WS maybe it's time to give it a whirl?



David Crerar's picture

Relentless forward gratitude

Do put you name in for WS, now, adventuremike.

Jason Eads's picture

Well said, Mr. Crerar

Fantastic reminders that many runners "know", but often don't adhere to. I definitely needed the reminders, so thanks!

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.