Preparing for my first 100 mile race- Mud Crew’s Arc of Attrition
This is the first of 2 blogs covering my first, any most likely (hopefully) my only, 100 mile ultra marathon. I felt like it could be a good insight for those who run and those that don’t to understand the reasons why you would want to attempt 100 miles, the training and all the other logistics and things you may not have even realised were a thing.
So this leads to the Why?! This seems like a very good question even to myself as I sit writing this a week ahead of the race. Thinking of how I will be feeling this time next week after running for over 25+ hours. The answer is very difficult to explain and only those who really know my character would essentially be able to grasp. Having being asked this the most out of all the questions I will try to explain.
I only started running after needing to a way to keep fit around my work after moving to Bristol and giving up rugby. This led me to doing my first marathon in Oct 2015 and went surprisingly well considering when I was playing rugby I thought running a marathon was a stupid idea. After that I ran a 40 miler in May 2016, skipping straight to an ultra distance, The Quest, along the north Cornish coast. Home for me and although a massive jump up in distance I really enjoyed it and surprised myself with coming 13th overall and 12th male. I think this was when I heard about the Arc of Attrition (AoA) run by MudCrew, the 100mile (ish) winter ultra marathon with a 36 hour cut off and 6000m (ish) of elevation around the Cornish coast from Coverack to Porthtowan. And whilst I was sitting in the pub post-race struggling to eat a burger after 9+ hours of running, totally broken I was just in awe of anyone being able to run 100miles let alone on that terrain, in winter.
It wasn’t even a dream, I knew it was impossible for me, physically, mentally, every aspect. Skipping through 2017 with another trail marathon and ultra (31miles which went badly) and a crazy solo 3 peaks hike and cycle it came to 2018 where I had been inspired to do 100km in Austria that was a bit hilly. It was different, a challenge, with good time cut offs, beautiful surroundings it was a weekend away with a friend and a 64mile (ish) run. Training went really well and in hindsight I had probably trained enough that I was capable of running much more than 100km as post-race felt really good. Good for having run 65miles & 4300m elevation. This was the tester; this was when I felt that 100m could be physically possible. So I went about working out how to gain qualification for the AoA. I managed to gain a ballot entry to the Arc 50 (50miles, the baby brother of the AoA) to see what it was like running a winter ultra with only 1 checkpoint. Again, pushing myself to the limit I finished 5th and gained qualification for the AoA, however again I was broken with back issues and unable to eat towards the end of the race and for the rest of the day. I had a lot to learn. I had entered another qualifier, The RAT Plague 100km before the ARC 50 just in case I didn’t finish it. So another 100km starting at midnight and coastal so a nice intro into night time running in the summer. Again finished feeling better but having a few bumps along route and 4 hours quicker than my 100km the year before. This was all confidence building but knew a massive step up to the next race, the A race, the main goal.
After 4 years since hearing about such a stupid race thinking it was an impossible feat, to getting myself into a position where I felt it could be possible it has then taken 2 years of planning & prep to get to where I am now. Physically prepared to complete it, quietly confident, mentally prepared to complete it, unknown. I guess that’s the key thing I have learnt is that they body is an amazing machine, it will adapt, get stronger and deal with whatever you throw at it given the right preparation. Some things you can’t physically prepare for and it doesn’t matter how fit you are if you’re not mentally prepared and motivated to finish a race then you most likely won’t and will DNF. This is the element that drives me to keep on testing myself and why I am toeing the start line to one of the UKs hardest 100milers as my first one, apart from loving Cornwall and the south west coast path, it’s the unknown limits of what your mind can achieve and what it can make your body do. I’ve not found that limit yet and although I don’t want to fail in finding where that limit is, I want to achieve something for myself that I truly believed 4 years ago was impossible. Plus I’m as stubborn as they come and won’t back down to a challenge I’ve set myself, this is a race against myself, no one else.
Hopefully that gives a bit of an insight to the why, the main question I get all the time. The short response for those I don’t have time to bore to death with the above is simply, why not? People think I am a bit mental but mostly we live within our comfort zone and totally unaware of what we are truly capable of, physically and mentally. I see so many amazing people of all ages, genders challenging themselves for many reasons in these races and all so social and keen to help each other as very few are truly in a race against anyone else, just themselves.
Training, logistics and all the other bits.
The training is much like any other race but just jacked up on steroids, and this is where you find out that ultra runners are slightly “different”.
I will keep this bit as short and insightful as possible:
·A short run is 1-2 hours and not worth taking water or a phone, its more to carry.
·Getting up early is the only way to fit it in around life, 5 am get ups on the weekend and getting out is the only way to fit anything else in the day.
·Even as a PT I felt out of my depth with 3 months to go until the race and enlisted the help of an experienced ultra running coach, Michelle Maxwell, to help advise me on how to best train with the time I had. One of the best investments I’ve made as I have learnt so much and made my training time more. There is always room for speed and hill work even if you are running 100miles.
·With 6 months of training it has built to 12-16h of training a week plus stretching/maintenance takes its toll. Fitting it in around work and life gets hard to justify what you’re doing sometimes. With this in mind something always has to give, if it doesn’t you end up broken or disappointed.
·You hope and wish for understanding friends and family as they normally pay the price when you’re out running at 6am on Christmas morning.
·Also you need to be able to sweet talk them into being your Crew, supporting you and cheering you on between checkpoints, throughout the night in some cases, whatever the weather, ready to deal with whatever state you’re in, physically or mentally. I wouldn’t want to crew myself, I’m like Jekyll and Hyde.
·Strength training x 2 week of high weight and low reps, programmed properly, has been a game changer for me and feel it’s really corrected my errors from my last 100km training program. Stronger means faster, more efficient, more resilient and proven to incur less injuries.
·Training is all about volume, low intensity for 80% of the time getting in easy miles over the same type of terrain and then 20% being higher intensity. Time of the feet is key whether its walking or running. I’ve done nothing more that a 28mile run in one go leading to this race but have been hitting 60-80 mile weeks with back to back run over multiple days on training peak weeks.
·The key to ultras is to run the flat (shuffle or mince as my wife describes my running style), walk the hills (this is when you eat, the best bit!) and run the down (if you can). I estimate I’ll probably walk ~30-40% of the course (hills and just generally being broken towards the end). This conserves your energy instead of wrecking yourself by mile 50, that’s unless you’re a pro.
·Rest is not to be ignored. Sleep is king. Rest allows the body to respond to training, recover and get stronger to the demands your placing on it. However there is a very fine line between over doing it and everyone is different. Resilience to training demands, illness, stress & tiredness, physically and mentally isn’t to be shied away from when the going gets tough. Sometimes you just have to get it done however bad, low or knackered you feel. This is something an app or coach can’t tell you; this is about knowing your body and feel for the training. This feeds into the resilience/stubbornness one needs to finish a race that will hurt, a lot.
·Always take toilet roll with you on a run! From my experience it’s a life saver and leads you on a trial and error approach to pre and during race nutrition. Be Prepared to try eating anything and everything to keep your stomach from churning.
·Getting use to eating whilst on the move is key, you only aim to offset your calorie expenditure and you should never be working hard enough in a race to exhaust carb stores, mostly getting your energy from stored fats. Slow and steady, whilst eating, wins the race.
·Kit, kit and more kit. I have lost tabs on the cost of what I have spent on kit and would make me feel a bit sick if I knew how much it all was. However, the right kit is a game changer. There is no such thing as bad weather just bad kit.
·Holidays are normally a disguise to your loved ones for an excuse for a reccy of the race route or chance for a training run in a fun new environment. However you dress it up its hard to hide a 3-5 hour run.
·During a 100m race its unlikely to need to sleep even if it does take you the time limit of 36 hours. Key to this is caffeine, however this may lead to use stomach issues if relied on. Better still is ensuring your fully rested the days leading up to the race. Lots of runners have experienced hallucinations, it not uncommon.
·I find having multiple, flexi goals are important for a race of any length. For this race number 1 absolute goal is to finish, whatever it takes and having all possibilities covered/planned for. The rest will be flexible and will change to get me to where I need to be. For example best case scenario goals are the times to checkpoints to run a sub 30 hour, breaking that down I’ll know min/mile paces I need to make in sections and distances to the next check point. Ticking them off as I go and changing the ‘goal’ posts as I need to if the going is good or bad, which will happen.
·As a result of the above you’ll be a mental arithmetic ninja by the end of your training, it’s the best way to keep your mind busy whilst on the long runs, converting mile to km and min/mile pace to min/km and anything else you can calculate to keep your mind off your dying legs. I strangely find music an annoyance and want to enjoy the environment I am running in, even when its dark. My killer playlist only comes out if the shit hits the fan and I need a beat for my legs to follow.
So for me all the planning and preparation is almost over and it’s not long until race day, well to see if 4 years from inception and 2 years of training can make this personal challenge possible.