100 mile mental game

Don't Make Quitting Easy

Almost nobody will DNF at 3am in the middle of a forest three miles from anywhere. Sit that same person in a nice warm aid station at 3am, 21 hours in, sore as anything and those “I've had enough of this game” thoughts will come wandering to the forefront. So get yourself away from places where if you're thinking of DNFing you can DNF. Get out of aid stations, get away from your crew and back on the trail. You can't DNF a mile from an aid station so you've got to get to the next one, at the next aid station you may feel differently. If the route passes near to your home, hotel or car, be extra strong, get away from there…

Running Partners

It may be tempting to do a long ultra event with someone, for company, for navigation, for support or for whatever reasons. Not too many people do that though for one very good reason. During a 100 mile run you WILL have bad patches, they may be early they may be late, but you will have them. Your running partner WILL also have bad patches. If you're sticking together and you each have a tough 30 miles, then it's unlikely they'll coincide, so potentially you might have 60 miles of going slow because one of you is feeling nauseous, or lacking in energy, or needs to spend 15 minutes sorting out feet. It'll almost always be quicker to do an event independently than with someone else with you the whole way.

Identify Danger Aid Stations

Generally speaking at your typical 100 mile event runners will DNF at certain aid stations more than others. Typically 50-80 mile type ranges. Runners are tired, sore, creaky, sick or all of those and still there is an awful long way to go. In your pre-race thinking and planning identify which ones are going to be the ones to make sure you get out of. Nobody needs worry too much about the 12 miles aid station or mile 92, but the one at mile 67 that you'll hit at 11pm with the huge climb after it. You need to be out of there and on to that climb, not sitting in the aid station getting comfy imagining the horrors of what lay ahead, gently falling asleep, Have a plan in your head, that aid station, in, out, 1 minute, no sitting down, get out of there...


No matter how bad you feel in the night, no matter how slowly you're going, how dreadful it all seems, how tired you are. Things are always better when it gets light again. If I hadn't experienced it myself I wouldn't quite have believed it, but everything is better in the light. If you're having a bad night, just hold on, keep holding on, it'll be better when the sun is out....

Sitting Down

“Beware the chair” is a well known ultra saying and you have to be very careful about sitting down. Just because once you sit down, it gets real hard to get up again. You'll seize up, you'll get warm, you'll get comfortable and then suddenly the thought of the next 30 miles at 20 minute walking pace in the dark, cold, wet seems less and less appealing. It's fatal, in all seriousness I suspect the real cause of many DNF's is simply sitting down. Yes things hurt, yes you're tired, yes you're miserable and grumpy and sick and things don't seem so bad in a chair, the feet ease off, the eyes start to droop. Beware the chair. I've done more than one 100 mile event and not sat down for one moment.

Time Management

Aid stations (and likewise stops with crew) seem to operate in an alternative space time continuum to the rest of the race event time. For my first 100 mile event when I analysed the data I worked out that I had been stationary for 8 hours. EIGHT HOURS! OK I had a bit of a sleep and I was going ridiculously slow towards the end and had a long time limit in to which I expanded. But had you asked me, I'd have said 4 hours, 5 hours tops. But 8?! I was amazed. It is just so easy to spend time at aid stations, having a chat, choosing what to eat, eating, drinking, sorting yourself out, going through drop bags, checking things. If you care about time at all, you have to be disciplined at aid stations. If there are 15 on the course, 4 minutes at each is an hour gone right there. Start spending ten minutes at some and then that hour creeps up towards two hours. Then maybe three hours… it's so easy to let it happen. Be disciplined. Don't stand there and eat or drink, walk and eat, take what you want and walk. Even if you're going slowly and take 200 yards to consume what's in your hand. Fifteen aid stations? You're two miles further down the road. Throw some nibbles in an empty cup, in a plastic bag, anything, just don't stand and graze, pick up stuff, walk and nibble.

Run, Hold, Grind.

I find 100s are basically divided in to three phases. Run, Hold, Grind.

Run - you're basically running at a decent easy pace, good forced march up any decent slopes, but basically, the world is good, all is nice, today I am going to do my sub 14:00. By proper ultra running standards this is known as "going out far too fast". This tends to last from 20 to 40 miles.

Hold - OK, so sub 20:00 today then period, basically you're still making good, solid, decent progress, probably averaging 12:00 miles depending on the terrain, but going OK, beginning to feel a bit tired, a bit sore, but confidence is good, its head down, get the job done. On my best runs this has lasted in to the 70s, on my worst, 30s.

Grind - This is the miserable bit, usually night, running is dreadfully slow, if at all, forced march to a meander, tired, creaky, cold, sore, unhappy sometimes sick, everything tastes horrible and can't quite think straight and even enough caffeine to keep a cow awake can't stop me wanting to just sleep. No matter the effort, or perceived effort, you just cannot force yourself beyond pathetic mile paces that you know full well are dawdle pace. This is when people quit, you think of an excuse to hang it off, knee is hurting, ankle, people will understand, gosh my quads are sore etc etc. Get in to an aid station, its warm, you sit down, seize up and realise you just don't want to suffer for another x hours. This is when people quit, and those that succeed can see the signs, don't sit down for example, there are maybe two aid stations on a typical 100 where you need to approach them with the mindset of "just get out of them again."


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