I ran 100 miles!
I completed the Burning River 100!
On July 28-29 I completed my first 100-mile trail ultra marathon in a time of 23:26:47. It was a life-changing experience running all through the day and night, hours of rain, thousands of feet in elevation, countless water crossings, encouraging crew, amazing pacers…it was the hardest physical challenge of my life by far and worth every step!
But how in the world do you summarize 100 miles of running? I thought about starting at the beginning, but that seemed tedious. I considered a humorous approach, but running 100 miles isn't funny. Maybe inspiring or interesting, but not humorous. Instead, I'll write about ten topics that are either common questions I've been asked or important lessons I've learned along the way:
- Motivation: Many people have asked what motivates me to run such long distances. It's a combination of a love of running (since elementary school), a desire to do hard things, and the challenge of doing things that other people think are crazy or impossible. In fact, even I wasn't confident that I could finish this 100-mile race. I ran my first marathon in 2001 and couldn't walk for several days after. I thought that running two marathons in the same year was impossible. Seriously, I was so sore after that first marathon that I thought it was humanly impossible to run another mile. Four years later I ran four marathons in the same year. Then two years later I ran six marathons in one year, including two marathons within three days. The next year I ran two marathons in two consecutive days in two different states. In 2008 I ran my first 50-mile ultramarathon but couldn't imagine running that distance twice! Achieving something you used to think was impossible is very liberating. The best part is that what you learn from running isn't constrained to running, but crosses over to other areas of life. If you want to read some amazing stories of normal people running inspiring distances I highly recommend Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes and Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Even non-runners will enjoy these books and be inspired.
- Training: Ya gotta pay your dues. If you expect to finish the race you have to train your entire body with running, strengthening, flexibility, nutrition, hydration, sleep, and mental determination. There's something special about training for a new longer distance for the first time because I respect the distance more than ever and work really hard to stick to my plan. For those who are interested, here's the plan I used. It's pretty much this plan with a few minor tweaks: http://www.trailrunevents.com/ul/schedule-100m.asp. Two things to note about this schedule are the fact that every four weeks is a "rest" week and the core of the plan is the back-to-back long runs on the weekends. It's not helpful training to run much more than 30 miles in a day, but the back-to-back long runs are great race simulation because you learn to run long distances even when you're already tired and sore.
- Sleep: I'm a night owl. I hate getting up early. I really hate getting up before the sun rises. My pillow is one of my favorite possessions. But in an attempt to not let my training completely trample family life I got in the habit of getting up early (frequently by 4am) so I could complete my long runs and still have a full day (cutting grass, going to the pool, grocery shopping, church, etc.) on the weekends. It wasn't easy, but I've actually become fond of those early morning runs and believe this sleep training was key to my race success as I never got that sleepy even after running for almost 24 hours.
- Shoes: After several years of running marathons and ultras I've developed a sort of sixth sense for shoe choices. This time around I ran the first 45 miles in Brooks road shoes (Glycerins) and the last 55+ miles in a pair of Brooks Cascadias, my favorite trail shoes. My feet were sore and tired after 100 miles, but I had no problems, no blisters, no real issues. Phew! For many years I've been a part of an ambassador program for Brooks and love that they have room for an average runner like me. I paired my shoes with Dirty Girl Gaiters and never had a single spec in my shoes all day long. Clean feet are happy feet!
- Pacing: Many ultramarathons let you have pacers (one at a time so trails don't get clogged) for the last half of a race and I took full advantage of that option! The race doesn't supply you with pacers. No, no, no. You have to persuade, convince, and bribe people to run with you, mostly at night, on treacherous terrain, for long distances. I'm confident I could have finished this race without the help of pacers, but it wouldn't have been as fun and I definitely wouldn't have finished under 24 hours without their help. My wife's cousin Nate was my first pacer and he was awesome. He's training for his first marathon and I wasn't sure how confident he'd be running 10+ miles on some crazy trails but he was completely unfazed. I'm not sure he even broke a sweat and he was kind of enough to run behind me the entire time and keep me going. Next up was Jessica, our reunited high school friend turned distance runner extraordinaire! She's really fast, so this pacing experience was probably the slowest 15 miles she'll ever run. She gave me the perfect balance of patience and push to keep me going through some hard miles. We also had great conversation that kept my mind busy as we ran through the night. She's a dear friend to Cindy and me and we wish she lived closer. Next up were my sisters Laura and Stephanie. I'm not sure what's gotten into us, but all three of us run marathons and ultras are a reliable way to get the three of together somewhere across the country. I'm still not sure if they were willing to pace me because they love me or because they wanted to see me suffer (likely a combination) but they were the best pacers. They kept me going, laughed with me, laughed at me, and did a thousand pacing calculations when my brain could no longer do math. Their push, especially Stephanie, propelled me to a finish time (23:26:47) that I'm really proud of. In addition to my pacers, I'm also very grateful to our friend Kevin for driving me to the start at 3:30am, my cousin Penny for crewing all day and all night, and our dear friend Brett who worked the night shift and helped feed and tend me through the darkest (literally) hours.
- Fueling: Eating and drinking the right amounts of the right stuff during an event this long can be the difference between a great race or a DNF (Did Not Finish). I ate small amounts of sweet (blueberries, grapes, M+Ms) and salty (boiled potatoes, olives, Ramen) foods, water, Gatorade, Coke, GU packets, and Hammer Endurolyte electrolyte capsules all throughout the day. The sugar is for brain function and energy, the potatoes are for simple carbs, the salt and capsules are to keep up the electrolytes. I ate some watermelon after every aid station for hydration and it's also a great palate cleanser. I relied on many Tums in the second half of the race to keep my stomach acid in check, but I had no real stomach issues which meant I could keep chugging all day and all night. The most interesting part is that I weighed myself after the race and I weighed the same as I did at the start of the race. That's a good sign that I managed my food and fluids well and never got too dehydrated or depleted.
- Recovery: One of my biggest fears of running 100 miles was the recovery. Would I be able to walk? Would I be in bed for days? How long would I have to sleep? I didn't know what to expect and feared the recovery might hurt worse than the race. I'm relieved to tell you that my recovery from running 100 miles was faster and easier than running my first marathon back in 2001. The day after the race I took several short 1-2 hour naps to catch up on sleep. I was really sore for two days, but by the third day I felt well enough to take the kids to Great America. We were standing in lines, riding rollercoasters, and racing down water slides all day long. My first run was one week later, and within three weeks I'm back to running 20-mile long runs and gearing up for a 50-mile trail ultra in September. After a 100-miler, 50 miles sounds so short!
- Inspired: Anybody can do this. No really, anybody can do this. It's very hard and it takes a lot of dedication to stick with the training and put up with the discomfort of running 100 miles, but 99% of the barriers people put up are self-created mental obstacles. I know this part sounds trite, but after running my first 100-mile race I believe more than ever that it's true. I dare you to try something hard and not worry about failing!
- Encouraged: I was so encouraged by people's interest and questions about this race. Friends emailed and texted notes of encouragement, tracked my progress online, and prayed all night as they rolled over in bed and thought of me. People are really busy with their own lives, families, and concerns, so I was genuinely touched that people would be thinking of me and encouraging me to finish this race!
- Humbled: I'm truly humbled that people would find my race inspiring enough to donate to a purpose that's important to me: orphan adoption. We have several friends who have adopted orphans over the last year and other friends in the midst of the process and we've seen the joys of an orphan adopted and a life redeemed. It's never too late to give, so please consider making a donation and help families adopt orphans: http://members.shaohannahshope.org/site/TR?pxfid=2540&pg=fund&fr_id=1020
Thanks again to my crew and pacers!