I’ve had a lot of time to think about my first 100-mile foot race. In fact, there hasn’t been a day pass when I haven’t thought about this event. Despite the amount of time since the August 2014 Leadville 100 Trail Run, I wanted to share a few thoughts and lessons I learned.
1. Planning, learning, planning.
It’s not just about the time on feet leading up to race day. There are countless items to plan for in order to make for a less stressful race experience. However, if you are new to this distance, it is a huge learning process. It can be overwhelming so you must decide what your threshold is that will help you feel mostly prepared. Then accept that you will learn far more when you toe the start line no matter how much you’ve read or heard from others. Anyway, it is never too soon to start planning. List-making is essential. Double- and triple-checking your lists days in advance of the race is painful, but must be done.
2. Having an experienced coach is invaluable.
I realize there are many ultra runners who go it alone and have great success. For me, I know I do better with a coach who is my my guide and guru. My current coach has different philosophies and approaches to training than I have experienced. One of the most important things he has taught me is that training should be “fluid”. There can be no set, pre-determined schedule (aha! not unlike nutrition, by the way!). The body will dictate what needs to happen next, but you need to have a coach (or the ability yourself) to monitor and decipher the process. Learning to listen to the body is still an ongoing challenge for me as my brain gets in the way too often. There are numerous other morsels of knowledge I have gleaned from my coach. I am eternally grateful for his guidance.
3. Be appreciative of your support system and realize ultra running can be self-centered and addictive.
It can be easy to lose sight of other priorities and important people in your life. There were many times when I would forego a social opportunity or time with friends or family because of an “important” run the next day. Despite what I think I must do to stay on track with training and get in my run therapy time, there are indeed other priorities!
4. The 100-mile distance IS more mental than physical.
I had heard this from my coach and others, but was on the fence until I went through this whole thing. I fully believe now that your mental strength contributes immensely to whether you will succeed. There are decisions you have to make along the way as you have unforeseen curveballs thrown at you. Can you handle it? How do you deal with it? Fortitude is unquestionably necessary.
5. Have a theme song (or two). If you’re into music, then you know it can be extremely motivating and powerful. I actually listened to music during my training only a handful of times and during the race itself for less than 2 hours. Although I traditionally like grunge type music to get me going, my two theme songs for this year leading up to Leadville were: “Am I Wrong” by Nico & Vinz and “Ocean” by one of my all-time favorite groups, the John Butler Trio. If you read the lyrics for the Nico & Vinz song, it could be considered a love song. But for me, the “we” in the song is about me and my Leadville 100 journey in terms of getting there and making it real. The instrumental “Ocean” reminds me of the ebb and flow of mental and physical energy and how sometimes you just have to dig deep to come back up.
6. Respect the importance of nutrition/hydration practice and planning.
Just like the mental training, nutrition can make or break your race. Even though my nutrition "plan A" didn’t come completely to fruition, I was able to switch gears without suffering negative consequences. I was sad to see and talk with runners where nutrition became their performance limiter.
7. Learn to Be in the Moment.
I must be showing my age here with this statement, eh? Taking the time to feel the nature around you, share in the beauty of these gifts, and appreciate the Now. It can be incredibly freeing to just be where you are and feel what you are feeling.
8. A good support crew is essential. Mine was absolutely phenomenal. I had 4 people in my support crew, each purposefully chosen and each with specific duties (and roles they willingly assumed without my direction). Having trust and confidence in your crew and pacers makes a world of difference. To Pat, Phil, Sharyn, Dave: I wouldn’t have made it without you and I owe eternal thanks for everything you gave. And special thanks to my friends from Massachusetts, Bryan and Nicole, who met me at mile 99 to walk me in.
9. Cherish your friends, even your temporary trail friends. Along my way, I drew inspiration from my ultra friends knowing what they had physically and mentally endured during their previous races. They were in my heart, as were all my other friends who had sent their best wishes prior to the start. What a motivator! And on the trail, you have the opportunity to befriend so many fellow runners and enjoy those passing moments together. I got to meet David Murphy (founder of the Idiots Running Club, I was cheered on by Neeraj Engineer several times as he waited to pace his runner, got an infectious smile and big hug from friend Sonja Wieck as she began pacing her runner up Hope Pass, and shared laughs with Mike from Louisville, CO, Kyle from Denver, and Ed from Chicago as we plodded along our journeys. Towards the finish line, one of my own athletes surprised me with huge cheers that I will never forget. I love ultra running for many reasons, but the people you meet make it so much more memorable.
10. The 3 C’s: Composure, Confidence, Compete. I learned this from ultra runner Joe Uhan, although I had to squash the 3rd one early on. Joe advises his runners to split their races into one-thirds and think about each of these respectively. It’s a great mantra and one I look forward to repeating in the future, hopefully with more success in the third C.
and lastly… my coach was completely right when he said “your first 100 will be life-changing”. For those of you who have done it, you know what I mean. For those of you contemplating it, I can say that it could be the hardest thing you ever tackle, but it will also be a most rewarding and wondrous thing you will never regret.
Thanks for reading,