Running 100k starts with a willingness to go the extra mile and desire to succeed. Those who delve into the world of ultra-running are driven by the excitement of a new endeavour (going beyond 26.2 miles) and all it entails: physical and mental toughness, discipline in training, endurance, humility and patience.
100k is a long way, but believe you can complete it and you're halfway there. The training that follows only feeds this excitement and fuels your ambition.
It's not about the distance, it's about the journey.
The uncertainty of an ultra is thrilling. The whole process of training and preparing for the race, and what you learn by pushing your limits, is a valuable and rewarding experience!
For me, signing up for a 100k race seemed like a natural progression and logical next step. I started running trail marathons three years ago (in 2016) and slowly increased the distance each year. Good results and the sheer enjoyment of running on trails were enough to make me want to run 100k and 100 mile races in 2019.
Once you've signed up for an ultra race, the task ahead occupies your mind for months. My mind has been focused on the Kielder Ultra Trail Race since the end of 2018. Through consistent and quality training, my body soon got used to running more miles and that was a great feeling! You reach the point when running above 26 miles becomes normality and clocking 60-70km (40+ miles) is fine and dandy. Obviously, this comes with experience, but also with confidence in your training and trust in your physical abilities.
It's a true moment of bliss when everything's going well during a race. Your arms and shoulders are relaxed, your breathing comes easy, your legs are moving almost automatically. It feels like you can keep running for hours. Until you enter the pain cave, a cavern of discomfort, which you hope will only last for a short period of time.
However, sometimes things don’t go according to plan and the run becomes a real struggle.
My experience at Kielder 100k Ultra
The Kielder 100k Ultra staged on Saturday 6th Apriil 2019, consists in running a loop of 50km twice around Kielder Water & Forest Park in Northumberland. The route takes runners through a mix of terrain, going from lakeshore to heather moorland. Superb scenery guaranteed! I loved the mix of trails the course took us on too: rocky paths, muddy single tracks and MBT trails.
The second loop was a good test of mental toughness and classic 'character building'! I knew I had the legs to complete the distance, but there's always an element of mystery and uncertainty at the start of an ultra race. You question whether you’ll manage to keep your energy levels up and pray you won’t pick up an injury part-way through.
Food faux pas
Nutrition for Kielder Ultra was big focus for me. I planned my fuelling and hydration strategy in advance (including logistics and bag-drops), to ensure I’d have enough fuel and fluid for at least a 10 hours effort. But what's great about ultras is that you will always learn something from them and turn mistakes into valuable lessons.
I thought I’d mastered my race-day nutrition for Kielder Ultra, but my mistake was to focus (fixate) on nutrition too much. Rather than listening to my body, I ate and drank regularly from the start, as per the plan, and ended eating too much. I felt nauseous after only 25km and the nausea never subsided. My plan went up in smoke!
The will to finish
Why keep going when finishing the first loop was an almighty struggle? Why keep going when you can’t stomach food? The mind starts playing tricks on you to make you stop. I have never DNF’d from a race before, even with injuries. So I couldn't quit this one either. Yes, finishing will be tough, but isn't it the whole point of running this kind of event to embrace the discomfort and the rigours of physical and mental suffering? You can't race ultra-distances hoping for smooth sailing. You have to be prepared for peaks and troughs. It’s about persevering through moments of struggle and coming out other side stronger.
Focus on the positive and avoid the negative
I had to accept that I would finish the race in a slower time than expected and miss my goal time. But pace and time didn't matter anymore, it was just about making it to the finish line. The positive feelings felt when crossing the line – elation, accomplishment and pride – outweighed any negative ones. And finishing after hours’ of struggle made the achievement even greater! There was no room for disappointment! I just ran 100k!
Time didn't matter, ranking didn't matter, I still did it. Yes I've experienced much better races, but there was no point making comparisons.
Focus on the big picture
With GPS trackers and fitness apps like Strava tracking your every move, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia and overlook the big picture; obsess over pace and time, and constantly compare your mileage and results against your friends or other athletes. Yet ultras are a great reminder that no matter your 5k or half marathon PB, and no matter your mileage, it can always go wrong.
Take a step back, move past the small stuff and focus on the big picture! Enjoy the highs, stay positive on the lows and hold onto your love of running!