Once considered the ultimate test of human endurance, the marathon race has recently taken a backseat to a more challenging race: the 100-mile ultramarathon.
An ultramarathon is considered any footrace longer than a traditional marathon, with the most popular distances being the 50-kilometre, 50-mile, 100-kilometre, and 100-mile races. Though it may be confusing to some that ultramarathon race distances flip between metric and imperial measurements, in the ultrarunning community, it’s the way it’s done. Perhaps this is because it is easier to maintain structure when marking a particular course, or because it’s far easier to state that one is running a 100-mile race, rather than a 160-kilometre race. Whatever the reasoning, these particular race distances have come to categorize the world of ultras.
The 100-mile (160-kilometre) distance has specifically gained traction over the last few years, enticing avid runners from around the globe to train and compete in some of the world’s most prestigious races.
The 100-Mile Race
Unlike traditional marathons that are raced across cities and along pavement, 100-mile ultramarathons are typically set across mountains, deserts, forests and rugged terrain. With an exhausting amount of elevation gain and loss accumulated throughout the race, runners must complete the 100 consecutive miles within a specified time limit, usually set within 28 to 40 hours. Running for this duration requires runners to maintain proper nutrition, overcome sleep deprivation and consistently choose to ignore the ever-nagging desire to quit.
Even for some of the most avid runners, running 100 miles seems like an impossible task, leaving most people with one simple question: Why? Why do people choose to undergo months of training only to experience the inevitable suffering that comes from running 24+ hours? For most runners, the progression from marathons to ultramarathons was natural.
“When I started running, I was just doing a couple 10 kilometre runs and half marathons,” explains Ken Slagter, an ultrarunner from Hamilton, Ontario. “I started wanting to go longer, so I began increasing my mileage. That’s when the trail running itch got me. Before I knew it, I was running 50 miles, 100 kilometres and even 100 miles.”
Ken SlagterFor Cynthia Campanaro, running 100 miles seemed like an unrealistic goal. Prior to entering the world of ultramarathons, she would attend races and watch other runners complete 100 miles: “I thought they were crazy, and possibly not human,” she explains. “I remember saying to myself, ‘I could never do that.’ Case closed.”
Campanaro’s mindset shifted when she met other local runners who had completed 100-milers: “I got to know them. They weren’t crazy and they definitely had human traits. So why did I believe that I couldn’t do it too?” she says. “I realized that it was my mindset holding me back. Once that changed, I signed up and got to work.”
Training for 100 Miles
Training for 100-miles is no small feat, as runners follow a strict training schedule that requires them to commit several hours training each week, with the goal of building volume over time.
“I added more volume to my week and slowed my long runs down as best I could,” explains Campanero. “I read Jason Koop’s ultrarunning book twice from beginning to end, making copious notes about training, nutrition and hill work. I had a goal and a plan to achieve it. And I was grateful to be able to do the work.”
With a mixture of long runs, speed training, hill work and proper nutrition, runners should feel prepared to take on the 100-mile challenge upon completing their training.
How Does it Feel to Run 100 Miles?
Running 100 miles is less about physical ability and more about mental stamina. Anyone who is reasonably fit could realistically complete a 100-mile race; however, not everyone has the mental strength to overcome the lingering desire to quit.
“It’s hard because you go through so many low points. You find yourself in a hole and you somehow have to rally,” says Slagter. “It’s frustrating when you can’t run and your body is forcing you to walk or power hike.”
“One minute you’re trucking along and feeling great, but the next minute you’re vomiting and things aren’t going okay. It’s a constant rollercoaster,” adds Byron Guptill, an ultrarunner from Waterloo, Ontario.
Byron GuptillThroughout 100 miles, it’s important to focus on the small victories. Making it to a new aid station, seeing your support crew, conquering a big climb and completing another kilometre are small wins that need to be celebrated in order to push forward.
“What you place your focus on has a really big impact on your experience,” says Campanero. “Placing my focus on enjoying every step of the process (from training runs to food prep, thanking volunteers, supporting fellow runners with encouragement, etc.) is how I stayed motivated the whole time—from race registration to finish line.”
Advice for 100-Mile Aspirants
“I think anyone who loves running and who can be patient (and smart) to follow the preparation phase for their body to manage the stress of 100 consecutive miles should put it on their ‘to-do’ list,” says Campanero. “It’s possible!”
“You just have to be patient and respect the forest and the time it takes to do this,” adds Slagter. “Anyone can push more than they can even think. It’s all doable stuff, you just have to be patient.”
To catch a glimpse of Slagter and Guptill in action, check out the below video of them running the Sulphur Springs 100-Mile Trail Race.