Running Your First 100 km Ultra

Running Your First 100 km Ultra

In November 2021 I ran my first 100 km ultramarathon.  This was a big personal milestone. Coming into the event I was feeling apprehensive but 13 hours and 53 minutes later I completed the 103 km, White Rose Ultra.

Going into the event, I made some good choices but also some terrible ones.  This post is a couple of things I have reflected on after the event which will help you get to the start line and across it. 

  1. Choosing the event

When choosing your first ultra, choose one with generous cut offs.  Races with tight cut off times, could make the difference between a finishers medal or a DNF.  If you have never run the difference, it is always difficult to know how the body will react.  We are all different but even with the best training and conditioning, unexpected things can happen. Take away the additional mental pressure but removing the stress of chasing the cut offs.

I am from Bristol, which as cities go, is quite a hilly one.  By no means does this compare to being in the Lake District or Snowdonia.  For obvious reasons, travel has not been so easy over the last couple of years, so my training was not quite what it was.  I chose the White Rose Ultra for my first 100 km because it was hilly but by comparison to other races I have done, it was not as severe.  Also the vegetarian chilli they gave out at the midway point was brilliant!

2. Fuel

During the race (according to my Garmin watch) I burnt 7200 calories.  Combine this with the average calories burnt by the body each day, this almost makes a whopping 10000 calories.

Without adequate fuelling, it is unlikely that you will see the finish line.  First off, gels are great, but they are not adequate food.  I always carry SIS Double Espresso gels as they my get out of jail free card.  With a monumental 150 mg of caffeine and 22 g of Carbohydrates, they can provide a much-needed boost when you need it most.  However, they will not sustain you for almost 14 hours.

To note, I am not a professional nutritionist, but this is what I do.  Keep it simple.  If your snacks are hard to chew, let alone swallow, it is likely that you will not want them on the run.  For example, trek bars are full of energy and goodness but trying to chew something that has an equivalent density to the sun is hard going.

My go to snack of choice are bagels.  I load them with plenty of butter, eggs (fried or boiled) and usually a chutney.  They taste great, have sugars in the bagels, fats from the butter and go down easily.  The best advice I can give is to take food you enjoy eating normally.  Proteins take longer to metabolise so fast energy carbs are better.  In my experience it is best to mix it up with various fats and carbohydrates as your body uses them at different times.  Having a variety of energy sources for your body to draw upon can be beneficial. 

Importantly, test run your food of choice.  Try it out on your training days leading up to the event.  You do not want to be testing something new on your first 100 km. 

3. Shoe Choice

Know your enemy, don’t take a knife to a gun fight… you get the picture.  There are thousands of shoe choices available; muddy trial, technical mountainous terrain, compact ground, the list goes on and on.  Choosing the right shoes for the job can be make or break when running an ultramarathon. 

Rather uncharacteristically, I did not research the race thoroughly before the event.  I knew the distance, the elevation and the starting point.  I failed to pay attention to the terrain types.  The race included a lot of small country roads, farm tracks and tarmac walking paths.   The shoes I owned were for muddy or technical trails.  When running on hard surfaces in those shoes my feet fatigue so they were not right for this run. 

I needed to come up with a solution quickly.  The answer was the Hoka Speedgoat 4.  A generous cushion combined with a Vibram sole meant these shoes would protect my joints on the road and provide traction on the trails.  I did not have a chance to break in the shoes before the race so like a complete amateur, I entered my longest race with brand new shoes.  Thankfully, I did not suffer too badly with only a couple blisters.  It certainly could have been a lot worse. 

The point of this is to be prepared and take the right tool to the job and not be the tool who DNFs because of poor footwear (believe me I know I was almost the latter). 

4. Embrace the pain

100 km is a long way, it will hurt.  There is no way to get around this fact but serious conditioning before the event will make the journey much more enjoyable.  Training can be laborious and time consuming but if you want it, you’ve got to work at it.  I work a full-time job and do a part time degree; time is not on my side.  I do not have a Gucci training plan, but I did work hard and for that, I earnt my place at the finishing line. 

To put the tough conditions on the race day into perspective, 16 people started the 100 km run.  7 finished. 

You must embrace the pain.  Your future self will thank you.

Get out there.  Get running.  Hit the trails. 

Not looking my best, still trying to come to terms with finishing but grateful for the cuppa!

If you have any questions about what I have written in this post, please get in touch via the contact form.

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