At the beginning of this year, I tried to run a 100-mile ultramarathon and failed miserably. But I learned from it and came back in March for the win. Few things in life have ever felt better than crossing the finish line at the Fort Clinch 100. Failure sucks, but it creates determination and drive. Getting back up and trying again is exhilarating.
I'm going to share some stuff that helped me get to the finish line. One of the hardest parts of preparing for the race was figuring out what gear, fuel, and supplies I would need. 100 Miles is no joke, and you can't show up with a pair of shoes and a bandana. Here's the stuff I needed -- I've linked where possible.
1. You need to have layers of clothing for different temperatures. I changed tops three times during my race, and layered twice. You're going to be running overnight, and if it's a trail race in a preserve or forest, you may experience a temperature change of more than 20-30 degrees. Not having enough warm clothes in January absolutely killed my race attempt. Once I got cold, I couldn't warm up no matter how hard I tried, late late at night. Having learned my lesson, at Fort Clinch I brought long sleeve tech shirts, a thin pullover, a thicker pullover, a warm hat, running tights, lots of extra socks (because they get wet, sandy, etc.) and hand warmers. I didn't need all of it, but I did need all of it to be available just in case.
My favorite running tights are new balance. These are not expensive and they last forever. I bought a pair in 2014 and I've worn them through more than eight distance races and countless training miles, sleep, gym, layering for skiing ... and they're still good as new. Here are the one's I love. There are lots of options out there for the ladies, but honestly I've tried UnderArmor tights, New Balance, Nike, Old Navy, and Champion -- and absolutely nothing beats the New Balance Tights. They just won't wear out.
2. Let's talk about feet. Two words: Trail Gaiters. 100 miles = stuff will get inside your shoes. It will get inside your socks. It will get between your toes and under your nails. Sand, dust, dirt, tiny rocks. You want to keep as much of it out as you can to prevent blisters and other foot injuries that can lead to very bad results. At Fort Clinch I wore Soloman Trail Gaiters the entire race. They conveniently strap onto the shoe with velcro, and they stay put. I give these suckers a five star rating, seriously. Here's how I protected my feet:
In addition to gaiters, you want to make sure you have the right socks and foot-prep for many, many miles of running over rocks, leaves, roots, and the bumpy earth. The more uneven the terrain, the more parts of your feet that will have contact with the ground. That means blisters, unless you prepare. Two things saved my life: Injinji socks and trail toes. Injinji socks (made for men and for women) are a pain in the ass to put on, but they're worth it, because they keep your toes from rubbing together. Trail Toes is a magical formula that you slather all over your feet (and anywhere else on your body prone to rubbing together, honestly) and it lasts for hours and hours. This is a winning combination. Trust me, you do not want friction happening in your shoes when you're running for 24+ hours.
Finally, I wore Wiivv insoles. I'm lucky enough to be on the Wiivv team as an athlete and promoter. I wouldn't promote these things if I didn't think they were unbelievably worthwhile, ESPECIALLY for intense long distance pursuits. Over the course of 100 miles, my feet never got the aches, pains, and hot spots that I usually get from a marathon or shorter race. Wiivv's are created with digital printing using an app you download on your phone. They're customized to your foot using more than 200 different measured spots. Honestly, these changed the game for me. Ever since I broke them in, I've never had the arch pain or plantar fascitis that I used to deal with constantly. I also wear them at the gym and anytime I'll be on my feet all day. Since I'm on the team, you can order them directly from my link HERE for 20% off. Get you some!
Note: Running shoes are a SUPER specific, personal thing. All I can tell you is that I LOVE Pearl Izumi's, especially the N3. That's what I wore during Fort Clinch, the entire 100 miles. These shoes are bomb. Unfortunately PI doesn't make their running shoes anymore so you have to snag them online where you can find them. Here's where I found them.
3. Let's talk about fuel, one of my favorite subjects. Here's the name of the game: Everyone is different. It's true. The only other real universal truth is this: For a 100-mile race, seriously plan out your fuel strategy, and bring foods that you truly love and eat all the time. At 3AM when you've been running since 7am the previous morning, you're either going to be revolted by the though of food of your going to crave something that comforts you. Fueling for a 100 comes in two forms: solid and liquid.
Liquid Fuel: You need this, consistently, all the way through. I eat plant-based, so I used Hammer Perpetuem through the first fifty miles and then switched to Tailwind because the aid stations supplied it. I really like both. They keep you sated without weighing down your stomach.
Solid Food: After a while, you really will need this, and most runners say to start nibbling early and often. I think that's a good plan. Getting behind on fuel can make things tough and lead to nausea. I made wraps with avocado and sea salt, and wraps with peanut butter and chia seeds. Quite a few of them. Then, I sliced them up into small pieces (maybe 50-60 calories a piece) and wrapped them in saran wrap. I left them in insulated bags in all my drop bags, and grabbed a few every time I passed through an aid station. But bring what you like, and what you eat often. Think of foods that will be comforting in the middle of the night, and things that are easy for you to digest, chew, and carry.
One additional note about fuel: If you're running in a hot place and sweating for hours, salt caps can truly make the difference in avoiding cramps. I use S Caps when the heat is up, and usually time them at one per hour. Some runners take more. Everyone is different. But these are game-changers, and I've even used them in marathons in South Florida when it's scorching.
4. You Need Human Support.
I can't say enough about the importance of this. One of my fatal mistakes in my January attempt was to go to a 100-miler by myself. I had no crew, no tag-alongs, no one. I knew a few runners in the field and this helped during the daylight hours when we caught up to one another, but after nightfall I really needed a familiar face.
I'll say one other thing about this: When you go to a race alone, it sometimes attracts unwanted attention from people hanging out at aid stations. Unfortunately, I ended up struggling with the distraction of a stranger who became too invested in my race and wouldn't leave me alone. After fifty+ miles, you don't have the energy or the wherewithall to enforce strong boundaries and ward off unwanted attention because your mind is focused on keeping yourself together -- not on keeping others away. That's why it's so important to have people you know support you at a race: the very fact of them being there keeps strangers from latching on. When it's dark and you're in a secluded course in the woods, it's very unnerving to have a stranger following you from aid stations, rifling through your drop bags, and insisting on pacing you even if you politely say no. So EVEN if you don't think you need crew -- bring at least someone with you so that you hopefully won't have to deal with this.
That said, I had the most phenomenal support at Fort Clinch -- two runners who paced me through the night hours and helping me out at the aid stations. This was so integral to getting to the finish line. A familiar face can change everything, especially in dealing with the psychology of the overnight segments.
A few additional things I'm glad I had:
A headlamp -- Your race, location, and terrain will dictate what kind of lighting equipment you need. For my race, the trail was very dark and I carried a Petzl Headlamp but was also grateful that my pacer had a flashlight.
Extra batteries -- For your headlamp or flashlight. You really don't want to lose this valuable key equipment and comfort.
Ginger candy -- These can take away nausea in minutes. I carried a few in my race vest at all times.
A toothbrush -- You'd be surprised how brushing your teeth after 15 hours of running can make you feel like a new person. Truly.
A change of underwear (or two) -- Same story here. You'll feel like a new person. Anything you can do during the race to feel "renewed" you should absolutely do.
A hat -- If it rains, this is a lifesaver for keeping your vision intact
Ponchos -- Throw one in each drop bag. There's nothing worse (or more painful) than running for hours in soaked clothing.
Barbecue Pringles: Because they're delicious.
One last thing, before I sign off: The most important thing you need to run 100 miles is to believe in yourself. You can't order that online, unfortunately, but you CAN find it inside of you. You CAN run 100 miles. Because if I can, you can. It's that simple.
Share your tips and questions with other runners -- everyone has nuggets of advice about how to get to the finish line of an ultra. I learned so much from other people along the way.
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