Saturday, September 11, 2010

100 Miles: Why?

100 milers.  They're not my favorite.  I dread them.  Well, maybe dread is a bit strong, but I fear them.  Running 100 miles isn't good for you.  There is nothing healthy about running this far.  50 miles or 100K is really long enough.  Long enough to take the speed element out of the equation and really challenge you both physically and mentally, but short enough that your internal systems don't go completely out of whack.  Long enough that you're good and sore the next day, but not so long that you have to walk down stairs backwards clutching the railing.  Everything just really starts to break down after 70 miles. You go into the race knowing that you're not going to leave it the same as you went into it.  Maybe this is part of the draw.  Physically speaking, the afterward part is not appealing, but on an emotional level, you know that you are going to learn something about yourself in responding to whatever the day throws at you.  I was just looking at some pictures of me after my first MMT.  My hands looked like inflated surgical gloves, and I looked, overall, like hell.  I looked happy, in a "I just went through hell and back" kind of way.  Physically stressed, emotionally exhausted.  The second time I ran MMT, I'm pretty sure I was on the edge of renal failure upon finishing.  I recovered without medical intervention, but it felt like someone had kicked me in the lower back repeatedly for several days.  Can that be good for you long-term?  I vomited and was peeing blood in the shower afterward.  That post-run shower was definitely a low moment for me.  Both years I ran MMT I literally had to pick up my legs with my hands to lift my feet up over the rocks going up the last climb because my hip flexors were beyond the point of doing any work in those last miles, and the last 30 miles consisted of a lot of hiking and not much running. 

So, if I 100 miles isn't my best distance, why do I plan to run 3 of them over the next 10 months?  Well, what about ultra running makes sense?  I can remember finishing my first 50 miler and thinking, "That sucked! Never again!" but waited no time before throwing my name in the hat for a second and a third, and within 6 months for a 100.  There is something about these distances that makes absolutely no sense but is very hard to resist.  Obviously, I haven't figured out how to gracefully finish a 100 miler yet.    And as much as I claim to dislike the distance, I want to figure it out.  I want to race and finish one, without the last 30 miles turning into a death march.   I've started 4 100 milers and finished 3.  Bighorn was my first, and I tried to drop out starting at about mile 50.  I was not successful in dropping, although I wish I had been, and it turned into a 50 mile run, followed by a 50 mile hike.  I then ran MMT, where I had a good race except for the last 30 miles.  Wasatch was next, where I dropped at the half way point.  Then another MMT, where I had a great race except for the last 30 miles.  Those last 30 miles are the most important, though.  They are what make for a great 100 mile race. 
MMT 2009.  Before the wheels fell off.
Photo by Aaron Scwhartzbard.

My strategy to date has been to go out fairly hard and then just hang on.  So, I've gone out strong in hopes of running while I still can, with the belief that I'm going to be crawling the last 30 miles no matter what pace I start out at.  I don't believe my body can perform after 70 miles, regardless of the pace at the beginning.  I have yet to try out an alternate approach.  So, it sounds like there are 2 things I need to work on, one being trying out a different strategy, and the other believing that I can persevere through those last 30.

Coming up over the next 10 months, I'm signed up for Pine to Palm, HURT, and Western States.  Pine to Palm starts this Saturday in Williams, OR and finishes in Ashland.  A new event, the course climbs over 20,000 feet, and descends the same, with 3 "epic" climbs.  I would love for P2P to not turn into a death march.  I like to run.  I don't like to slog through the last 30 miles, shuffling in for a finish.  Here's hoping I can figure out how to have that kind of day that will get me to Ashland running.

16 comments:

ultrarunnergirl said...

Amy,
I have faith that you will figure out the 100 mile distance and knock em dead. You have some serious tenacity in you. I admire that even when something doesn't come easily for you, you hang in there until you conquer it.

In my only 100 miler to date, I started out slow, then backed off. I was dragged (almost literally!) the last 30 miles by a former 2-star General. I *can* say that my last 5 mile split was the fastest of the race. I was never so glad to be done with anything.

RunSueRun said...

Hey Amy,

Best wishes at Pine to Palm! I like that you take the Eric Clifton approach to running 100s (go out hard and try to hang on). BTW, they're always painful, sometimes just a little less so! Good luck. :)

Sue

sea legs girl said...

Amy,

This was a really great post. It is nice to know you have gone through so many of the same thoughts I have - I ultimately deciding NOT to run a 100 miler (at least not yet).

Everything is relative. I DO go down the stairs backwards after a 50 miler, but I don't run as many long runs as you do. Many people go down the stairs backwards after a marathon. It all depends on what kind of training you've had to lead up to it and how much you push yourself in the race. Certainly one could walk 100 miles without experiencing kidney failure or any sort of electrolyte balance. (I don't think there is anything inherently dangerous to the body with distances over 70 miles). 100 milers are sort of the ultimate ultras because no one can train right/enough to run the whole thing (okay, very, very few and you are almost among them). 100 milers seem to be much more about finding a pacing strategy and sticking to it and also finding a fueling strategy that will get one through hydrated and with electroloytes in balance. I do think it is the unusual nature of this challenge that draws us to ultras. It DOES sound like you have been starting too fast and you need to find a way to run the last 30 miles and get the walking out of the way in the beginning. But this has got to be easier said than done.
Sorry about this long comment :).

amy said...

Thanks Kir and Sue.

SLG, I'll admit I haven't figured out pacing yet, but when you mention getting the walking out of the way in the beginning, that strategy makes the least sense to me of any. I still am not convinced I went out too fast. MMT has a ton of rocks, and I think my hip flexors might have shut down after 70 miles on those rocks no matter what the pace. The idea isn't to move the walking to the beginning. In my mind you should run while you still can, and that's not guaranteed later in the race.

I've also definitely had trashed quads after a marathon or 50 miler. But, the more of them you do, the less that happens. But the sore after a 100 miler is a special kind of sore, at least for me, and isn't just sore quads. And I do think that there is a difference with distances over 70 miles in terms of detrimental health effects. It's not just sore muscles, but an added 12 hours of stress to organ systems that are already stressed. We all react differently, but from my experience it is a stress on the body way beyond what I experience at 50 or 62 miles. I'll look forward to your impressions on this after you run your first 100. ;)

amy said...

When I say "distances over 70 miles" there is nothing magic about "70." I'm just saying that somewhere after that 50 mile mark is where things get interesting.

Anonymous said...

Amy,

You will blaze into Ashland. Good luck and enjoy the course. Marked trail around the 50k point today - some really gorgeous views. I was going to pace/crew for a friend who had a change of plans so I'll be on aid station duty but may still pace. Let me know if you need anything down here. Melissa (melissaschweisguth at yahoo dot com).

Neal Gorman said...

Amy,

I think you know there is no magic recipe for success at the 100 mile. What works for one individual may not work for another, and vice versa. Hopefully trying something new this race will consist of going slower a bit in the beginning. Don't worry, others who go out harder than you will come back to you later in the day. And some after 70 miles. Happens at every race. Eat a lot too. All day. Keep those energy levels high. Don't push it too hard on the big, big climbs and give your legs a chance to warm up again once the down hills return. You will do great. Good luck!

SteveQ said...

I've hd no success starting fast or starting slow (one DNF, one last place, one barely under the cut-off); I think you just have to stay as comfortable as possible and as positive as possible and let the miles come to you. I also haven't figured out the hand swell thing, though it happens sooner if I walk and is worst when dehydrated. And I've had the back pain and bloody urine; it takes longer to recover mentally than to get the body working again.

The 100 is not my distance, but the allure is there. I get it; it's a bit like the glamor of the marathon - you could win a 100K and the first thing you'll get asked is "have you ever run Western States?"

olga said...

I find that I dislike answering a question why I do 100's, because there is no answer simple enough. It's like someone said: if you have to ask, you'll never get the answer, no matter what it is. You just do. Or not. It's between you and you.
I thought I am done with them, but I find myself dreaming about them. If I knew why, I'd give them up for good - or may be stick with them more seriously. Frankly, I have no answers even to myself.
Enjoy this weekend, with swollen hands, smiles and possible death march at one point or another (or not). The afterglow is what matters. At least for the fist couple of dasy, before the post-100 depression (endorphine/adrenaline depletion) hits:)

jimmy d said...

My hair shows no signs of recession in that 2008 pic at the mmt finish. It's as swollen as your hands :) miss you ames. jimmy d

Redwine said...

You figured out the pacing stuff!! ~ Great finishing time!!

Gretchen said...

You've definitely put words to my own thoughts with this post. I know 100 miles is not my best distance, but figuring it out is totally part of the allure. Looks like maybe you figured it out though? Awesome finish, Amy! Congrats, and can't wait to hear your report ...

Pete said...

Amy, congrats on both awesome runs at Waldo and Pine to Palm!

Forward Foot Strides said...

I can't even fathom 100 miles once, it's incredible that you're doing this again! You'll rock it too.

Forward Foot Strides said...

Ok I just noticed that you already DID this race, awesome!

zbsports said...

Great post there, I like your post it is so interesting. Keep up the good post.