While the idea of attempting to run a 100 miles ultramarathon could be considered as a form of masochism by some, for weirdos like myself it came laced with seduction as the ultimate endurance challenge… a perfect rite of passage to test the limits of the human spirit.
When it comes to getting out of your comfort zone, it really doesn’t get much more uncomfortable than a 100-miler. With this gruelling adventure being relatively new in the endurance world, there isn’t a great deal of information on how to train for this beast, or what to expect during (and after) running a 100 miles ultra.
Last November I, as a regular non-athlete bloke, completed one in the brutal Thailand sun, after announcing it as my latest challenge against the clock. Thankfully, we made a lot of money for a local charity and lived to tell the tale.
By the end of this post you will leave feeling confident knowing what to expect on a 100 mile ultramarathon, as well as how to fully train for it and how to prepare your mind, kit and body so that you can safely get over that finish line with immense pride and minimal injuries.
100 Miles Ultramarathon: in The Media (Almost Mainstream)
I was with one of my best mates Johnny the first time a 100 miles ultramarathon entered my consciousness. Fast-forward 3 months later and we both hobbled past the last stop with our friend Gareth, after a brutal 123 miles/198km effort through northern Thailand.
Nick is a hybrid athlete. His large frame is built like a bodybuilder with six-pack abs, big biceps, has boulders for shoulders and he runs very long distances pretty much every day.
It was unprecedented for me to see a guy with this physique clocking up so many numbers on his legs. Most ultra-runner guys that I’ve met have been skinny, wiry lads who look like they are made of elastic.
More impressively, his latest challenge on his channel was to get through 100 miles with a 30 pounds rucksack on his back.
Even though I had verbally committed to taking things easy for a while after a horrific accident, the idea of adding a 100 miles ultramarathon to my personal challenge CV was incredibly beguiling and before I knew it, I was gaslighting myself into taking on this mammoth project.
Another online influencer called David Goggins was my go-to man for inspiration during my 100 miles ultramarathon training. For those who don’t know him; he’s a very shouty former Navy Seal who is often referred to as the toughest man on the planet.
He may not be everybody’s cup of tea because he swears a lot (although if curse words really offend you that much, then I’m not sure how you’re going to be resilient enough to run 100 miles).
Goggins’ has run a fair few 100-milers, one of them most notably famous for him pissing blood on mile 70 and almost collapsing.
If that happens to the body of the baddest man on the planet, what will happen to me, a mere mortal I wondered.
In spite of the recent hype regarding 100 miles ultras, there is actually quite a rich history of this event dating back to the late 1800s. If like myself, you are interested in the timeline of 100 miles ultramarathon past and how the hell we got here, then check out this fantastic, informative post by Ultrarunninghistory.com.
World Records For 100 Miles Ultramarathons
All of the following times are of course officially recorded times. I do suspect that some famous running tribes such as the Tarahumara people of Mexico. or the Kalenjin tribe of Kenya might have unconfirmed faster records for a few.
After having a crack at this distance myself, I can’t begin to fathom the times written below and I have so much respect for these people and their grind. I really do look at them as superhuman:
Fastest 100 Miles Ultramarathon (Male)
Oleg Kharitonov of Russia holds the current world record for fastest man over 100 miles at 11 hours, 28 minutes, 3 seconds. That’s just offensive!
He broke a long-standing 25 year record in London, 2002 held by Don Ritchie (of Scotland). Video of the event below:
Fastest 100 Miles Ultramarathon (Female)
Camille Herron of the USA holds the ladies’ current world record at a saucy time of 12 hours, 42 minutes and 40 seconds. Incredible.
Youngest Person To Complete a 100 Miles Ultramarathon
Colby Wentlandt of the USA is the youngest person to complete a 100-miler, clocking in at an impressive 32 hours, 7 minutes and 30 seconds in Las Vegas when he was 12 years old. What a little champ!
Oldest Person To Complete a 100 Miles Ultramarathon
Nick Bassett of the USA holds the record as the oldest finisher of a 100 mile ultra, finishing the Western States Endurance Run at 29 hours, 9 minutes and 42 seconds at the ripe age of 73 years old!
How Much Experience Do You Need To Run a 100 Miles Ultramarathon?
This was admittedly not my first rodeo in terms of running a crazy ultra. In 2019 I completed The Marathon des Sables in Morocco; 6 marathons in 6 days in the Sahara Desert, often referred to as “The Toughest Footrace on Earth.”
With all that being said, I did not lure you here under false pretences and I promise I really am a regular guy. Just a pleb with an adventure travel blog who likes to go HARD and test my pain threshold, fear levels and mental fortitude.
I’m very average in terms of athletic performance, my personal superpower is my grit and determination – but we are going to talk about mindset training later on in this article, so let’s get into the physical aspect first… just how much experience do you need to have a crack at a 100 miles ultramarathon?
I am going to make the assumption that if you got this far into the article, that you too are an “average” guy/lady. That’s not to put you down or anything, I just mean that you also have a starry-eyed goal to finish a 100 miles ultramarathon, as opposed to being a superior athlete who is trying to win one.
Anyone who is up for a 100-miler is clearly a running renegade and I admire your belief in yourself…
…but as someone who has suffered the frustration of injuries relatively lately, I don’t want that to happen to you and I want your body to be fully primed for success in your 100 miles ultramarathon.
A lot of online publications seemed to suggest that you need to have experience in 1 or 2 50-miles ultramarathons and I would not-so-politely say… bollocks to that!
I only had 3 months to train for my 100 miles ultramarathon (plus another 23 miles!) I was basically in rehab for about half a year before that and the only exercise I was doing was bodyweight calisthenics during a strict Covid-19 lockdown, with my only cardio being leaving my sofa during Only Fools and Horses episodes to have a wee, or a cuppa.
I disagree with these online resources for 2 primary reasons:
- I have pushed my body and mind over the years to the absolute limit, and know that we are capable of so much more than we believe.
- Most of those resources are speaking to actual athletes, not weekend warriors, have-a-go-heroes like myself and you, dear reader.
How To Train For a 100 Miles Ultramarathon
Don’t have the often proposed 50 miles ultra experience under your belt? Fear not…if you’re willing to train hard and train smart then you will be able to run a 100 miles ultramarathon.
I believe in you, I need you to do the same.
Now, shall we?
While I meant every word of my battle cry above, I need to also hammer home how incredibly hard a 100 miles ultramarathon is. It is at times unbearable and it will test you physically, mentally and spiritually to a level that maybe you’ve never been to before.
If you are serious about this, you need to make training and resting a daily commitment. Depending on your time and budget, there are levels to what you can and can’t do.
Optimally, you should be running 5-6 days a week and also adding in some mobility training, with additional strength training, if and whenever possible. Clocking up miles on legs should be your main focus of course, if you work a full-time job with a boss, where you can’t change your schedule around and/or are a parent of a young child/ren then you will just have to do the best you can with your hectic lifestyle.
I work for myself, I am single and I have no family to look after, but let me tell you something – in the peak of hardcore training, I still couldn’t train optimally because the distances that I was running on a daily basis took up a fair amount of time and on some days I was simply too exhausted to do extras.
1-3 sessions a week of strength training is important to keep the whole body strong, but unlike Nick Bare I didn’t have a full-time team to help me out, so I just did what I could and it was all bodyweight exercises such as squats, pull–ups, pushups, lunges and core work.
I forced myself to do mobility training every night before I went to bed, because I did not want to get so far into training and have to cancel the big day due to me getting injured.
In terms of rest and recuperation I always took at least a whole day off to do sweet f**k all in terms of physical activity. Most of that day (which you will see turned into 2 days during peak training) was spent getting massages, or watching ultra documentaries in the bathtub.
Just do what you can do based upon your limitations, but try and run 5-6 days a week at first and remember this is not about times…it’s about conditioning your legs and body to run an absurd amount of miles without caving in.
Go slow if you have to, just get those miles on your legs clocked up.
Make sure you get enough sleep and rest when you can, you are not being a hero if you burn the candle at both ends – you are just self-harming and messing up your chances of success and risking injury.
You should treat resting like it is part of the workout.
I did a lot of things wrong when I ran The Marathon des Sables as a total ultra newbie. This time I was determined to not to be so underprepared. Although 3 months training for a 100 miles ultramarathon isn’t exactly ideal preparation, I am happy with my training, rest and recovery and lifestyle choices during those 3 months.
The one thing that I did differently this time training for an ultra was incorporating periodisation training into my running and sticking to the plan that I set out.
What is Periodisation Training (Why it Matters For Ultra Distance Running)
Periodisation training is a structured training plan where the individual progressively overloads their volume over a period of time, before hitting a peak window where they are going to an intense level, then they taper off their efforts (do less progressively).
That was quite a mouthful, right?
There are actually more layers to it, but I don’t want to make this anymore complicated than it needs to be. I set out from the get-go with the goal of this to be an everyman’s guide to a 100 miles ultramarathon, so let’s try that again in Layman’s terms:
- At the start of my training, I ran a certain amount of miles every day for 5 days.
- Next week I increased my miles and ran more every training day for that week.
- Several weeks later, I was running a large amount of miles every training day, which I referred to as “Peak Week,” as it was my planned most intense week.
- The week after Peak Week I started subtracting my miles from that total.
- I subtracted more miles each week until I got to 4 days before the run.
I am going to assume those reading this aren’t going to try and run a 100 miles ultramarathon as last-minute as 3 months, but the beauty of periodisation planning is you can customise it to your own timeline.
Below is my personal periodisation training plan for a 100 miles ultramarathon over a 12-week period. All you need to do is copy the system on an Excel sheet or even with a good old-fashioned pen and paper… whatever floats your boat.
100 Miles Ultramarathon Training Plan Guide (For 12 Weeks)
Remember folks, this is just an example of what I did. I purposefully only share the running here because I feel like extra activity such as strength and mobility training would unnecessarily confuse things, and running is the most important part here.
Get the kettle on and prepare to play around with your own plan until you’re happy with it as it took me a few goes. All numbers are in miles, not kilometres.
You will see that I took weekends off and went hard Monday-Friday. My theory was that I need to get my body primed to running exhausted and I like to have my weekends for rest and recuperation.
You can easily swap the days that you prefer to rest. To be honest I think it’s smarter to have a day’s rest during the week and still run on weekends, which will probably fit in better with most people’s schedule.
And a final reminder; I did not run these at a fast pace, I simply got the assigned amount miles for each day done, to achieve the most important priority of getting a high volume of miles on my legs and body during training.
7 Food Tips To Help You Survive Your First 100 Miles Ultramarathon
When running a marathon (or even a half marathon) your body is burning off an unnatural amount of calories. During the half marathon (on a very hot day) at The Great North Run, I got away with only needing 2 energy gels to get the job done, however with the extreme marathons in the desert I had to constantly feed myself.
So you can only imagine that whilst running a 100 miles ultramarathon, which is just shy of 4 marathons in 1 go; refuelling is of paramount importance. Thanks to the desert run, I made a lot of mistakes when it comes to food and I hope that these 7 tips will serve you as well as they did myself.
- Try out your food first so you don’t have upset stomach on the day
Firstly, make sure that the meal immediately before the run sits well in your stomach. Then do a trial run (literally while running) with your snacks, as you will find that some snacks digest better than others do. I found out during Marathon des Sables that gels give me diarrhoea, newly-prepared me found out that pitted dates digested much better for me. It’s better to find out way before your big day than it is mid-ultras.
- Carbs are king
During the late 90’s dietary fats got an unfairly hard time in the media. This time around carbs are getting unjustly bashed. All carbs are not created equal, but the beauty of running an ultra is you can smash fast-acting carbs such as fruits, gels, glucose drinks and white rice during training and your race. Just avoid overloading too much on fibrous carbs such as lentils and beans directly before or during training as you could run into gastrointestinal distress.
- Don’t forget about the other macronutrients!
Carbs are still the go to macronutrient for nutters like us who do anything edurancey, but when you are in your rest window your body is also craving protein to fix your broken muscles and repair your body. Healthy fats are vital for healthy hormone production, so make sure you have all 3 macros on your plate when you’re post-run. A typical meal for me after a training run was 2 cups of lentils in a marinara sauce with leafy greens, three tablespoons of hemp seeds and a full avocado.
- Pre-race meal is the night before too
The food that you eat the night before the race is as important as what you eat for breakfast. There is a reason why ‘pasta parties’ are popular the day before big events, the carbs are banking in your body for the big day. However, don’t go wild and overeat gigantic plates of spaghetti as you may have trouble sleeping and a good night’s sleep will make all the difference to your big day.
- Plan your fuelling strategies
Do you feel better eating every 5 miles or every 1 hour? Maybe you’re more of a dates/gel/Bloks every 30 minute kinda person? Who knows, only you can know and the best way to be sure is to do this via experimentation during your training runs. So go out with your full kit every day with your food, and work out your personal refuelling strategy.
- Don’t booze during training
I like a glass of Malbec as much as… well nobody, I probably like it a lot more than the average person. However, even a couple of cheeky ones can have a deleterious effect on your running performance. If you do drink, whatever your poison is – save it for the celebration day (which I can tell you will not be the day after your 100 miles ultramarathon, as you will be a total wreck). It’s wise to ban all alcohol intake during your training because this is a serious undertaking and you want to give yourself the best fighting chance for this. Train hard, party later.
- Hydrating is cool
I live in Thailand and there were days I ran half marathons with no drink breaks. There is nothing cool about this and I learned the hard way one day when I almost collapsed mid-run. There are no Hardcore Harry trophies given out for idiots who are dehydrated by their own fault. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate during your training runs.
Packing List For a 100 Miles Ultramarathon
A 100 miles run packing list needs to be as light and efficient as possible. You have to be ruthless and tactical. Basically if you don’t need it and it doesn’t improve your ultra-run… don’t bring it. I’m extremely happy with my packing list, a lot of thought went into it after my MDS experience and considering the fact that our 123 miles ultramarathon was completely self-sufficient, I think we all did exceptionally well.
As a lot of my items were weather specific, I will highlight those and make sure I add items for colder weather ultramarathons.
The best gear to wear on your body and have inside your bag:
- Ultra running bag. I stuck with my trusty 25L Ultimate Direction FastPack from Marathon des Sables. It was bigger than my mates’ but it just hugs the body so tightly and that’s the main reason I stuck with it.
- Running shorts x 2. I took one extra as optional, they were small (proper running shorts are skimpy) so didn’t take up much room.
- Compression shorts. They apply pressure to the body, which help prevent injuries and also pre-existing injuries.
- Running shirt x 2. Make sure you get a night-visible t-shirt. Like the shorts, the extra one doesn’t take up too much room. Also, make sure you buy one specifically designed for the climate that you will run your ultra in.
- Sleeve protectors x 2. Same deal as compression shorts, but for your arms.
- Calf Compression sleeves x 2. As above…but for your calves.
- Toe socks x 2. You will have less blisters if you wear these. Split-tested by yours truly!
- Snood/Buff. They can hold together long hair and also protect baldies like me from the sun. An all-around hair hero.
- Gaiters. Optional, depending on terrain.
- Running glasses x 2. For nasty splashes and any weather with sun (important note; running on ice/snow also produces glow into your eyes).
- Poncho. For when it rains, duh. (The lighter, the better).
- Knee support. Optional for anyone with knee injuries. I don’t have any knee problems, but I took it just in case I had any knee dramas on the run.
- Base layers. Definitely need these for cold weather, especially at night time when the temperature really drops. In fact you should consider them even in warm weather. I didn’t take one and I was unpleasantly surprised how cold my body got at night (in Thailand!) and I’m sure my shivering burned off much-needed calories that I needed for fuel.
- Gloves. Optional for whatever weather extreme you’re in.
- Running hat for the sun. Absolute gold for baldies, it protects the back of the neck too.
For when running at night and also to protect against sun:
- Head torch. 200+ lumens should do the trick.
- Bike torch for bag. One with a flash setting is better.
- Sunscreen. Factor dependent on your climate.
- Batteries for torches
- Power bank
- Phone charger
Because without sufficient fuel you are doomed to fail:
- Dehydrated, high-calorie food pack. I opted for only one 1000 calories meal as backup, as we planned our food out along the way via 7 Eleven stores and restaurants.
- Huel powder (optional) LOVE this stuff, absolutely perfect for mountain climbing and ultras. Sadly, they don’t deliver to Thailand anymore 🙁
- Dates/Bloks/Gels/Dried Raisins. Whatever works better for you. As mentioned above in the food tips, do a few testers and see what works out better for you and your digestive system.
- Electrolyte powder. I highly recommended the company Precision Hydration for personalised electrolyte powder, depending on the answers you give in their brilliant algorithm-based questionnaire, they will send you customised electrolytes tailor-made especially for you!
- Sodium tablets. To replace the lost salt from your sweating. It will also prevent muscle cramps.
- Energy bars. I’m a Cliff Bar kinda guy myself, but whatever floats your boat.
- Collapsible water bottles. Only needed if you don’t have a CamelBak, my 2 mates had one. I did not, so I bought 3 of these – 2 for water refills and one for my electrolyte powders.
It’s better to be safe than sorry and unable to continue:
- Zinc oxide tape. I taped parts of my feet up the night before on the problem areas, that being where I usually get blisters (and it worked a treat on the big day).
- Needles x 2. To pop your myriad of blisters.
- Waterproof plasters. Also known as “band aids” for the American and Canadian audience.
- Lip balm
- Vaseline. For nipples and bumhole chaffage.
- Body Glide/Squirrel’s Nut Butter. As above. A few ultra-running readers replied to my Insta stories, absolutely raving about Squirrel’s Nut Butter. Saviour of anuses apparently, alas it was too late for me to get delivered in time to Thailand.
- Small antiseptic tube
- Bug spray. I live in Thailand so mosquito spray was vital for me. Do some due diligence to which treacherous little flying critters are in your ultra-run area, as some can be pretty nasty. I have a friend with Lyme Disease, which is no joke.
- Wet wipes. For toilet stuff, also it’s amazing how small things like a fresh face after a little break can really perk up your fallen morale.
- Mini toothpaste
- Mini travel toothbrush
- Travel towel
- Soap/Hand wash
- Menstruation supplies for ladies’ time of the month
- Earphones. For listening to music, Audible or podcasts for inspiration when motivation is low.
- ATM + Cash. If like myself, your 100 miles ultramarathon is self governed you will need this for food supplies. Just don’t lose them!
- Sleeping bag liner. I didn’t do this, but I won’t judge you if you take one especially for a little nap to keep yourself warm.
- Hot hands and feet. Hand warmers/foot warmers, also known as a heat pack for cold weathers.
- Hiking poles. I didn’t use them for Marathon des Sables. The hardcore call them “cheat sticks.” I am glad I brought them on this occasion, this decision is up to you.
Mindset Advice For 100 Miles Ultramarathon
You should prepare and train your mind as seriously as your body for a 100 miles ultramarathon.
I’ve seen people who are much physically fitter and way more talented than me fail on endurance events because of poor mentality, such as the curious case of the Irish guy who failed Marathon des Sables on the final day… he ran for his county back in Ireland at a high level and on the final day, with one third of the final marathon done; he threw in the towel at the first rest stop.
He wasn’t injured, at least not on his body – but his mind and attitude was a total wreck. Other runners and MDS employees tried to talk him out of it, but there was absolutely no convincing him.
His mind was made up and he bailed, slumping into a medical jeep that took him back to camp, where we were all jubilantly celebrating the completion of MDS later that night.
You need to get something in your head before you take on this bad-boy: Running a 100 miles ultramarathon is bloody hard. Maybe you’re thinking I’m being negative here, or perhaps you think I’m stating the obvious?
My intention is simply to keep it real. If you prepare for something that is difficult, you will have more chances of succeeding as you will be ready for war and all the fuckery that a 100-miler will throw at your mind, body and spirit.
From the safety of your own couch, watching an individual on TV take on this task is fun and you’re likely to get a dopamine rush just watching them. It’s hard to tap into the places that your mind will go to when you’re beaten to your knees and can’t take anymore.
Something of great help to me during the most hellish parts of my run was advice from that madman again, Mr David Goggins. Take a few moments to hear his “cookie jar” method for when the chips are down:
100 Miles Ultramarathon: My Experience
New email: “Congratulations, you have been accepted for the Spartan Race Thailand 2020.”
New email 15 minutes later: “Sorry, the Spartan Race Thailand 2020 has been cancelled.”
For obvious reasons this year’s iconic obstacle course event, which has recently grown in popularity in Thailand since 2017 was called off until further notice. I felt disheartened to receive this information because when I commit to something; I get real obsessive about it and I had already mentally committed to this challenge.
But this (one of the many) casualty of Covid was pale in comparison compared to what some people have had to endure during this unforgettable dystopian year and before long, we had agreed to run 188km (or so we thought) for a charity in Bangkok in much need of help after a rough 2020.
If you want to read more about our thought process before this mammoth run, you can do so in my article here. Now that my ever-so-tender injuries from the event have started to heal up, I’ll try my best to paint the picture of how we ran, walked, bled (from ungodly places) and limped a total of 198 kilometres (123 miles) in one long, tiring, agonising weekend.
Gareth and Johnny arrived in my home town Chiang Mai, on the eve of our self-governing ultramarathon on Thursday night for a chat about logistics and our very own pasta party at “Why Not” Italians Restaurant.
Bereft of banter and high on nerves we agreed to meet at my apartment for a high carb/high calorie breakfast early the next morning, Friday the 13th!
After a night of staring at the ceiling and doing a lousy job of pretending to sleep, the lads showed up at 5am and we got stuck into coffee, peanut butter on toast, oats, bananas, berries, pumpkin seeds and protein shakes totalling around 1400 calories each.
A little later we got in a taxi and arrived at our starting point, Doi Suthep Temple, shortly after sunrise, which was a little later than we had planned but not drama – we were finally on our way… or so I thought.
Imagine how utterly devastated I was to realise at the bottom of the 309 Doi Suthep steps that the reason for the unplanned nice bit of wind in my face was because I’d left my sunhat…right at the top of the steps where we had posed for photos before starting to run.
As you can envisage; they laughed hard while I groaned away back up to the top of the steps, already wasting precious amounts of energy that I would need when the going got tough.
After rescuing the aforementioned, noggin-sheltering guardian angel that was my tragically unhip hat, we made an agreement to run the first 25 kilometres until we got to Central Festival Mall, which would be on the cusp of leaving the city centre.
That first 25 didn’t go too bad at all, but I wasn’t to be lulled into a false sense of security as this was not my first rodeo. This was always going to be tough and I prepped my mind for just that.
With that being said, the first thought that I remember being consumed with was how bloody hot it was.
I know, I know. It’s Thailand and I should know better, but our “winter” had just arrived and the week before I jubilantly (and naively) text the lads saying how cool it was getting up north because I usually have a cuppa, shirtless on my roof at sunrise and this time I needed to wear a thin hoodie due to the sneaky chill!
Cool story (literally), bro.
Our first break was at 7/11 where we devoured bananas, Gatorade, cereal bars and salt tablets, which would be a common theme (every hour on the hour) and cause of one of my many concerns the day after.
We speed-walked the next 8 kilometres and we were thankful to find a local restaurant with fans, water and decent grub. The chatty Thai owner took me by surprise when he said he used to study in England in a town called Durham, which is where I’m from. It’s rare to meet a local in Thailand who has heard of the place, let alone lived there.
My surprise quickly transformed into concern as I looked over at Gareth with his head in his hands. He was grimacing in pain and verbalising multiple concerns. I’m certainly no stranger to the art of catastrophising and I know only too well how it can physically exhaust you when it takes over your main focus.
We offered kind words such as “you’re doing so well,” spoken with complete genuinity of course, however at this point me there is no way me and Johnny could have predicted how Gareth was going to, in the next 40 hours fall to the lowest of low and somehow rise from the ashes like a beautiful Irish phoenix, leaving us in pure awe of his incredible, never-say-die grit.
Gareth was in a very unfavourable position as Johnny and I had experienced previous endurance pain together in terms of digging in through the pain barrier and succeeding after being convinced for hours that you can not. Thanks to a couple of mighty mountains and most poignantly running 6 marathons in 6 days in The Sahara Desert, 2019.
He didn’t have those experiences to remind him that his body can push through that almost-paralysing misery when the going got tough.
I polished off my double portion Pad Thai and off we trotted for the next leg.
The road to 50km was BRUTAL. The blistering sun frying us along with the road’s devious incline, which we didn’t expect and when we finally got to our rest stop – the place was closed for business! Luckily Johnny has been studying Thai full-time lately and it’s pretty impressive, even more fortuitously – The Thai lady who he spoke with, who owned the place was symbolic of every Thai we met on our way to the White Temple; kind, warm, understanding, friendly and supportive.
She got us some water from her stock and allowed us to eat our snacks at her table. What an absolute gem!
We all bemoaned the blisters that we felt on our feet and Gareth went one better – taping his up. It was not pretty.
The sun started to descend as we set off again and at first I thought that would be a good thing – less hot sun equals easier run, right? Nope. The darkness proved to be a cruel mistress and perfectly emblematic to our dying morale.
As the sun went down, so did our collective spirit. There was no more conversation other than the haunting echoes from the repetitive, pessimistic voices in our minds and they were singing a grim tune. I’ve been here before – the constant fight with your negative internal dialogue, when each bit of pain you feel is a confirmation to the enemy in your head who says you can not and will not succeed.
The mocking, dominant voice that says you should just give up already, that you can’t do it, asks what the point of going on is and every now and then just for good measure, brings up things about yourself that you are wildly insecure and sensitive about.
It’s awful. Your body is already a wreck and your energy sources are depleted, but it’s as if your mind has invited the worst guest imaginable to wreak havoc and beat you while you’re already down.
And to top it off, a “Ghost of Endurance Runs Past,” which I really didn’t want to show up paid an untimely visit…
Prudes should click off now.
Much like day 2 on Marathon Des Sables (and every day after that)…my bumhole started bleeding with intense pain. I’m prone to this affliction on this type of event and I wrongly thought that my liberal use of Vaseline around my nether regions would have spared me the harrowing pain on this occasion, but no such luck – what I’d not-so-affectionately referred to as “Arsemageddon” post-Morocco, was making a comeback and I couldn’t have felt any lower.
What a pain in the ass!
(I’m not sorry).
Not the one to leave too much up to the imagination when bemoaning worrisome anal health amongst friends, I let out a distressing war cry of; “F*CK,” hours later as a big part of the dried blood came apart from my skin when I went for a danger scratch. I told the lads the source of my dismay and to my surprise one of them responded “I think it’s starting to happen to me too.”
“Me too, mate,” said the other in a dismal tone.
It didn’t make me feel any better knowing that Arsemageddon was now technically an epidemic in our clang and off we waddled on the long road to dinner around 70 kilometres, where for the second time that night, drunken groups of local men wished us well and took a genuine interest in our cause.
Thais are famous for being friendly and polite, but if you get off the tourist trap and go north; it’s a whole new level of kindness.
“Oh they have sweet chilli sauce, nice one,” I said in a slightly exaggerated, phoney tone as my pathetic, worn-out posture hovered over the plate and spooned it over my mountain of fried rice. I think we were just looking for small mercies to keep us going and anything to take our minds of the exhaustion and pain, we ‘only’ had 30 km to go to the guest house where we would grab some much-earned rest, but after running 70 km already, with the bum situation…we started to physically fall apart.
Arse issues aside – Johnny’s right calve was tight and kept pulling in pain, my right hamstring was doing the same and any time we stopped for a needed rest, it would seize back up and we would hop the first mile or so until we got more range of motion to walk more comfortably.
Gareth…well, he was an absolute wreck. I can’t even find words to describe the state he was in and I’m not sure the dictionary has one to do it justice. I’m pretty sure I saw the Grim Reaper walking behind him at one stage, but I think even he felt too sorry for him.
The road to our guest house was a long, steep incline and most of it had no streetlights. We started drifting apart from one another, Johnny in front, me in the middle and Gareth at the back. Occasionally we’d run (in a fashion) to keep the group together (followed by excruciating pain downstairs) but ultimately fatigue kicked in and all three of us walked alone for hours at one point, with our headlights as the main guide.
Just one foot in front of the other, trying to get to that guest house in one piece.
I started to hallucinate at one point that coca-cola bottles were rolling my way and I hopped over “them,” sometimes I stopped moving as I was sure Johnny was walking towards me with his hand out to stop, and occasionally the multitude of dead snakes on the road started being, well…not so dead anymore.
We finally made it to Mae Kachan town and started seeing civilisation. Street food vendors opening up and actual human beings, it seemed like an eternity since I’d last seen one. Johnny did a phenomenal job of navigating and controlling rest stops through the whole thing, but I rarely asked “how long left until (whatever destination)” as sometimes it can kill my morale if I overshoot my estimations. I prefer to zone out and just keep going.
I had just lost sight of Johnny’s bike light on the back of his bag anyway and I figured I’d pull out my phone and check how far away the guest house was. “It can’t be far” I thought, I squinted at my phone…28 minutes walk!
Heartbroken with the news, legs feeling like they were full of lead, a Thai guy pulled up to me on a bicycle. I’ve only just started learning Thai and I REALLY didn’t want to talk to anyone, but I obliged and communicated that we had started in Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai and were looking to finish in Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple), Chiang Rai.
His reaction was priceless and thankfully he didn’t stay for too much chat, cycling off into the distance in rapturous laughter.
Out of pure desire to get my head down for a few hours, I made peace with myself that if I ran to the guest house I would be in more agony but as soon as I got there was the promise of a rest. Not a bad deal, so I gunned it and within 10 minutes I was there.
The lady at reception smiled; “Top floor, no lift. More exercise for you, sorry.”
I immediately showered, the water dripping into the problem areas was absolute hell. I got my gear ready and inspected my injuries in the mirror.
Bleeding from the inside out and so was my testicle (the one on the right, thanks for asking).
I jumped on WhatsApp to speak to Johnny to make plans for the morning. I’m still not sure if he was being magnanimous, but he said I was only 10-15 minutes behind him. He was also in agony and had a good news/bad news situation…
Good news is we were actually at 102 kilometres, not 100. Bad news is Google Maps added an extra kilometre on our final destination, so 189 kilometres instead of 188. Weird.
I fell into bed and set my alarm for 4 hours later, falling straight asleep but waking up multiple times throughout it. I guess my body was full of adrenaline and cortisol and even though it needed rest, it was still very much in “fight or flight” mode.
When we met for breakfast I was fully expecting Gareth to be waving the white flag. But he was surprisingly chipper and after double portion fried rice, we got going again. Morale was back and Johnny had dangled the carrot of a nice coffee shop where we’d stop roughly 10 kilometres later.
Gareth was clearly in pain but barely moaned considering the state he was in. With mine and Johnny’s little ultra experience, we knew the problem areas in our feet and toes and had covered them up with zinc oxide tape in anticipation of that.
We still had a couple of blisters, but I know from personal experience that when you have your debut ultra run – you find out the hard way where you get them, so my heart went out to Gareth.
However, it turned out that he was the only one at the end of the run to not have any real bum issues. So for every bit of empathy I had for him, I will be equally forever envious of his titanium anus.
At one point me and Johnny were moaning about our injuries reopening and the scorching sun started beating down on us, but there was a slightly buoyant mood in the air, which turned out to be short-lived, however I was grateful for it while it lasted.
We admittedly overstayed at the coffee shop as we welcomed the rest after a second wind of energy and none of us were overly keen on going back out into the sun. Nevertheless, when the time came and we had to set off again, the smiles disappeared pretty fast.
We had no planned stop until later that night and an hour before we had our dinner, panic struck in as some online resources reported that the next milestone 7/11 closed at 7pm…it was 7:30pm already and we were not covering much ground, so at around 135 kilometres, we ran at a pretty decent pace to the 7/11, which turned out to be open and also our last chance to get any food or water – from here on in it would be around 40 kilometres of national park, with roadworks, no streetlights and no shops or restaurants until at least 170 kilometres.
I had zero desire to eat my veggie basil pad krapow, which is usually a welcome guilty pleasure of mine on hangover days. My body was obviously craving calories after burning over 13,000 from activity alone the day before and god knows how many for this day, but I shovelled it down along with some chocolate and as we got going I heard Johnny let out a sigh as he checked his Sunto watch…Google Maps had added another 2 kilometres on the final destination, so now 191 kilometres instead of 188.
I know they say “don’t shoot the messenger,” but for roughly 5 irrational seconds; I hated Johnny’s guts.
Off we limped into the wilderness, which turned out to be the hardest chapter by far of the road to 198. I’m not sure what the road is called and I don’t care, because I’m always going to refer to it as Purgatory Road. Because before we made it to heaven (The White Temple) our souls had to temporarily suffer in order to reach our eternal salvation.
So with two days of little to no sleep (we all slept bad the day before the run and only had 3 hours in the guest house), bleeding, seizing up, blisters, aching all over and running on empty, dehydrated – navigating around winding roads with mopeds and lorries buzzing past with no streetlights we plodded along once again in the dark, not saying a word to each other.
Attacks from packs of dogs became the norm, all 3 of us in unison robotically doing the traveller trick of pretending to pick up a rock to throw at them, the squatting down making us wince in pain every time.
After a short stop for some snacks and barely any chat we came to the conclusion that we would have to ration our water. The paradox being we tend to drink less in the dark than we do during the sunlight, but the dark is absolutely soul-destroying and miserable so we weren’t sure which was worse.
Our spirits were being tested to the max and this is the point where Gareth’s warrior-esque behaviour started kicking in….he started refusing to take breaks. Worried about dropping behind too far, he’d down a gatorade and salt tablet while me and Johnny rested 5-15 minutes and would limp off into the distance to get a head-start on the pack.
As he hobbled off I knocked back two salt tablets with my water and my body immediately rejected them, throwing them back up. It’s disgusting but I fought against the reaction and swallowed hard, baulking to keep them down – this happened every time I tried to take them until the end of the run. Every hour on the hour.
We somehow regrouped on Purgatory Road and stayed together until sunlight. Me and Johnny both got our earphones out and listened to the audiobook that we had been keeping for when we needed it the most, when we felt completely spent on energy and dispossessed of any internal motivation…and that moment had certainly arrived.
I started to play the aptly named “How Bad Do You Want it?” But I could not focus on it for more than 5 seconds. I got the general gist; most successful endurance athletes have the cutting edge in their mind because they want it more than the others do bla bla…
Maybe in a different environment I’d enjoy the book, but in my decaying state I grew incredibly irritated with his nasally American accent. I considered changing to David Goggins; the man who got me through my hardest week of training, when I ran 5 half marathons back-to-back (and some more).
I respect that man so much and his tough love nature really resonates with my personal outlook on life. If anyone could galvanise me in my lowest moment it’d be him, but as silly as this may seem to anyone reading – the idea of using that energy to go in my pocket and press some buttons on my iPhone and still stay on my feet was just too much extra work to consider.
For the next 10 kilometres in the pitch black dark I started micro-sleeping as I walked. My eyes felt extremely heavy and I fought to keep them open, staggering around the narrow path we were on as vehicles beeped at me.
I looked up at Johnny about 3 metres in front of me. He was also all over the place, wobbling to the left and right, with a jaded gate. You’d think that I’d be aware of the danger we were in, but my mind was all over the place and my logic in the moment was that the tarmac must be uneven and that’s why we were wobbling so much!
I lost count of how many times I woke up from a cheeky snooze, mid-walk with no idea how long I’d been out for and at one point a huge lorry beeped at Johnny as it just missed him, as he stumbled to the right. This went on for hours and I can’t explain the relief when Johnny signalled it was 10k and time for a little rest.
We found sanctuary in a small archway behind the motorway barriers and Johnny admitted to feeling the exact same thing as me – uncontrollable micro-sleeping and pure exhaustion. We were all suffering in silence and agreed to try and have a 20 minutes nap on the archway.
It was roughly 10 degrees celsius, but it felt like Siberia. Our bodies obviously weakening, we shivered as we tried to sleep. I drifted in and out of sleep every minute or so, but woke to my teeth-chattering and body shaking every time.
Gareth went ahead and so me and Johnny followed in positive peer pressure, counting down the 90 minutes to sunrise. At this stage we opted for desiring the barbarous cruelty of the Thai sun as opposed to the blind night-time waddle into traffic as the lesser of the evils, but not before I created a DIY ass tampon out of wet wipes.
I remember the sun, but I don’t remember seeing it rise. The first time I remember it being bright was me waking up from a power snooze with my head at the side of the road (not my best decision) and we were voting whether we should rest more or crack on.
I was outvoted 2-1. Bastards. So up I got and we made a deal to rest at 5kms instead of 10 now as we were all on the barebones of our energy resources. The rests would be shorter, but more frequent and we’d eat one more time at 180 kilometres. We also checked Google Maps and instead of the initial 188 kilometres, our final destination was now displayed at 198 kilometres.
I felt a rush of fury flood around my body. Good. Anger is a misunderstood beast, in times like this it can be a saviour and it gave me a welcome bit of a kick to keep going. Google Maps was the enemy and it needed slaying.
Me and Johnny made it to the last food stop, Gareth followed and we both slumped our heads in our hands as we ordered our food. Sitting down was glorious, but we all knew that getting going again was hard work. As soon as he finished his last spoonful, G-Dog arose from his seat like a stubborn Spartan, hobbling ahead to finish this madness and stick a proverbial flag into Wat Rong Khun.
Former Northern Irish footballer Iain Dowie is the man who coined the term “Bouncebackability,” and I think Gareth’s countryman invented the perfect word to describe his performance on the road to 198 kilometres.
Inspired by Gareth’s yet another comeback from the living dead, me and Johnny got our bags back on and stumbled the final, miserable 11 kilometres in the sun where we met a brand new, smiling Gareth.
We had done it!
In just over 2 days of being constantly on the move we had clambered through the 4.7 marathons and officially had clocked up 198 kilometres (123 miles) from Chiang Mai Doi Suthep to Chiang Rai Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple).
Glorious euphoria and welcome relief.
Our moods INSTANTLY lifted as we got our celebratory photos, ordered smoothies and started making plans for a taxi back (which I slept the whole of the journey in).
I knew that the Road to 198km (formerly 188!) would be hard, but it was substantially harder than I thought it would be. After my horrific experience last time I attempted an endurance event, I felt resilient to close the door on that failure and craved to succeed in another tough challenge so that I could move on with that part of my life.
I find that some words and phrases in existence are complete misnomers, which completely fall short in their definition of what they’re trying to represent, but “Endurance Sports” is the perfect term for what it embodies.
In order to triumph in them (getting from A to B is a success in itself) one has to “endure” extreme pain on a physical, mental and spiritual level and I have grown a deep and empathetic amount of respect for anyone who participates in them on a regular basis.
The cherry on the top of the cake of our achievement is of course that a lot of incredibly kind people donated to The Klong Toey Slum charity that we did this for, with the current amount being £4,080. Wow!
We will be visiting there in a few weeks and people will get to see where their donations went.
This was also a great bonding experience with friends after witnessing Johnny’s ability to formulate plans on the go, along with Gareth’s Rocky Balboa spirit. I highly recommend mates go through some sort of planned physical pain together to see how you really work as a tribe.
Never say never and all that, but I think that’s me done for endurance runs. (I have said this before, so let’s see).
I have been flirting with an idea for some time now that will be without doubt the biggest physical challenge in terms of getting out of the comfort zone, but I have a lot of work to do before that.
What Happens To Your Body During a 100 Miles Ultramarathon?
If you made it through my personal anecdote about how my first ever 100 miles ultramarathon went (well, 123 miles in the end) you will already have had an insight into what happens to your body during an ultrarun of this distance.
Some of it is not pretty, I will pull no punches. As the Russian proverb goes; “It’s better to be slapped with the truth, than kissed with a lie.”
- You will lose your mind. Memorising motivational quotes and positive mantras is a good idea (I had some myself) but there will be a point where you get somewhat delirious, almost in a drunken state.
- Your asshole will take a bit of a beating. Some suffer worse than others, I am high on the spectrum of bumhole suffering when it comes to distance sports. Don’t risk it and purchase the products mentioned above, apply to the sacred area often. Love your bum.
- You may get muscle cramps. Salt tablets are key to prevent this, or to make it less intense. I cramped up in my hamstrings every time I stopped for refuelling and my leg would not go straight again until I got another couple of kilometres on my legs.
- You may get diarrhoea. I was lucky here, didn’t get it until later on (around the 95 miles mark) and I still stand by the “try your food out during training” theory.
- You will get horror-movie level blisters. It’s more probable than not, but I suggest getting blisters during training so you know the problem parts of your feet – and tape those areas up with zinc oxide the night before (or morning of) the race day.
- You might vomit. I got to a point around the 80-mile mark when every time I had a salt tablet with my water, I would violently regurgitate it back up. I felt the nausea building up well before that though. This is completely normal during an ultra of this size. Rehydrate and power through, champ.
- Hallucinations. I saw large coca-cola bottles rolling towards me that I felt the need to leap over. I saw my friend walking towards me with his hand out, telling me to stop. So I would stop, then I would come out of it and see he was further away and that I had imagined the whole thing. This is common due to exhaustion and sleep deprivation.
- Your digestion will be all over the place. This is not a green light to go against my prior food-planning advice, but even with the best outlining in the world, your stomach won’t be in the best form. I was surprised by how much I didn’t want to eat on longer breaks, with larger meals but I knew the best option was to suck it up and get the food down me because I needed the calories for the long road ahead.
What Happens To Your Body After a 100 Miles Ultramarathon?
The fun doesn’t stop when you get over the finish line 🙂 Your body will go into hardcore recovery mode because your central nervous system will take one hell of a bashing.
- Your sleeping patterns will be erratic. You’d think that after all of that activity, your body will stay in deep sleep as soon as you need it. Annoyingly for me I kept waking up in the middle of the night (around 2-4am) without being able to get back to the sweet land of Z’s. This happened for about a week then I was fine.
- You will go through a short bout of narcolepsy. There will be a period (a few weeks after for me) when you suddenly fall asleep for a good nap at the most inconvenient of times. Don’t worry, this is simply your body’s very own rehabilitation system. You’re slightly broken and it’s fixing you!
- You may get sick afterwards. I did not, but I know many who have fallen ill post-ultra.
- Your toenail/s might fall off. Upon writing this sentence it has been 4 months since my 100 miles ultramarathon and my big toenail on my right is no longer with us. It’s making a valiant effort of a return and ¼ of it has grown back. The one on the left isn’t looking too pretty either, it’s dry and dead and hanging off. I’m currently keeping it wrapped up tightly with a bandaid on a daily basis, I think I might just pull it off and let nature run its course.
- Your anus may need recovery cream. Sorry to beat a dead horse here, I promise this the last time I will mention bum problems, but it was rather traumatic for me and I feel like it’s my duty to look after your booty.
- Your muscles will be tight. We all have our personal weaknesses, mine is my hamstrings. They were incredibly stiff and so was the rest of my body.
Even if you do not suffer most (or any) of the above repercussions of running a 100 miles ultramarathon, you should still take it easy for at least 2 weeks.
If you can get the extra time off work, then take it. Find rest at any possibility and do not even think about training again until at least a fortnight.
Mobility training is fine, in fact it’s going to do your body good. Just be easy on yourself as your range of motion isn’t going to be as impressive as usual.
In short, take some time to stop and smell the roses; you’ve just ran 100 miles! Good luck on your 100-miler quest and if this guide has been of any help to you, please share the love.