What does it take to DNF at a 100 mile race and still be happy?
My first 100 mile race didn’t go to plan. It was cut short at 110km. In the hours and days following I’ve gone through a mix of emotions. Mainly flipping between disappointment and happiness.
Let’s break it down and put it back together.
In choosing the Hard Core 100 Mile Race I was aiming for something on the edge of my ability.
This called for some solid training. I wrote out an amazing training plan. It was pretty impressive. Problem was I overestimated how much training I could fit into life. Instead of the plan, I did what I could. Some of the best training I’ve ever done, but one important element was still missing.
The really, really long run.
I never got over 40km for any of my training runs. Still a long way, but there is a big gap between 40km and 160km. I incorporated some work arounds to bridge the gap. Would it be enough?
Let’s Do This
Race morning felt good. Coffee, breakfast and my “race ready” tunes accompanied me on the drive down. Set up was simple and there was time to relax around the fire to chat. I felt nervous about not feeling nervous.
The 100 miles is broken up into 8 x 20km laps. The start of each lap takes us straight up Flinders Peak. About 300m elevation gain in only 1.5km. Just walking up can put your heart rate through the roof. Travelling back down with gravity is a technical descent that can beat up your legs if you make it too much fun on the way down. The remainder of the each lap is mainly runnable, with a moderate climb back to start / finish line.
Of utmost importance is not to go out too fast in an ultra marathon.
I went out too fast.
For the first 20km lap I was 30 minutes faster than planned. It felt ridiculously easy. Fresh from a taper. Excited with the race. Distraction of some good conversation with fellow runners. Caught up in the beauty of the You Yangs. All combined to for a fast start.
Better fix that.
I dropped back the pace and came in off of the second lap on pace. A good 30 minutes slower. This seemed right. My legs were hurting. That’s okay, I’d just run 40km.
What goes through your head when running so far?
Over the first two laps it was just enjoyment. There is a rhythm to the running that the mind follows. Relax, run, absorb the down hill softly, eat, drink, look around, relax…
During this opening time there isn’t much conscious thought. The process has been trained and I am just absorbed by it.
Past 40km and I beyond anything I have done in training. What will happen from now?
Still in day light and moving well. Keep on doing what you are doing.
Simple. I had a patch where my body felt generally flat between around the 45km mark for a few kilometres. It soon passed. I was aware I had slowed a little bit, which wasn’t a concern. My legs weren’t hurting as much as they were back closer to 40km.
Another lap. This time a bit slower, but not deliberately. Still well in front of any time goals I had considered. Surely I couldn’t keep this up… oops… a little bit of doubt snuck in for a second. Better just climb Flinder’s Peak again.
Off the Peak and it’s time to pick up my headlamps for later in the lap. As the sun goes down so does my ability to run. My quads and calves are locked up. Not cramping. More like they are beaten and swollen so they just don’t very well. This is where I ignore my body’s pleas to stop.
Food Is Balance
If there is one thing I got right on the day it was my nutrition and fluid. Averaging 220 calories each hour made up of a mix of Hammer Perpetuem and Hammer Gel. Plus a Hammer Bar after every 2 laps. This worked a treat.
Only one slight issue was around 9 hours my stomach clearly wasn’t emptying. I had a mild slump in energy as I wasn’t absorbing what I had been taking in. The main contributor seemed to be I’d be a bit heavier on consuming the Perpetuem and Gel mix over the previous hour and was down on the water. Easy fix. Drink more water and back off on the Perpetuem and Gels for a while.
Knowing that fine, moving line of what the body can absorb and adjusting as needed makes a difference.
Shut Up Legs
It wasn’t reduced effort that had me travelling slower. My intensity was definitely up. I could feel my heart beating faster. My breathing rate increased and my legs went slower.
Up the Big Rock climb towards the end of lap I checked my dashboard:
- Headspace: good, a few negative thoughts, but none taking hold
- General energy: surprisingly high
- Nutrition: on track
- Upper body: tending to tighten up, fixed with conscious relaxation
- Middle body: back is getting lazy, need to make sure I hold posture
- Legs: locking more and more, left leg is very tight laterally and pulling my kneecap across, should be able control with some taping
- Pace: slower and slower
80km completed. A restock of food and water. Tape around my knee. Back up and down Flinder’s Peak. Out for another lap.
Pain in the legs was irrelevant. It was getting worse, but that was always going to happen. My legs were having moments where they would just fail. Loss of power and coordination made for some questionable footing over rocks. It was a stretch to describe my movement as running.
Past 90km and I could hardly force my legs to move. It was slow.
Make the right decision.
I told myself this on the climb up to Big Rock. At this point I couldn’t see how I could keep going. My legs had almost completely shut down. I kept doing the maths and the numbers weren’t good. A lot was telling me I couldn’t keep going. If I went with the flow, then I was going to pull at 100km.
Instead I made a decision.
Take your time at the aid station. Change into warmer clothes. Sit down and eat some real food. Some pasta found it’s way into my hands because this race has the most amazing volunteers. Give your body a chance to recuperate. Then go out easy and keep moving.
This decision was extremely important. With the value of hindsight if I pulled out at that 100km mark I definitely would have had regret. It would have been giving up.
On my feet. Up Flinder’s Peak again. Going up was slow. I keep knocking my feet on the rocks as I failed to lift them enough. There was a disconnect between what I was trying to do and what my body would do. The descent was ridiculous. It was constant problem solving on how not to fall on steps and rocks. I stayed upright, but it wasn’t pretty.
Onto the relatively flatter portion I forced myself along. Running was no longer possible. My left ankle and leg was giving me problems. I thought I’d gotten past those injury issues, but I guess this is the sort of race that will show up your weak links. I got out the tape and added more to my mix.
It didn’t help much.
Other’s came past me. No longer were they just asking how I was going or having a chat. There were genuine offers of help. My struggle was that obvious.
Eventually I made it to the Sandy Point aid station at the 110km mark. I would have described myself as stumbling in, but I was moving too slow to stumble. The body had gone past it’s limit. I had passed the point of mind over body. My mind still was trying to move, but my body had finally failed.
Writing this report up helped me work through how I feel about the event. I’ve settled on a small dose of disappointment wrapped up in happiness and pride on achieving my further distance so far.
Could I have finished the race?
In the state I had reached I know I couldn’t finish the full distance. However, I got myself into that state by missing out on some important training then going out way too fast in the first part of the race.
Even without changing the training, if I had of raced smarter and slower over the first 40km I definitely would be in a different state. I would likely have been able to finish. I was stripped down to my absolute basic and found my current limit. Next up is working to push that limit out further.
Thank you to everyone who was ever involved in any way in this event. The volunteers are unbelievable in their commitment. I cannot thank them enough. The race organisers, especially Brett who put on this race and even drove me back to the start after I failed. My family are amazing. Your support for my craziness makes life awesome. My friends who are just so cool. Plus all you others who inspire me through your own running and achievements. The online running community is something to be proud of.