How To Run 100 Miles: Part One

Anyone can run 100 miles if you set your mind to it, make a plan and set yourself enough time, says ultra athlete James Poole

History will tell you that extraordinary things are achieved by ordinary people, but it can be difficult to believe that this includes you. One way to realise it is to target an outrageously massive goal, which also happens to be achievable. You might think twice about getting in the car and driving 100 miles, but running coach and adidas Sport Eyewear ultra athlete James Poole believes that if you can run, then you can run 100 miles – and he should know, he’s completed multiple 100-mile races including placing second in the Centurion North Downs Way 100, in a time of 17:52:25. Follow his 10 Steps to get ready to run 100 miles…



1. Understand Where You Are Right Now & Decide Where You Want To Be

‘Look at what you have done before – you might not have done much in running but have 10 years in cycling, or used to be a swimmer. The person who has never run a distance before is going to take longer to reach 100 miles than someone who has run 10 miles. It’s effectively a ‘gap analysis’: where am I now, where do I want to be and how do I bridge the gap between my objective and where I am? Then you can set a path to your goal.’


2. Ask What You Need To Make It Happen

‘Ask yourself what you need to get from the start of your journey to meet your objective? When you look at the training, if you want to run a fast-ish, sub 3-hour marathon then you run 50 miles-a-week, in total. If you want to run 100 miles, then you can do it in 50-60 miles-a-week. The difference is in doing back-to-back long runs on consecutive days, and a steady level of mileage where you spend longer on the mileage curve. So, over a 12-month period you would run a lot more miles than a marathon runner, but the overall weekly volume wouldn’t look that different.’


3. Start to Run, But Run Smart

‘You can achieve a lot in 3-4 weeks of regular, short runs where you don’t worry about how fast you’re running or how far, you just run and stop when you have had enough. Then gradually build up, but stick to the 10% rule where you don’t build up your mileage more than 10% per week. The current trend is to lots of cycling and Crossfit and swimming to get fit for running, but I personally believe that if you want to be a runner, then you should run. That said, do include some kind of running-specific strength and conditioning plan with single-leg exercises like side planks, pistol squats and anything that promotes a single-leg stability.’


‘Stick to the 10% rule where you don’t build up your mileage more than 10% per week’


4. Break it Down To Avoid Going Net Negative

‘If you are trying to run 20 miles-a-week then it’s better to run 6 x 3 miles than 1 x 20, or 2 x 10, particularly when you are starting. Those 10 miles will kill you and you’ll get most of the benefits from doing the 6 x 3 miles without the pain and the 2-day DOMS [delayed onset muscle soreness]. Avoid going net negative – what happens is you can’t go running for two days because you’re sore and you don’t want to run because it hurt. Whereas if you stopped when it got painful, then maybe the next day you’ll think: “Oh well that wasn’t too bad, I’ll go and do it again.” Then 3-4 weeks into that process it doesn’t hurt nearly as much – the aches and the pains go and you don’t get the DOMS because the body has adapted.’


5. Forget About The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner

‘Find a running group. There are some out there, Advent Running is one, where there are a ton of people who have run 100 or 50 miles with a wealth of experience, so you can avoid worrying about whether you need to buy poles or not, or what shoes to wear. Then, some people are really driven and motivated, but a running coach can give you accountability. If a teacher gave you the homework and said “I’m not going to mark it,” then would you do it?


6. Focus On The Right Things But Find Your Own Path

‘It’s easy to focus on the wrong things – focus getting your miles in and don’t worry too much if you haven’t got the latest running watch. The process is to find the answers by finding out what works for you, yourself, through trial and error. Running 100 miles is not difficult – running it well is very, very hard. What’s doing it well? To run a fast 100 miles, repeatedly, is hard because you are only able to test the things that don’t work for you at about 75 miles! What might work at 50 miles in training, or in a 50-mile race might not work at 80 or 100 miles and you only know by doing it.’


7. Run Your Long Runs Slowly

‘What people get wrong with their marathon training is that you are meant to run your long runs slowly, because the physical adaptation occurs at that slower rate – you get more mitochondria, you get more blood carried around the muscles, more efficiently and your body learns to use fat as its primary source of fuel, not glycogen. An elite athlete has 30,000 calories available as fat so if you can eat, and you have a normal person’s amount of fat, then you can run 100 miles easily. But your body needs to learn to use that fat as fuel, and for me running fasted is another part of the adaption. Start with 30 easy minutes before breakfast. Afterwards you feel a bit spaced out, but then you have your protein and carbs, and as you build up you feel less spaced out.’


8. Build Your Book Of Matches And Log Your Workouts

‘Another way of looking at training is as a book of matches. The more training you do the longer that book of matches becomes. When you run hard to climb a hill or go above threshold – where your heart rate is high and you are struggling to breathe – that burns one of those matches, and there’s a finite number of them. The more you do those training blocks and build up matches in your match book, the more you can deal with the ebbs and flows of a race.


9. Split Your Super-Long Runs

‘It’s hard to give a precise number, but two 20-milers back-to-back, Saturday and Sunday would be better than one 50-miler because that 50 will give you a ton of fatigue. Map out your objective as a jigsaw and ask: “How do I efficiently train?” 100 miles is 100 pieces, so every time you do a training run you are placing one piece into the puzzle. If one of those pieces is 50 miles, but then you miss out three more pieces because of fatigue, then eventually you don’t have a picture anymore, because you can’t see it.’


‘An elite athlete has 30,000 calories available as fat so you can run 100 miles easily’


10. Decide What You’re Willing To Sacrifice

‘For ultra-endurance events, you have to think about what you’re going to sacrifice in order to do the training. If you go from the couch to 100 miles, how long will that take? The answer is: “How much you are willing to sacrifice?” If it’s everything, then three months; if the answer is nothing, then it’s three years. So, how are you going to re-frame your life to achieve your goal? It might be not watching TV, or giving up another sport. Sacrifice sounds awful but it’s: “How bad do you want it?”


NOW… Get Ready To Think Different

‘I think anyone can run 100 miles and after having done it I now think that I can do anything that I put my mind to, within reason. Long distance running is a meritocracy in the natural sense: the more you do the training and open your mind to what you can do, the more you will achieve. It doesn’t take any real physical talent, it just takes hard work. ‘For me it flicked a switch and made me ask: “What else is possible? How much stuff and trappings do you need to keep going?” The answer is not a huge amount. There’s a real sense of achievement in covering a distance that most people think is crazy.’


WHAT NEXT? Get inspired to take on a next-level, mind-expanding challenge by reading about the world’s oldest 100-mile race, the Western States Endurance Race, which was formed when a rider’s horse in the original 100-mile horse race went lame… or Read Part 2 of this article now!