How To Run 100 Miles: Part Two

Fit enough to run a marathon? Then you’re not far off a 50, or even 100-miler, says ultra athlete James Poole. Turn your dream into a reality with these ‘cheat codes’ for race day…

If you’ve ever run a marathon there’s a chance you said ‘Never again,’ but also a chance you said ‘Now what?’ If you’re in the second camp, then you’re the kind of person who is fuelling the growing popularity of leg-shreddingly long ultra-running events. The good news is that you may already have most of the fitness required to enter (see our guide to training for 100 miles) the bad news is that you won’t just hit one wall, there are four or five of them to batter through, and the event itself is nothing like a marathon. You’re going to need the inside track from adidas Sport Eyewear ultrarunner and running coach James Poole. Here are his race-day hacks for running a 100-miler…



1. Start With The Right Mindset

‘To complete 100 miles you don’t need to run fast, you just need to keep moving. You can’t have that “I’ll just push through to the end” mentality because the end could be 20 hours later. If you do that then your mind starts to tell you “It’s 20 hours more and you can’t finish,” which is where your mind undoes everything. If you start off with the view that you just need to run, and you don’t need to worry about time or pace, then you start in the right mindset.’


2. Run In The Moment

‘You have to be present, looking around and being in the moment that you are in. Be aware that sometimes your mind will drift and say things like: “This is too far, you can’t do this.” Or you spend too much time visualising finishing and not enough time thinking about what you need to be doing right now. You can focus on the finish and forget to eat, or start running too fast, so it’s a combination of positive visualisation and practical thinking. You want to be thinking “I am going to cross the line and finish. I am going to see my friends and drink a beer,” but also “How fast am I running? What’s the terrain like? How much further have I got to go?”’


3. Get Ready To Hit The Walls

‘There are four or five walls in a 100-mile race. You hit it multiple times and you learn what it feels like, and how to avoid it but you also learn that it always gets better – most of the time! I’ve never dropped out of a race because I was broken by the wall. I’ve dropped out of the Centurion 100 because I had a chest infection, felt like death and I realised it was stupid and dangerous. But I have never been broken by hitting a low and thinking I wouldn’t go on – that’s in the head. I know a guy who got to 87.5 miles of a 100-miler and the aid stations were at miles 85 and 90. He turned around and walked back to mile 85. I said to him: “You could have walked the same distance forward to 90 miles because you had loads of time!” But he was just, like: “I was done.”’


4. Don’t Run Fast… But Don’t Walk Either

‘It’s about sustainable speed for as long as possible. You don’t need to run fast, you just need to not slow down. If you think about 10-minute miles, or even 12-minute miles, which is hardly running, it’s 5mph so it would take you 20 hours to run 100 miles. In some 100 milers, 20 hours would be a top-20 finish on paper. Obviously that does not take into account that it’s a race and you stop to take on food, and change clothes, which eats into that timing. You don’t need to run 8-minute miles, if you did you would win it! But don’t walk – if you’re walking you are at 4mph and it takes 15 minutes – all of a sudden that’s quite a long time, 20 miles in 5 hours. 25 hours is a lot slower. When you look at the cut-offs on paper they look very generous but you can waste a lot of time in the race at aid stations, messing around.’’


‘The Devil that comes out onto your shoulder and tells you to stop is absolutely calorie-based’


5. Beware the Chair

‘You sit down at the aid station and start to get comfy, and your legs seize up. Don’t sit in the chair, don’t stop for an hour. If there are 12 aid stations and you spend 15 minutes at each one then you lose three hours by not moving. I’m not convinced that sitting down in the race is all that good for you. You start to question whether you really want to get out of the chair.’


6. Pack A Ziploc

‘Take a ziploc bag with you – take it out at the aid station, fill it with food and then spend the next half-a-mile walking while you eat. OK, it takes you 10 minutes but you’re moving in the right direction and you can get pretty much as good a rest while walking, as not running. One of the challenges is eating because the blood stays in your muscles and not enough goes to the gut, so the food often sits there undigested. For me, I have no appetite but you have to force yourself to eat because calories get you to the finish line. You never know what you want at an aid station so they have everything – it’s like a kids’ party every few miles, you turn up and there’s jelly and ice cream, and cake! Sometimes you get there and don’t want to eat anything, other times you stuff your face.’


7. Listen To Your Body

‘Some people do measure calories but I think you can overthink these things – you eat when you’re hungry and drink when you’re thirsty. You walk when you can’t run, and crawl when you can’t walk. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that, and you can get hung up on heart-rate monitors and stuff. In the training, learn to listen to your body and learn what it feels like if you don’t have enough calories. I feel hungry and get angry, and I know that if I’m starting to swear at things, or questioning why I am doing an event then it’s probably because my blood sugar is low.’


8. Keep Your Mind On Track

‘Keep your mind in the best place possible by fuelling yourself. The Devil that comes out onto your shoulder and tells you to stop is absolutely calorie-based. It saps your motivation to continue, in all distances. Your brain needs sugar so the minute you have a bottle of Coke you feel fine. My personal view is that I try to avoid Coke or simple sugar for as long as I can, but then when the shit hits the fan I go to Coke and water, and simple sugars. You do get a spike but if you are five miles from an aid station that takes an hour to get to, and you take a bottle with you, then you spike and crash just as you get to the next aid station. I’m not sure it’s recommended but I’m not alone in using that, sometimes.’


‘How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at time – and that is exactly how you run 100 miles’


9. Don’t Pressurise Yourself

‘There’s a lot more pressure in shorter distances because you have a time to aim for. Even if you are doing your first marathon, then there’s a nominal time in your head because that’s the time you think you should run. But with 100 miles, the first time, you just need to finish it. The only real pressure is: “What’s the cut-off time?” It’s usually quite generous – 28 or 30 hours. If you work back to see how fast you have to do, it’s not that fast.’


10. Break It Down Into Bites

‘How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at  time – and that is exactly how you run 100 miles, you break it down into small bite-sized chunks, because if you start to think about 100 miles – it’s a distance you’d think twice about driving. You can break it into 5-mile chunks, or if it’s an aid station then in most races they are 5-7 miles apart, so you just break it into running between those.’



WHAT NEXT? You put your body through the wringer with a 100-miler – read about the effects organ by organ, and then head to Advent Running.



Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.