In two weeks – yikes – I’ll be attempting my first 100 mile ultra marathon. I’m excited, but thinking about it is driving me crazy.
There’s just so much to fret about. Big stuff like finishing it and not falling off cliffs. Admin like kit lists, food and supplies. And then a galaxy of little things like training plans, weather, accommodation, first aid, blister prevention etc.
I need to get this stuff out of my head and down on paper. So in this post, I set out my pre-race worries, doubts and anxieties. And then, apply some kind of rational response to them.
It’s a form of therapy, and I hope it helps. Here goes:
1. Can I finish it?
This is the biggie. No matter what I’m worrying about, all fretting leads back to whether or not I can actually finish it.
Naturally, my mind’s having a field day:
- ‘Absolutely no chance. It’s too hard. It’s too far. I’ll be lucky to make it to mile 60, let alone 100. I’m an average runner. I haven’t trained anywhere near enough. Who am I kidding? What if I pull out early? After all that prep, I’ll look a right tit. It’ll break me. I just can’t see me finishing it. I’ll crash out early and humiliate myself.’ And so on…
It goes without saying, I don’t know if I can finish this race. How could I? I’ve never run anything like it before.
But I do know I’ve trained hard and I’m running well. In 2017 I ran 1,300 miles. In the past 5 weeks I’ve run over 300 miles, managing 90 in the past 7 days alone – the most I’ve ever run in a week.
I should say, that’s not normal mileage for me. I didn’t even know if I was capable of that much running. But it’s gone well. And it may be the endorphins speaking, but I’ve enjoyed it.
Still, I need a plan for the big day to keep me on track. So, here’s my simple 3 step strategy:
1: Aim to reach the first checkpoint after the halfway point (50 miles or so)
2: Check in with myself. Am I ok physically? Am I ok mentally? If yes to both, continue to next checkpoint.
3: Reach next checkpoint, repeat step 2.
2. The ascent
Finishing it aside, this is the biggest thing freaking me out. Why? I live in Cardiff, a coastal city that’s flat as a pancake. So I don’t know what I was thinking when I entered a race with 5,000 metres of ascent. This explains the inner turmoil:
- ‘5,000 metres?! No chance. It’ll kill me. Even if I could run 100 miles in one go, there’s no way I can do it with that ascent. I don’t even run in the hills much. I’m such an idiot entering this race. I’ll be lucky to make it half way. It’s gonna wreck me.’
This is a genuine concern. 5,000 metres is running up and down Snowdon 5 times. So, that AND running 100 miles in one go. No wonder I’m not sleeping.
But, all’s not lost. I knew I had to do something about this so I’ve recently crammed in the hill training. Not only have I got better, I’ve actually enjoyed it. Hills, where’ve you been all my life?
I don’t know if it’ll be enough on the day, but right now, I’m stronger going up than I’ve ever been. And like my approach to the race, I have a simple strategy for climbs:
- If it’s flat, run. If it’s uphill, walk. If it’s downhill, take it easy.
I reckon sticking to that gives me a fighting chance.
3. Keeping my shit together
10 years ago, I had a bit of a mini-breakdown. I was off work for a while, suffering badly with anxiety.
To get back on track, there was no shortcut. I had to figure out what worked, and what didn’t work for me. I got there in the end, but it wasn’t easy. So no wonder I’m thinking things like this:
- ‘I’m not strong enough upstairs. I don’t have that resilience some people have. If I’m running for 24 hours, what if I lose the plot or flip out? I battle with my mental health enough as it is, let alone putting myself thought this. I’m gonna freak myself out. What am I gonna do if I feel like shit early on? Quit? I’m scared where this might take me’
I get why I’m apprehensive about this one. I’ve learnt the hard way: battling with mental health is not pleasant. I’m not like Sir Ranulph Fiennes or some other extreme type. If my leg falls off during the race, I’ll probably feel like jacking it in.
But I think I’m stronger than I realise. And I hope I can do myself justice.
4. Running through the night
Running through the night is a bit surreal. So when I’m tired – pretty frequent with all this training – my mind goes a bit bonkers:
- ‘I haven’t done this before, it’s gonna freak me out. What if I fall? What if my headlight stops working? What if I’m in a pickle and I’ve got no phone reception? I’m not Jason Bourne. Running through the night is not something I do. It’s creeping me out.’
To be honest, I think I’m ok with this one. Most of my winter runs are in the dark, so I kinda know what to expect. All I need is a good headlight (check) and spare batteries (check). And I’ll try and buddy up with someone at a checkpoint for company.
5. So much to organise
This isn’t a biggie either. More like millions of unanswered questions reverberating around my head:
- ‘Have I got all the kit? Are my waterproofs actually waterproof? What’s the difference between a base layer and a mid layer? And have I got 2 of each? Do I really need a bivvy bag? If I get blisters, what do I do? If it’s pissing down, my feet will be in bits. I’ll just walk in. I’ll probably get my nutrition all wrong. How do you plan for 24 hours worth of food anyway? etc’
In my favour, I’m pretty organised. So I just have to apply those skills to the race.
I’ve got my spreadsheets. I’ve got the kit and drop bags planned. I’ve got safety gear and first aid. I’m working on food and nutrition. And I’ve poured over countless blog posts written about 100 milers for advice, guidance and inspiration.
I feel as prepped, organised and ready as I can be.
There’s no sugarcoating it: this is gonna be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
But getting those thoughts flying around my head down on paper has really helped. Now, I just wanna get to the start line and put all that training to good use.
The race comes just one month before I turn 40. What better way to celebrate than crossing the finish line?