100 is such a nice round number and hence the 100k or 100 miles remains a great goal for any trail runner. Personally I prefer the more civilized metric system, which of course is a great excuse for not doing those extra pesky 60kms. I was very fortunate to have run my first 100k in 2016: the Cederberg Traverse which was a great learning experience for me. In preparation I spoke to as many seasoned ultra-athletes as possible and Leo Rust warned me, “It’s a lot harder than anything you have ever done”. I also read about the epic at the 2015 Cederberg when a whole lot of people bonked and bailed at Algeria (60km). Stories of experienced trail runners collapsing on the path and puking at Algeria, should’ve put me off. (See Andre Hugo van Zyl’s https://trailrunning.co.za/2016/06/02/cederberg-traverse-part-1-the-experience/). However it is not an insurmountable obstacle and I still remember Christiaan Greyling mentioning to me in passing that “if you can run 20k, you can run 100k, its all in the head”
At the end of the day I had a fantastic run and I believe my preparation was fairly good. So here are a few lessons learnt from a beginner’s perspective [we all have to start somewhere]:
- 100k is a great goal to work towards. Pick an inspiring race that really appeals to you and will provide the necessary motivation [and therefore determination] when the training and the race gets tough.
- With your goal set, start working hard as long as 6 months ahead. I reckon strength work is key early on. At 60k when your legs are aching, you are going to wish you spent more time in the gym. Get a biokineticist or running coach to help with strength and conditioning. Do strength work, but also some movement training and, of course, core.
- For the actual running training I used the Skyrun training program by Adrian le Roux. Essentially it involves 2x 60min sessions during the week and then 1 or 2 big 4-5 hour runs/power hikes on the weekend. Its probably a bit light for an advanced runner, but works well for a working family person with limited time.
- Train on the type of terrain that you will race on. I sought out the roughest trails on Table Mountain so when I hit the Cederberg it felt all OK.
- Do some training weekends on the actual race trail. Get to know the terrain, the water points and most importantly the route. Also run these sections at the time of the day you expect to race them in. I was fortunate enough to scout the Warmhoek section of the Cederberg in hot as hell conditions. Puking in the campsite that night educated me on how important hydration and temperature management was. Try to run the sections you anticipate racing at night, at night. You are likely to be utterly exhausted on the actual race day and knowing the route will make running in the dark less daunting and one less thing to worry about.
- Train heavy. Carry your full kit, water and then some more. Its amazing what a difference extra weight makes. You will feel knackered from these weighted training runs, but if you don’t you will suffer on race day. On race day you want your pack to feel light. Only carry the essentials and invest in some lightweight gear. Although you should rather carry too much water, don’t be silly and carry too much, especially if you have a huge hill coming up.
- Do NOT test anything new on race day. That includes drinks, food, socks, hydration pack etc….and of course shoes. Sort it all out during your training runs. If you develop a rash or blisters on a 100k, you will suffer. And headtorches and GPS are equally as important. I carried 2 headtorches [Black Diamond Ions], a GPS watch and the OSMAND map app on my phone.
- Sort your nutrition out on your long training runs. Personally I prefer as much real food as possible and kept the gels down to a minimum. Potatoes and bananas are great carbs and I found that nice salty biltong or boiled eggs take away the sickly sweet taste of the energy drinks. Energy drinks form a very important part of your nutritional intake. Some really good trail runners I know stick to plain water, but for me it’s a missed opportunity to get calories in. Drinking too much sweet drinks can cause nausea but dilute your drink until you feel its right or consider bland products like Tailwind. I managed to keep down >400cal/hour which apparently is fairly good. Work this out and you will reap great benefits on race day.
- Hydration is super important with ultras. If you get it wrong you can get into some serious trouble. If you battle to maintain the correct intake volume, then set yourself a goal per hour. Obviously this will depend on heat and humidity, but as a rule of thumb I work on >700ml per hour. The real test is are you urinating fairly regularly? Even Ryan Sandes talks about his “sneaky pees” in his book “Trailblazer”. So don’t hold back drinking water for fear of wasting time stopping for a quick 30sec toilet break. The alternative of bonking will slow you down a bunch more.
- Related to hydration is heat management. Be smart with this. Black absorbs loads of sun energy so wear light colours such as white. I wore a wide brimmed hat in the heat of the day to keep the sun off. If it’s a hot day, recalibrate your expectations and slow down. Your body produces loads of energy the harder your push and when its hot the wheels will come off. At every opportunity douse yourself in water. Personally I keep my shoes dry, but wet my head and shirt. Before Warmhoek at 50km on the Cederberg (this was in the heat of the day), I stopped, took off my shirt and soaked it…. magic cooling! Tatum Prins warned me about the Warmhoek section and told me she carried extra water just for dousing. I did the same and it really worked well.
- Tapering is super important for these ultras and after training so hard and feeling those wonderful endorphins for so long, it feels super frustrating to become a couch potato. Apparently your training is done 4 weeks before an ultra, but per the Skyrun program I did my last long runs 3 weeks before. Keep the legs moving and the brain satisfied with some light flat runs. You can also fill the time with some core and balancing exercises [bosu / wobble pad]. Key thing to remember during tapering is rather be undertrained than overtrained. Also take it easy at work that last week. Your brain is your most important muscle so rest it as much as possible.
- Sleep is uber important. The night before the Cederberg I was so anxious [understandably so] that I never slept a wink. Since that experience I have sorted myself out with a prescribed sleeping tablet that doesn’t make me groggy on race day. Once again test it out before race day. Of course sleep during the final week is also important so get that sorted. And if you want to recover from heavy training, sleep, sleep, sleep!
- Another important aspect is to stay healthy and sick free. Being sick during training will knock you back and when you come back you will be tempted to overdo it. Also being sick on race day is a real bummer after all the hard work you would have put into it. For me racing 100k with the slightest hint of flu is a big no no. Take care of yourself, eat well, sleep well and if you have a bit of cash consider an prescription immune booster like Beriglobin or Intagram which will allegedly protect you for 3 months.
- Doing a few shorter races before the big day is a good idea. It will allow you to fine tune your nutrition, hydration, gear etc, but more importantly it will teach you to work through the “dark spots”. Chose a longer race like the Whale Trail 53k , Marloth 55k or Bastille 50k that will test you. But give yourself enough time before the 100k to recover!
- On the day its really important to pace yourself from the get go. Rather too slow than too fast. It’s a long day so there is no rush. Don’t let any lactic acid burn build up as it will hurt you a lot later. Settle in to your stride, keep it super-efficient and focus on getting food and water in.
- You will hit some really “dark spots” where you will really question yourself and your abilities. Its OK, it will get better. The important thing here is to keep setting yourself small goals. Walking is OK, but be careful not to stop completely as it may be difficult to get going again. Try and enjoy the day as much as possible. Embrace and appreciate the surroundings as this will distract you. Of course running with a buddy is the best so try and hook up with someone so that you work through the hard sections together. I ran with Karoline Hanks for the first 50k at the Cedeberg and tried to run with James Bossenberg at the end but for some or other reason he kept running away from me (maybe it was something I said?)
- Crossing the finishing line is amazing, but enjoy the journey as well. Training in wild places with good friends for a great goal is awesome. And of course running a 100k event is a lifetime opportunity….. never doubt your abilities and give it a go.
Written by: Andy Davies