Confidence Before a 100 Miler


Experience From - Rick Cooper , Bill LaDieu , John Prohira , Dave Olney , Aaron Leitner , Tom Hendriks , Rock Cogar , Dana Roueche , Pete Petr , Joe Franko , Doug McKeever , Jay Hodde , Blake Wood , Karl King ,

Rick Cooper

I know the sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and fulfillment that comes with finishing a 100. In lieu of 3 Western US 100s coming up I'm curious how other runners feel emotionally in the final weeks leading up to an 100 mile attempt.

  • Do any of you have feelings of doubt or hesitation about the run you are about to undertake?
  • How many people feel 100% confident that they will finish ?
  • How many of you feel like you could have trained more wisely ?
  • How many people just go into it with the thought, " we will see what happens along the journey" ?

    I think that apprehension before an 100 miler shows great respect for the distance and luckily, it seems determination and perseverance have a way of making all apprehension melt away after that first step is taken into the journey. One's mental status before a 100 is a big curiosity for me though. Anyone care to express their honest feelings about this?

    Bill LaDieu

    I usually feel out of shape (despite hard training and in shape), sore and generally very low. I have a tough time dealing with the taper. I know its necessary (for me) but confidence usually goes out the window. The night and day before the race I'm a wreck. Rarely sleep more than an hour or two the night before. If the race starts on Sat. morning I'd better sleep on Thurs. because it ain't going to happen on Fri. Usually after the race starts things sort back to normal and I'm fine.

    John Prohira

    I've started and finished only three 100 milers to date in the last two years but in all cases finished at the back of the pack. And that was my mindset - to finish. Those races were Vermont this year and last and the Massanutten Mountain this last May. Of course I was uncertain at my first but kept in mind that I 'd finish if I used my head, that a lot of ground can be covered while walking and that as long as I was moving forward progress was being made. I'd probably be more intimidated by the Western courses, I've never run at altitude. Once my entry fee check clears the bank I'm committed and I stop thinking about how long 100 miles really is and come race day accept the fact that I'll be out there a long time.

    After my first I was certain that I would finish others barring "bad luck" like a serious fall or such. Remember Rick, people do this all the time. I'm always certain that I could have trained or rested more wisely, but again those thoughts are put out of my mind as race day approaches. I've thought "I'll see what happens along this journey to completion".

    I forget which one of our Listers said that "the toughest part of a 100 mile race is that it is 100 miles long." It's a big piece of real estate and should be respected. I joke with myself and others while running these things that what we do is a most important thing. And it is!

    Dave Olney

    In my experience, at least, the confidence quotient is not a static entity; it stands in inverse relationship to the time remaining before the run.

    Three to six months out, I'm like a kid whose parents have just announced a trip to Disneyland next summer. Wild joy!

    One to three months out, it's fantasy time. The 100 begins to dominate my waking thoughts, especially when I'm running. Brief flashes of reality from past 100s intrude on the fantasies, but the high level of excitement and anticipation carries me forward.

    One to three weeks out, I begin to ask myself a lot of questions that have no answers: "Why didn't I train harder?" "What if it's hot (cold, rainy, etc.)?" "What if I feel like dropping?" "What have I gotten myself into?"

    Two or three days out, I arrive on site and check out the course. I'm immediately awestruck by the terrain. Somehow, I didn't picture it being quite so steep, quite so...far.

    The day before the 100, I'm beset with abject fear and terror as the reality of the undertaking engulfs me. Nerves are totally frayed. Brought books along to read and cassette tapes to listen to, but can't concentrate on anything. Try to keep these thoughts at bay via mindless activity and humorous banter with other runners.

    Then the start line, and we're off and running. Suddenly the fear evaporates. We're doing it. Whatever happens, happens. Physical activity is great for the nerves. Long way still to go, but what the hell--this is what I've been training for all this time!

    The best advice I've ever heard, and I wish I could recall who said it, was "Don't forget to enjoy yourself."

    Aaron Leitner

    Yeah, usually the week before, I'm wondering if I have done "All that I could have". Well, chances are you have. But the one thing I try to keep in mind when it's getting close to a race is a saying that I believe Lady G said. "A race is not so much a race, but a celebration of all the hard work that you have done". So Rick, enjoy the Celebration!

    Tom Hendriks

    Although I'm not facing a 100 miler there is a 100K a couple of weeks from now. In general I'm starting to feel worse about 1 to 2 weeks before the race. Usually I get a sore throat and all kind of pains in tendons I didn't know they existed. In the past I also had the feeling I wasn't ready for the race, but I just got rid of that by training the way I feel. I just start the run and decide during the run how far and at what effort. Maybe I could perform better with an proper schedule but it's the fun that matters for me not the time. An other important thing is let things come the way they are, you can't change your training state the week before the race. The best you can do is start and let things come their way.

    I also found out that the mental feeling is something totally different than the physical state I'm in. I once ran a 60K, while just a week before I started with antibiotics because of a severe strepthroat. Because I would not take the antibiotics the day of the race I "stretched" the timeframe a little so I could take the remaining pills the days after the race. When I started there was a confusion about my start number so I was left with only 5 minutes to change and go to the start. Despite of the sore throat the hustle before the start and my general doubts, I ran a great race in a normal time. So if I start feeling bad before the race I just let it come over me as a pre-race phenomena and try not to pay too much attention to all the aches which pop up. With this attitude I'm not too stressed when a race is in sight.

    There are only a few races I started healthy, but afterwards most of the races I felt great.

    Rock Cogar

    To keep from being nervous the week before a long ultra or long triathlon, I do a big swim week, complete with distance and time goals. This way, a week without running does not bother me.

    Also, a big swim week (with little or no running) after a long ultra works well to aid recovery.

    Dana Roueche

    I always wring my hands before a 100. It's not about whether I'm going to finish but about whether my strategy is consistent with my level of fitness. Since I want to do the very best I am capable of, I don't want a strategy that leaves something behind. I want to be as aggressive as I possibly can to squeeze every minute out of me that there is. On the other hand, a strategy that is overly aggressive will backfire and send you into a sub-optimal survival mode far sooner than necessary. There is no way you can have your best run if you've gone out too fast. Not a lot you can do about it when you discover this halfway through the run.

    It is hard to precisely predict your level of fitness and impossible to predict how you will feel on race day. This leaves you with the need to take risks in your strategy and hope that luck falls your way. That you have picked a strategy that fits exactly to your level of fitness. If you want to be conservative, that's fine but there is a price and that is that you may have started too slow to realize your best possible time.

    When I first started running 100's and didn't have the history I now have to support my confidence in finishing, I used the next best alternative. I ran my buns off for months and months before the first several 100 milers I did. On race day, I had no doubt in my mind about whether I trained enough. The only question left which still remains for me today and for everyone else is the fact that things can happen to prevent you from finishing that are uncontrollable. No need to worry about that stuff, if it happens, there is nothing you can do about it except play the hand you are dealt.

    Pete Petr

    Shoot, I'm just coming up on my first attempt (AC), and I already feel under trained... seems to go with the territory lately. I'm just relying on the fact that I have felt this way before every other major endeavor this year yet finished all exceeding expectations. We'll see...

    Joe Franko

    I've have yet to start a 100 mile race where I didn't feel:

    1. under trained
    2. worried about finishing
    3. wished I had eight more weeks and 10 pounds less

    As Pete said, "it goes with the territory" You could be the most well trained in your life and sprain an ankle 5 miles into the race. And who couldn't use more training or less weight? And I've finished ten 100 milers, including AC100, Superior Trails, and WS100. I'm starting to wonder about this year's AC100 this week...

    Doug McKeever

    I have been an interested observer of this thread for a couple of days now. But I have to agree totally with your concise statement above. Let me draw a comparison.

    We built our house, including all of the concrete work, which due to the complexity of the house (or just bad planning!) involved 8 separate pours! Every time we had a concrete pour scheduled, we were always rushing around putting in one last brace, adjusting the form ties, etc. even as the truck drove in. We always seemed to need more time, strength, material, etc. We always worried about blowing out a wall during a pour.

    We had perfect pours every time, in spite of our worries.

    I have entered 14 hundred milers and have had varying degrees of apprehension before each of them. Had I trained enough or too much? Would I get sick or injured during the run and with what result of discomfort? But even with the first (Leadville in 1988) I had little doubt that I would finish (well, I didn't know what to expect at Hardrock in 1993). I have had the usual monumental physical, emotional, and spiritual struggles in each one.

    But I have been able to complete each one.

    In this game of running 100s, one has to be adequately prepared physically, logistically, emotionally, and mentally, one has to be willing to overcome perhaps a high level of discomfort, and one has to have a bit of luck (actually, the good luck stems from good preparation).

    And for me (linking to the thread on spirituality), I trust that the Lord of my life will sustain me in this hobby, just as He does in everything day by day. The best example in running for me was during Hardrock, where my strength was completely gone at 78 miles. The fact that I finished that run was truly an answered prayer.

    That is why I have used the two passages from the New Testament which have been on my signature for the past couple of months.

    Jay Hodde

    Dana made 2 comments I'd like to reply to:

    "If you want to be conservative, that's fine but there is a price and that is that you may have started too slow to realize your best possible time."
    One reason I really admire Eric Clifton is that he can never say he went out too conservatively; he runs his best possible time for the distance he runs EVERY time he starts a race (Note: he doesn't always finish the race, but each mile he runs is his best). He is never in doubt that he could have done better, assuming he finishes. If he DNFs because of his running style, that's another thing -- and the price he must pay to be on the edge.

    I'm not saying the strategy is healthy for everyone, but if you are disappointed in a slow performance, there is no better preventing such disappointment than running to the limit of your ability for the whole race.

    Last weekend at the 8-hour, I wasn't happy with my final performance, but I was satisfied because I knew that I didn't hold back. I came within 0.85 miles of my goal mileage for the day, but looking back, I couldn't find one single time where I could have spared the needed 5 extra minutes.

    "question left which still remains for me today and for everyone else is the fact that things can happen to prevent you from finishing that are uncontrollable. No need to worry about that stuff, if it happens, there is nothing you can do about it except play the hand you are dealt."
    In this game of the 100-miler, having the ability to adapt to the wiles of Mother Nature is often the difference between a finish and a DNF.

    Blake Wood

    I guess I'm in the minority. I don't get nervous before races anymore. I used to - trouble sleeping, worrying about whether I was in good enough shape, had eaten the right things, etc. - the whole bit. Eventually I noticed that there was very little correlation between how I felt on the start line and how I ran - I ran some of my best races (road races, back before ultras) when I'd been up too late and felt crummy the morning of the race. So I forced myself to stop worrying about the race before the gun, and eventually it became a habit. I've been racing for 26 years now, but it took me about 10 years to figure this out.

    This doesn't mean that I don't plan - I do a lot of planning. It helps to bounce your plans off someone who knows something about running ultras - for me that's my wife and Dad. They're both good at playing "what if...", and often think of things I've forgotten. Then I make a list. I find that once I've written it down, I can let it go and not worry about it anymore. Most important (for me) are the list of things to take to the run, and the list of things to do and take on race morning. Even with the lists, I still always seem to forget something, but it's usually something minor. It's gotten so I expect this, and breath a sigh of relief during the race when I finally figure out what it is that I forgot this time - I'd feel jinxed if I didn't forget SOMETHING.

    Karl King

    Blake Wood wrote:

    "I guess I'm in the minority. I don't get nervous before races anymore."
    It's good to see that I'm not alone in this. Any race is not a life and death matter. At the end, we'll go home and think about what to run next.

    Before the race I've planned, trained, and gathered information from those who have been successful on the course. The logistics have been run through and the equipment put in place. The only thing left to do is execute and enjoy. Even if the outcome is not what I had in mind, my ego is strong enough to accept it, learn from it, and do better next time.

    So, I stand on the starting line with the child's sense of discovery and joy. This is what I chose to do, and I'm delighted. No place for nervousness to enter.