Your First Trail 100 Miler – Part 1

The goal of this multi-part series is to assist those that are thinking of attempting a trail 100 mile race.
Hopefully, this will give some insight into the process of getting to the start line.

If you have never attempted a 100 miler trail race, forget everything you think you know about running a race. Start afresh with your preparations and be prepared to train like never before.

“Really!? You are starting with training as the first post?”
Unfortunately, most of us think of training as putting your exercise clothes on and heading out to do some physical activity. In a 100 miler it would be impossible to finish the race without the physical training however, the mental and analysis skill development outweigh the physical.
“Analysis skill development… right…”

Yes, the ability to analyse, assess and execute in a situation when you are awake for more than 24h gets challenging. As with the physical side, you cannot be expected to master this skill set without some training. The starting point of developing this skill is to learn to research and read.
Your biggest challenges are going to know what to do when faced with adverse obstacles during your run. DNF’s (Did not finish) can be avoided, in most cases, if the runner has mastered the skill of pre-race Analysis. I’m going to attempt to break it down into a few steps to make the thought process seem a bit more logical. To be honest you will be visiting these steps at random, most likely while preparing for your race.

In the first post, we will discuss…

“Entry” Analysis:


Step 1:

Pick your race carefully. Make sure it will be roughly during the year where you can afford to take some time away from other activities. It will consume you mentally and physically especially leading up to race day. As a non-professional athlete, this is very difficult to predict a year in advance. We all know life happens in between and that we don’t live in a bubble where everything happens according to plan.
Note: a year in advance…

Step 2:

No, you cannot click enter just yet… for a while, so relax the submission button won’t jump off the screen!
Don’t get carried away by the sales pitch videos on the website or from pro athlete interviews about the terrain! “Flat, runnable” are two very subjective terms in trail running. For some there are even newly paved roads that are “runnable” or “flat” at 5km into a race but not at 130km into a race.

The term jeep track is also one to take very lightly. I have seen some jeep track that is absolutely not runnable without taking on some serious risk. Even though being simply flat you may discover that they are littered with ankle breaking rocks.
Take into account that running at night can make the terrain also shift from runnable to not.
Another great idea is to establish communication with the event organiser concerning the terrain.
Most of the event organisers will gladly respond to emails or other channels of communication even if you are just a potential entrant. In my experience, if they do not respond to you within a reasonable time it’s most likely not the type of race you want to be associated with. That being said, asking questions one month before a race is not exactly helpful. Allow yourself enough time to research. When asking  organisers don’t hold back, it helps you to gather as much information as possible. If you haven’t been able to find videos of the terrain, not the scenery, ask the organiser for pictures or videos.
Make sure you know where the river crossings are, if there are any, and what terrain follows the river crossing. Wet shoes combined with some steep rocky downhills shortly after might make you reconsider or at least prepare you for possible gear change etc.

The two videos give a great example of how even the professional runners can view a race very differently. I think it is clear to see that it is rather subjective as to what is runnable or less challenging.

Step 3:

You should now have an idea if the terrain is something that is acceptable but still a challenge for you over a 161km distance.
Profile examination and checkpoint analysis are generally a great follow up to this. Based on the terrain you get an idea as to why some of the checkpoints are only 10km apart and others might be 6km. The race organiser would’ve pointed out either in the general description of the event or, as a reply to your communication why there might be a difference for some checkpoints. Do NOT forget or disregard this information. Also, take special note as to where the checkpoints are in terms of the race profile and how far after river crossings. It could be on the day or the days leading up to the event that terrible weather has made it impossible for them to set up an aid station. If that was to happen then would you have the correct sized pack and equipment to carry you past a missing checkpoint with adding too much stress to your system?

Step 4:

This brings us to the required and recommended gear list. As mentioned above does your gear allow you, if need be, to miss a checkpoint due to unfavorable weather conditions?
Do you meet the minimum gear requirements and are you able to purchase this well in advance to the race as you need to do the physical training with it. Take into account that when the bag is packed with the required gear and the water is filled that you could be sitting with a 7kg bag, especially if it’s possible that you need to carry food and water for missing checkpoints.
At first glance this is going to be not such a big issue, however, you are going to revisit this point for consideration later. There are some little extras that you might like to add to your gear that you will find during training to prevent blisters, chaffing, cramps etc. A good example of this might be 3 pairs of extra socks and or a towel to dry your feet. Again adding to the weight factor, as wet clothes do add on weight.
Very few bags are fully waterproof for if you fall into the water at river crossings. The last you want is to be pulled from the race because you didn’t waterproof some of the required electronic devices!

Step 5:

If at this point you are happy about the gear requirements, the race profile, and setup, you need to consider the financial implications.
Most events are not around the corner. They require flights, car rentals, accommodation. Often not only just for you but for people seconding and or supporting you.
Make sure you are well prepared and informed into the total cost of this exercise. Don’t forget the car rental deposit…
When computing this also take into account the cost of gear replacement during training. You might be burning through a few pairs of shoes, running shorter “training” races etc to get you to ready for the big day. This part can add up significantly.

Step 6:

Have a discussion with your coach as to what they envision your training would be like for the event. Here you ideally want someone that has done a few of these events themselves. The reason you don’t really find generic 100 mile training programs is that this type of training goes on a day to day basis. Yes, there will be targets set for the different phases that are weekly but it needs to be carefully monitored so that you build but do not injure yourself.
Here you need to get a rough idea as to the amount of training time that make take place to achieve your finish. Also, keep in mind that when you are doing high mileage weeks that post-training recovery time might be needed. Here a good example might be an ice bath or a dip in the ocean or even an afternoon nap on weekends.
You need to take note of the fact that driving to different locations to simulate race day environment might be needed. A great example of this is if you live on the coast that you may need to drive inland for 50km to train in extreme heat conditions. This in order to prepare your body and mind for hot conditions above 40 degrees on race day, which may be common climate for that environment.

Step 7:

The most important step!
Have a discussion with your life partner about what you are wanting to attempt. Show them the research and have a heart to heart about why you are wanting to do this event. Make sure they are aware of the amount of time you estimate it will take in training etc.
If they are not 1000% committed or have reservations as to whether you will be able to manage it then reconsider. Often these people know you better than your happy go luckily race entry clicking fingers.
This part can often make or break getting to the start line.

Step 8:

Be honest with yourself, can you really tick off comfortably steps 1-8?
If so, take a night’s sleep and enter for your race the next day.

Happy Trail Running, till next time!!!

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