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Travis Owens finishing the Rocky Racoon 100 mile Ultra-Marathon

What I Learned from My First 100 Mile Ultramarathon

by Travis Owens

My First 100 Mile Ultramarathon

I just completed my first 100 mile ultra-marathon. Here are some of my thoughts on the journey and the experience.

What are My Limits? After completing my first and only 50 miler in July of 2010 I wanted nothing to do with that sort of distance again, in fact I told myself never again. A little recovery and several weeks later I was wondering to myself what was I really capable of, was a 100 miles possible? The question continued to dance around in my head while I was training for my next marathon in November. I did some reading of race reports and looked for a race within driving distance. I talked to an experienced multiple 100 mile finisher about training. The time it would take, the pain it would involve, and the fear of failure became something to overcome and I decided I had to find out if I could do it. A couple of weeks before my marathon I signed up for the Rocky Raccoon 100 so there could be no turning back. The goal of the training was as much mental as physical. I had to get used to running through fatigue. I had never before run consecutive weeks of marathon plus long runs. My recovery time from the long run was much less than I had thought, a major confidence boost. The fatigue was there on the long runs but it became an old friend; I knew I was getting stronger and closer to doing something that only a year earlier had seemed impossible. Most of the long runs were run alone. I valued the time with family and friends even more. The training took my life to another level; the enjoyment, the self confidence, and the appreciation for others were all increased.

Race Details

Five 20 Mile Loops! The race was to begin at 6am in the Huntsville State Park, Huntsville, Texas, and would be 5, 20 mile loops. I arrived at 5am since I still needed to get my race packet. The temperature was in the mid 20's and the expected high was to be near 50. As usual I overdressed for the start with long pants over shorts, long sleeved shirt, running jacket, gloves, hydration pack, and of course a light. I started near the back of the pack based on my expected pace. The trails were a mix of single track, dirt roads, wooden crossings and some wide open areas. The toughest part of the rolling terrain were the roots that made sure you paid attention where you were running. As I learned, if you are not looking down you are going down.

The First 20 Miles. Finishing the first 20 I changed into a short sleeved shirt and ditched the long pants too. After eating some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches it was time to head back out. I met and made several new friends along the way. I ran with some for a time but I had my own race to run and their pace was not working for me. The aid stations were between 3 -6 miles apart which was fine. I would eat some more PB&J, drink something and be gone. I like to drink plenty when I run so I was drinking about 1 litre per loop from my hydration pack plus what I drank at the aid stations.

Cooling Body Tempurature. During the fourth loop I began shivering uncontrollably even though I had on my long pants and jacket. I had not been eating enough. I had to stop at the next aid station to eat and sit by a heater. Learn from my mistake.

Tips to Training for a 100 Mile Ultramarathon

Longest Runs. The longest training runs for this were 35 miles. The longest week running totaled 80 miles. The key being back to back weeks of long runs of 20+ miles for at least 8 weeks before the taper. I run 4 days per week usually taking 2 days off before the long run and 1 day after. My biggest training mistake for this race was doing all but one of my runs on the road, definitely not a good idea if you are training for a trail run; ideally all of my long runs should have been on trails.

Rest. Do not forget to sleep plenty. Probably more than before you started training. The body responds better when well rested. Mental clarity is easier to maintain and the body uses the down time to repair muscles.

Simulation. While I prefer to run to the sounds of nature and listening to my body,if you train with an iPod make sure you will be allowed to use it in the race. If it is not allowed ditch it for the training.

Race Day Tips

Patience! The race itself was a great experience. I learned to control my eagerness by slowing my pace to be in line with my race goals which were simply to finish within the 30 hour time limit and finish in under 24 hours if possible. Other runners and volunteers provided good advice on the course and in the aid stations, learning to listen to others is an invaluable lesson in all areas of life and saved me a lot of discomfort on the trails.

Drop Box Essentials! Duct tape belongs in a drop bag. Use it to fix things like bottles or for first aid to tape over hot spots to prevent blisters. Bring extra running clothes, it is a big boost to be able to change into dry clothes when you are worn down. If you have a crew and/or pacers, make sure you have a way to communicate with them from the trail. They got me through from mile 60-100, running with me, keeping me company, and never letting me get down.

The Benefits of Training for and Racing a 100 Mile Ultramarathon

Positive Attitude. The physical challenge was hard but I had trained well enough for that I was sure. The mental challenges of running for hours in the dark with a narrow field of vision proved to be almost to much. At one point shortly before sunrise I experienced vertigo and had to stop. I overcame it eventually but at the high cost of self doubt. Would I be able to finish in the time limit? My pacer told me to quit thinking about not finishing in time and to just do it. His advice was what I needed, positive reinforcement. The fatigue was challenging but the will to reach my goal was greater; between walking and running the race was completed in under 30 hours.

Sharpness and Perserverance. Both mentally and physically my fitness was improved. My body and mind can endure and do much more than I had previously though possible. The self confidence this inspires will serve me well in my daily life and interactions with others. This confidence is allowing me to volunteer to train others to reach their goals of running a half or full marathon which will be an even greater reward than any material things. If I never run another 100 that is fine as the rewards from the journey will last a lifetime. If I can inspire one person to chase a dream that will be a nice bonus.

Who can you inspire?

Travis is a distance runner from Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
See Travis's 1Vigor Log Calendar.

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