Whereas before running 26.2 miles was seen as a heroic feat few were capable of, the amazing number of people who’ve now done a marathon means it was probably inevitable that runners would want to find a new, harder challenge. Enter the 100-miler, seen by many as ‘the new marathon’. “Motivated, driven people will always push to find the limit of their endurance or speed,” says Lindley Chambers, UK Athletics running coach and race director at Challenge Running. “People want to give themselves a challenge that has a risk of failure, otherwise it’s not a real challenge.”
What do 100-mile races entail?
Running a 100-mile race typically involves running the distance nonstop in one go in anything from 28 to 40 hours. There are usually time cut-offs along the way, meaning a good proportion of the distance will need to be spent running, including during the night and carrying a certain amount of kit (waterproof jackets, spare warm clothing) and also food and drink, as the aid stations may be very far apart. “Some races are well marked and others will require navigation, be that with a smartwatch, GPS device or good old-fashioned map and compass,” says Chambers.
Who are they suitable for?
“Most people start small and build up to marathons and then turn to the dark side of ultra distance when they decide they want a new challenge or decide it’s too much hard work getting faster at marathons so want to go further,” says Chambers.
“They’re brutal races, both mentally and physically,” says Traviss Willcox, who’s run 402 marathons and no fewer than 34 100-milers. “You will be in pain, most likely feel sick at some stage, and have at least a 20 percent chance of not finishing. I personally think a 100-miler is 16 times harder than a marathon. That said, there is a massive sense of achievement that can take some time to sink in. A hundred miles is a long way − you can be driving along one day and it strikes you, 'I don’t even want to drive 100 miles, how on earth did I run that far?'”
What 100-milers are there in the UK?
In the UK there are a large number of 100-mile events to choose from. There are 100-milers that are 100 percent on the road (but with these you face the challenge of repetitive strain injuries) and others where you run on tracks (with the danger of tripping on tree roots or getting bogged down in mud). There are races that are flat and fast, such as Centurion’s Thames Path 100, and hilly ones, such as the Lakeland 100.
Point-to-point races, where you run from A to B and get bussed either to the start or finish, are the most time consuming and logistically challenging but, says Traviss, “they have the sense of an epic journey about them. Out-and-back or single-loop events are logistically simpler, but the easiest of them all are multiple-loop events, where you run short loops of the same course, meaning navigation isn’t an issue and you have frequent access to aid stations."
Motivated, driven people will always push to find the limit of their endurance or speed
What’s the atmosphere like?
“The atmosphere at 100-milers is amazing, buzzing and supportive,” says Tinu Ogundari, who twice attempted 100-mile distances before finally managing to complete the Centurion Autumn 100 in 2016. Emma Lewis, who’s completed the South Downs Way 100 and Samphire 100, and took four attempts before successfully completing her first one, agrees. At the start there is a sense of quiet anticipation as everyone contemplates the task ahead,” she says. “The ultrarunning community is relatively small so there’s also a lot of catching up with old friends.”
What does the training involve?
It helps if you’re marathon fit already, as 100 miles is one heck of a long way. “Six to nine months would be a good minimum benchmark to go from marathon to 100-miler, but with completion in mind rather than performance,” says Chambers. “If you want to run a fast time, figure on 12 to 18 months.”
“You don’t simply enter a 100-mile run, you commit to doing it,” says Traviss. So naturally that means the training is pretty intense and involves running four to six times a week, according to Chambers. “Your training needs to comprise of long runs (including running two long runs on consecutive days) plus speed, hill and tempo work of varying distances,” she says. “Increase the distance of your long runs gradually and maybe do a couple of 50km or 100km training runs or races.”
Six to nine months would be a good minimum benchmark to go from marathon to 100-miler, but with completion in mind rather than performance
There are a host of training plans on the internet, so have a look at what you think will fit into your schedule and what’s been recommended on forums and online groups. An ultra coach can also provide invaluable advice.
How can you prevent injuries?
“Rest is vitally important, so don’t do any silly running streaks,” says Chambers. “Factor in one to two days of complete rest each week. Try to keep all increases in pace, distance or mileage to about 10 percent each week and have an easy week at least once a month where you reduce your mileage a bit. If you have injuries and niggles that need stretching, massage or visits to the physio, make sure all of that gets done.”
When it comes to race day, here’s what you have to bear in mind to make sure you go the distance…
Pacing is crucial, says Emma. “Start off slowly and stick to your own race plan. Don’t get swept away by others pushing on quickly at the start.” Some races allow pacers, who volunteer to be a runner’s pace-setter, which can give you an invaluable boost. “I had a pacer halfway during the A100 who kept me going,” says Tinu. “He was tough and I needed that or I wouldn’t have completed it.”
“Eat and drink little and often, and carry an empty plastic bag with you so you can fill it up at the aid stations and walk on while eating which will save you valuable minutes,” says Emma.
Drop bags, which contain vital supplies of food, drink, equipment and fresh clothing, are vital to success. “Keep them small and well organised,” says Emma. “You can be really thrown psychologically if you’ve been looking forward to a can of Red Bull and then you find you forgot to pack it! I keep a laminated card in mine to remind me about everything I need to do or take with me so I don’t walk away without my gloves or head torch.”
“I count repeatedly to 100 and visualise the finish when I’m struggling to keep going,” says Emma. “Generally within half an hour or so you’ve perked up again.”