Frequently Asked Questions

I’m thinking about running a 100km race, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of info about how to tackle it. I don’t have huge amounts of training time and I would really want to be left with many months of recovery time. Maybe that’s already enough info to rule me out…

Certainly not! Throughout most of my ultra career to date, my mileage has remained in the 45-70 miles per week range including a long run with weight vest of 2-2½hrs. Admittedly a lot of my miles are done with weight vest and I also do extensive strength & conditioning work plus some turbo (stationary bike) training. This got me down to 7hrs 7mins. In 1998 I did a 6 month spell of high mileage training with an average of over 100 miles a week (with a low percentage of weight vest running). This resulted in one of my most painful 100kms and did not produce improved race results. I went back to my lower mileage training. Quality miles are also worth more than slower miles as long as you keep the long run (with some on the road).

Other runners tell me that lower mileage doesn’t work for them and that they ‘need’ higher mileage to run ultras successfully.I have always maintained that your marathon training, with an extended weekly run, is as good a preparation as any for the 100km.

Recovery: After my first 100km (8hrs 01mins) I was walking free of stiffness within 4 days – although I suffered with sore quads badly during the last third of the race. I was jogging comfortably within 10 days. Always take a week off to let the immune system (and your muscles and mind) recover. Then ease back into training monitoring for any injuries left over from the race. There is definitely a ‘toughening’ effect once a few 100kms have been done. The body recovers more quickly and one can race more frequently if desired. Once experienced I found that I could race effectively with a 6 week interval between 100km races. Other runners claim they can only do one or two races a year effectively.

I’ve done some long runs (>5hrs) in the hills in the past (Mountain Marathons etc) but with slopes and kit thats much slower and becomes an exercise in continuous eating. I wondered if 100km was similar, i.e. that unlike a marathon you have to run slowly enough that you can eat continually.

None of the faster 100km runners eat during the race. Everyone takes energy drinks. In the 100km I take about 200mls of a 7% carbohydrate/electrolyte drink every 20mins throughout. Obviously you can eat if you want to but, if you are a faster runner, eating is more difficult and shouldn’t be necessary.

I’d also wondered why everyone slows done so much in the second half, unlike mountain marathons. You had something on your website about destroying elasticity, which didn’t thrill me! 

The main reason is that most runners start too fast! As with any endurance race – even pace is best – increasing the effort later in the race in order to maintain that pace. The better 100km runners slow by about 15 – 30 minutes when comparing the second 50km to the first 50km. In my best 100kms I slowed about 20mins. Anything more than that indicates a poor race pace judgement. In the big races the start is like a 10km race then a lot drop out or slow by hours in the second half – they never learn! Another big reason for dramatic slowing is the increasing effect of dehydration (exacerbated by the fast start). Runners don’t drink enough, especially early on (too busy running hard) this results in crashing later on with a combination of dehydration and glycogen depletion.

It can be very instructive to study the pacing of other runners. The Winschoten course, in Holland, has been used for many World and European 100km Championships and it has exact 10km laps. It is, therefore, ideal for looking at race pace strategies. Have a look at a copy of the the lap splits for some of the top runners in a championship race – look here

I maybe dont know enough to even ask sensible question, but I’ll try. Can you best train by running, or is it simply “time on your feet” with long walks sufficing (again, many mountain marathoners succeed well of hillwalking rather than training). 

You won’t achieve your full potential at 100km road running by only walking, however, long. The only role for training like that would be in the wekly long ‘run’ when you could do some walking to break up the distance and extend the ‘time on your feet’.

Is a twenty mile run (i.e. carbo-burning) any more use than a five miler, or do you have to get into the fat burning regime? 

A long run, like a 20 miler run slowly is burning predominatly fat and is a corner stone of marathon and ultra training (see above). Some of the other sessions could be faster 5 miler like you would for a marathon build up.

Many succesful 100km runners have come from a hill/fell/trail background. I have known two or three of these runners personally and they have told me of the diffuculties they faced. The main difficulty they face is the ‘intensity’ of road racing – if they stop to re-tie their laces they are suddenly half a mile behind! There is no time to ‘smell the flowers’.

For marathon runners moving up to 100km races the main problem they experience is the degree to which they slow down if they have started too fast – they can’t believe how slow they are running and promptly stop and drop out because they think all is lost. They have to learn to ‘hang on’ to the end – that’s what ultras is all about – you mustn’t drop out just because you are slowing down!

Do you wear racing shoes, or is cushioning more important than weight? 

This is entirely a personal decision. For the inexperienced ultra runner I would recommend they used their marathon shoes and then see how they feel in the ultras. Use these shoes in your long runs as well. For most runners support and cushioning are more important than shoe weight. Personally I now use lighter racing shoes with a replacement road sole, but then I have a very light step and am a small and light person (1.63m and 58kg) with a normal gait.

Would you change shoes/socks mid race to avoid blisters? 

Personally no, unless it was essential and I could feel a blister was forming. the best thing is to pre-empt this and get your foot care sorted out before starting the race. There isn’t and can’t be one correct way to look after your feet. Many different methods can be successful for different runners. One thing is certain though – if you get it wrong it will ruin your performance.

The best system I have found to prevent foot damage in ultras is to grease (Vaseline) the feet every morning for 3 days prior to the race (walk around all day with an old pair of socks on). Finally once more pre-race. This I have found to be very effect and have gone through 24hr events with no blisters. The grease softens the skin and prevents friction which is the cause of blisters. Toe nails must be kept short and any rough skin patches filed down as well.