I Guess I’m Ready

Am I Ready?

I’m attempting to run my first 100-mile ultra marathon on Saturday (and Sunday, too!) and in the past few days, I have been asked if I was ready several times. I don’t think that I have given the same answer each time it was asked. I really don’t know if I’m ready. Maybe. I guess so. Nope. Yup. We’ll see – have been the typical responses based on how I felt that day.  

Hey Chris, are you ready?

Running one hundred miles is something I have never done before. I honestly have no idea how it’s going to go for me. I have set goals of just being able to finish, to finish under 24-hours and also 20-hours, and also to not die while doing it, as dying would upset my wife. I have recruited my wife to be my crew chief, and if I were to croak on top of making her suffer through this dumb idea I don’t think it would go over well.  

But am I really ready? To be honest, I never directly followed a 100-mile ultra training plan in preparation for this race. The Covid pandemic tossed around a couple of races that I had planned to do in 2020 and they got moved to 2021. The Big Hill Bonk race ended up being in August instead of April, and Ironman Louisville, originally scheduled for October 2020, became Ironman Chattanooga in September 2021. That meant that I was planning to run what would become my first ultra-distance event and Ironman in late summer/early fall of 2021. At that point, I figured “why not take advantage of the training I was doing and attempt my first 100-miler?” So I signed up for Tunnel Hill 100, a mid-November race in which a handful of local friends were also running. They are bad influences.  

My goal was to run 40-50 miles at the Big Hill Bonk, but I “bonked” at 33 miles. I hadn’t followed a specific ultra-running plan for that race either. I just used what run training I was doing while training for my Ironman. That got me over 50K and I officially became an ultra runner, but it also taught me that running 33 miles was hard and therefore, 100-miles might be super-duper hard.  

I quickly put that race behind me and focused on following my training plan for my Ironman. Ironman Chattanooga went off without a hitch and I notched the 2nd-quickest time of the five I have completed. That left me about 6-weeks to do just long, slow running. And guess what? I found that I liked long, slow running.

I’ve always been about speed. I’ve qualified for the Boston Marathon three times, and that required me to push myself pretty hard. But training for an ultra required something else – a slow pace, one that you can maintain for a day. Or at least a pace at which medical aid won’t likely be required when finished. Been there, done that. I found that when I slowed down, I actually enjoyed running. The miles went by quickly enough, and before I knew it I was four hours into a training run and still felt pretty good.  

I had found an online 100-mile ultra training plan on a website called Relentless Forward Commotion, which is an awesome ultra-running resource. I loosely based what little time I had left to train on what that plan had called for, but I didn’t follow it exactly. The plan had called for a 50K (which I did!) and a 50-mile run (which I didn’t do!) leading up to the race. But I had done an Ironman, so that has to count for something, right? I say it does.

After Ironman Chattanooga, which included 26.2 miles of some of the toughest hills I have ever run (okay, walked) for a marathon, I put together long runs of 21, 26, 16, 21, 22, and 16, leaving me with some time to taper down until race day. So when you take into account that I did run a 50K, an Ironman, and six weeks of some of the highest weekly mile totals that I have ever done, I think that I did do an adequate job of training for running 100 miles without actually directly training for running 100 miles. We shall see.

On Monday, I ran five miles and did the same on Tuesday. After that, I said that’s it. I’m as ready as I can be at this point. Another three or four-mile run isn’t going to make me any more prepared, and my legs and feet can use the rest as I focus on packing the junk that I will need for this dumb idea.  

Am I ready? I’m definitely ready to get this over with. The stress is killing me.

The Run/Walk Ratio Experiment

Training for an ultra is a complicated thing, not that training for other race distances isn’t, but training to run 100 miles is a whole new ball of wax for me. And to complicate it more I’m not following any specific plan to accomplish running 100 miles, as I’m relying on my 30-weeks of Ironman training to do the brunt of the work for me, leaving me only seven weeks to devote to some run only specific training. I still have some work to do. 

I was listening to a podcast called “The Tunnel Hill Chronicles,” in which this younger guy named Lorin is documenting his training for the race, and he mentioned that he would rather be a little undertrained for an ultra-marathon than be overtrained. I agree, so I got that going for me – which is nice. 

Lately, I have been experimenting with pace. To run 100 miles in under 20 hours is pretty simple – average 12 minutes per mile, or 5 mph, and you are golden. And running the Big Hill Bonk taught me that running 4.166 miles every hour will net you a 24-hour 100 miler. Not many spend the entirety of the distance actually running. Most follow some sort of run and walk ratio, either by design or by having it forced upon them. The majority of ultra marathons seem to take place in hilly or mountainous areas, and the golden rule is to run the flats and the downhills and walk the uphills. At Tunnel Hill, despite what the name might be suggesting, there aren’t any hills or mountains. From what I understand, the tunnel actually goes through the “hill.” I’ve read that there are a few gradual inclines on the old railroad bed turned trail, but they aren’t really hills. 

So if there are no hills you have to design some sort of plan to incorporate some walking into your strategy or you will likely find walking as your only strategy.

I have searched for common run/walk ratios for ultras and found that they can vary widely. Some recommend a 15-minute run with a 3-minute walk. That seems on the high side to me. That gives you 3.33 run/walk blocks in an hour, and my OCD would prefer that I make them divide out nicely over 60-minutes. I have decided that breaking it up into a 6-minute run/walk segment might be perfect, which would give me 10 total blocks per hour. So far I have tried the following:

5 minutes : 1 minute Ratio – Five minutes of running followed by one minute of walking was the obvious first choice. I have done that ratio several times and I found that five minutes of running was a little long, and the one-minute recovery walk went by quickly. 

5 minutes : 1 minute, 15 seconds Ratio – I tried to add some additional time to the walk, but I didn’t like that it screwed up the 6-minute block.

4 minutes, 45 seconds : 1 minute, 15 seconds Ratio – I realized that I didn’t have to focus on adding time to the walk and took off 15-seconds from the run. This 4:45 run / 1:15 walk ratio worked pretty well. However, it got me to the 5-mile split around 53-minutes, which could be used to walk some more until the hour is up, or I could come to my senses and see that I should probably slow my pace a little.

4.5 minutes : 1.5 minutes Ratio – This ratio wasn’t much different than the 4.75:1.25, but I am starting to think that a little more walk time would be beneficial to for me. 

4 minutes, 15 seconds : 1 minute, 45 seconds Ratio – Bingo!  Running 4:15 and then walking for 1:45 was a great combo by not having too much run time and enough walk time to recover a little and give me some time to drink some water and take on nutrition.  This was working great, but I was a little concerned about not walking enough.

4 minutes : 2 minutes Ratio – Now I am onto something.  This seems to be the best combination for me.  The minutes are even splits and the 2-minutes of walking gives me a much needed break without wasting too much time walking.  I’m still covering just about the same distance as the 4-minute 15-second ratio, so I’ll take the extra walk time break and use it in my favor.  This works out to be a pace somewhere around 11:15 minutes to 11:20 minutes average pace per mile, which will be optimal.   

So, that’s enough experimenting.  A four minute run followed by a two minute walk seems to be the best combo for me and will be what I use in the event.  Six minute intervals, 10 per hour – I just have to do 200 of these intervals and I’m golden.  I won’t be wasting energy keeping track of that in my mind.    

The overall goal for me is obviously to finish 100 miles before the 30-hour cutoff, but I think I might be able to shoot for a sub-20 hour finish based on how I have felt in training while doing that run/walk method.  This goal may be a little over-ambitious, but I think that I can hold the pace for at least half of the 100 miles.  It’s the unknown miles from 50 on that I have no idea what will happen.  I’m sure the journey to the finish line will tell me a lot about myself.  I’m looking forward to it.