Monday, December 22, 2008

Are you hardwired to run 100s?

I'm beginning to wonder if I have any readers anymore--no comments of late....

These past few weeks have been mentally and physically taxing, to say the least. My son, Noah, has been quite the germ factory. He’s had multiple colds and a nasty case of the flu that caused him to vomit multiple times a day for like 5 straight days. Along the way, he’s given Anne the flu (this past weekend) and now I’m fighting off—I think—my eighth cold since July. What ever happened to the good old days when I got one or two colds a year?

On Sunday morning, with Anne quite sick and in bed, I elected to forgo the group run in Solon and hang out with Noah while she rested. We had a nice day together, even spending an hour in the Chagrin Falls village to do some last-minute Christmas shopping and run a few errands. We visited Chagrin Falls Fine Jewelry to pick up my newly repaired watch. Then we went to Geiger’s Ski & Sport Haus to get a few Christmas gifts. The temperature was in the teens and I felt terrible about having Noah outside, but he was bundled up and seemed very happy.

Somehow, on Sunday I managed to get in 9 miles on the treadmill to end the week with a disappointing 65 miles--my third consecutive week of falling short of 70. If I can't even get in 70 miles per week, how the hell am I going to be clicking off 100-mile weeks come early March?

Unfortunately, the front roller in my treadmill is going bad, causing a loud noise when it first starts up, but then the noise dissipates. I bought my treadmill for a little over $3,000 back in November 2005, and overall it’s been a great investment. I remember telling the guy at G&G Fitness the day we bought my treadmill, “What’s most important is that it’s a workhorse and allows me to put in big miles.”

This year I’m going to put in just shy of 4,000 miles and I’d say between 10-20 percent of those miles were on the treadmill (mostly second runs of the day). I don’t even use my treadmill anywhere near as much now as I did in 2006 and 2007, when I was training for the Boston Marathon in the dead of winter in the snow belt. This is for two reasons. First, I found out the hard way at both Bostons that treadmill running doesn't condition the legs for the road, especially downhills. Second, after realizing how much my treadmill costs to work on, I decided I’d run on it only when the weather was so bad (i.e., super icy, massive downpour or winds in excess of 30 mph) that it would be risky to run outdoors. With another roller now bad and the bill likely to exceed $300 or $400, I’m beginning to wonder if my treadmill just isn’t up to the mileage I’m putting on it. Maybe my next treadmill needs to be commercial grade. If so, I'll need to be prepared to hand over at least $5,000.


A few days ago someone, after learning (from someone else) that I’d run two 100-mile races, said a marathon is probably easy to me. I answered that the marathon is not only not easy; it’s brutally hard. They didn’t understand how someone who ran 100 miles could think a marathon is hard. I then explained that the distance of 26.2 miles in and of itself isn’t that daunting. I could roll out of bed tomorrow and run 26.2 miles at 8:00 pace (unless we’re talking major elevations and altitude). But if I’m racing that distance at, say, 6:45 pace, the marathon becomes very hard--both the race itself and the 26.2-mile-specific training I put into it. It takes me a full 3-4 weeks to fully recover from racing a marathon.


That same person was absolutely incredulous that a person could run 100 miles. “How is that even possible?” they asked. “You just put one foot in front of the other, consume lots of calories and don’t stop,” I said. They couldn’t believe 100-mile races even existed. “Until about four years ago, neither did I, and I remember thinking then they sounded impossible,” I responded.

I remember the first time I really thought about running a 100-mile race. It was the spring of 2006 and I decided to begin the process of working my way up to 100 miles by completing 50 miles at Mohican, which I did, though, as a 55-mile-per-week runner at the time, I struggled mightily the last 10 miles.

A few months after Mohican, word of a new 100-mile race in Northeast Ohio—the Burning River—spread and I couldn’t shake the thought of giving this race a shot. So in April of 2007, just after my second Boston and as I was out of work (laid off but not for long, thank you University Hospitals) and had plenty of time on my hands, I set out to complete my first 100-miler--the inaugural Burning River 100. On the heels of several 100-mile training weeks, I finished in 21:08, placing 6th overall in a race that actually measured about 106 miles (the course has since been re-adjusted). The next year I returned to Mohican--this time to cover the 100 miles--and finished 4th overall with a time of 19:22.

Along the way, I realized that I’m hardwired to run 100s. It’s just something I really enjoy. I'm excited about returning to the Mohican 100 in June of 2009.

Few runners are hardwired to run 100s. Frankly, the distance and what you have to endure to get from the start to the finish just isn’t appealing to the vast majority of runners. You have to be willing to put it all on the line--from your training to the actual race itself. Many can fake their way through a marathon. No one can fake their way through a 100-miler. You have to put in your miles to survive it.

I have far to go in really understanding what 100s are all about, and even farther in reaching whatever potential I may have as a 100-mile runner. Maybe this will come when I finally line up at the Western States 100—hopefully in 2010. Just finishing Western States in under 24 hours would be a huge achievement. As a testament to Western States’ difficulty, especially for East Coasters, there are but two guys in the Southeast Running Club who have finished Western States in under 24 hours. And SERC is full of accomplished runners of all distances.

Even in my limited exposure to 100s, I’ve gleaned a few nuggets of wisdom I’m always happy to share with 100-mile aspirants, such as my friend Ted. First, the race itself is but one part of the entire 100-mile experience. Training constitutes the biggest part of the experience—the 5+ hour-long runs, the two-a-days, and all that is required. It is truly a night and day commitment. Second, understand that the 100 is going to change you forever—often in ways you may never fully grasp. Today, I look at world differently than I did before I ran my first 100. The 100 helped me find a better sense of inner peace and move beyond some issues that had held me back for years--maybe because I spent several hours late in the race probing the depths of my soul. Third, you have to be at peace with the fact that the 100 is going to hurt you badly. And so you have to be willing to suffer mightily, and then suffer some more. There is nothing like being 80 miles into a race, hurting badly and not wanting to take another step, and yet knowing you have 20 miles to go. Fourth, there is something quite primal about 100s. You eventually find yourself in survival mode, totally stripped down to your most basic emotions, instincts and desires. I think this is very appealing to a certain group of runners.

I've listened to this speech before each of my last two 100s--it contains many truths that apply to 100s...and at one time it really spoke to me and things going on in my life. You have to take 100s inch by inch and you have to be willing to fight and die for every inch if you're to make it to the finish.

Are you hardwired to run 100s? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments box.


  1. I don't always comment, but I always read your blog...please keep it up. Its a good source of inspiration for me.

    Its not good that you've had so many colds this year. Running should be part of a bigger picture: that of overall health. Being sick so frequently is an indication that something is not quite right.

    When I use a treadmill, I always use one at a gym, so that I don't have to pay for it or bother with its upkeep. But I know that's less convenient.

  2. Wyatt, I comment most of the times, but not all of the times, I read your blog. Don't think I'm not reading when you don't see my comments...I subscribe via Google Reader and I read every one.
    I agree with you regarding treadmill runs. I find treadmills tedious and doubt that they provide a true simulation of 'real' running, so I avoid them. I did a total of five runs on a treadmill this year (just rechecked my log to verify), and I hope to make that none in 2009.

  3. Wyatt, I'm on the outside looking in...on your blog, that is...and for my first buckle. I came in 4th last year at the Winter BT50K behind you but I don't think we've ever met. Regarding being wired for 100s, I feel that I am although not yet finished one. I have one BR last year but due to an injury at 38, I DNF'd at Mile 55. However, I believe it's in me to cover the distance and many more in the future. I learned a lot about myself at the Mt. Masochist 50 miler last month and look forward (actually, I can't wait) to toeing the line of my next 100 attempt (BR 2009). I differ with you on the requirement for 100+ mile weeks. To me, it's a balance as an ultrarunner to father to husband and I just can't afford that kind of training. Luckily, I've talked to countless 100milers who have had success with lower mileage. My goal won't be to place high as you do but to finish and finish strong and happy with the entire experience..from training to finish line.
    Mentally, I'm wired for it. I'm wired to always push the envelope...wherever it happens to exist. Each goal has to be just a little bit further out there.

    Thanks for the great post and Happy Trails to you!

  4. All: Thanks for chiming in. It's good to know this blog is still being read!

    Nick, a big thanks to you for your comments. I think this was your first-ever comment on here. I know you'll do well at the 2009 BR100--an awesome 100-mile experience. I may actually line up at that race should life not allow me to get in the proper training for Mohican (in which case I'd run the Mohican 50 and then the BR100). Anyway, you're going to do great. Luck (staying injury-free) is a big part of finishing 100s. A friend of mine in SERC says nothing good happens after 50 miles of a 100!Question for you: How many miles per week do you get in in preparation for a 100? I don't think one needs to get in 100+ mile weeks unless they want to contend for the top spot. I think 70 miles per week are enough for a respectable finish. What do you think?


  5. maybe if you wrote more about Steve Hawthorne more people would comment on your blog?! If no one comments are you going to stop updating it?

    I can't speak for everyone, but I can't say anyone is "hardwired for hundreds" but there are a group of people who have disregard for their body, that live everyday like it is their last, so we are not afraid to put it on the line. I blow up in every race. I expect's like driving 120 on my harley in the middle of the night w/ my eyes closed :)

    in 2007 I signed up for BR100 two days before the race on 50 mpw, not smart, i know and I dropped....looking back could I have crawled to the finish, maybe, I was too big of a pussy to find out.

    You are sick because you spend too much time at home w/ your kid who is sick. you should get out more or wear a surgical mask.

    Merry Christmas Wyatt to you and your family. We are running at 11 am tomorrow from Godale's if you are interested.

  6. Interesting thoughts, Wyatt.

    I'm not sure if I'm hardwired for 100s, but I'm surely not hardwired for 100 mile weeks. For the 12 weeks prior to taper for my Mohican 100, I averaged 48 mpw.

    Surely that is why I was reduced to a slow run/walk after mile 80. I finished, but I fell off the 20 hr pace I was on for most of the day.

    Good luck with your training.