Final Preparations for 100 Mile Run
by Acadia Gantz
In Early April an email went out to all the Lily Trotters Brand Champions asking folks to sign up for a slot to provide content for the Lily Trotters blog. I love to write, even if I don’t always have the time, so I found a slot for my name.
At first I was hoping to be able to write a race recap about my experience at the Bear 100 in September, but all the late fall slots had been claimed, so late summer it was. Perfect, I thought, I can share about what the final weeks of preparation for a 100 mile ultra marathon is like. It could be a unique perspective on what it truly means to prepare for such a big race.
A mere two weeks after that sign up went out, a fall on the trail shifted the trajectory of my training cycle and now, as I sit here attempting to write about “final preparations,” I feel like I’ve only just begun. How can this race be so close when my first mountain training run of the summer was only 3 days ago?
When people ask what I have planned for the return to racing my response has been “my second attempt at my first 100-miler.” But actually, this will be my third attempt. I registered for the 2020 running of the race almost immediately after a DNF at mile 70 in 2019. So many things had fallen in place for that race, but ultra running, like life, is unpredictable, and in the end, I wasn’t able to complete the distance. However, I had learned a lot and had one of the best adventures of my life, so I was excited to return.
We all know what happened in 2020. Despite the best training season of my life, I was not comfortable flying across the country in September for a race, so my Bear 2020 journey ended with a DNS.
I remained optimistic, knowing that extra years meant more experience and more time on my feet and that when I was able to return my chances of finishing would be that much higher. Then, on April 20, one week and one day after I started my focused training for Bear 2021, I fell while trail running and broke my ankle.
Bear 2021 could have ended for me in that moment, but it didn’t. Thankfully I had a relatively minor fracture and a moderate sprain. After two weeks on crutches and a third in a boot I was able to start walking and riding my stationary bike. On May 31 I ran 6 x 30 second intervals on the road. On June 10 I climbed a small local mountain that is a favorite running spot of mine. On June 25 my best friend and I hiked and jogged 9.5 miles to one of the best views in the White Mountains. While sitting on that summit I was simultaneously overcome with joy about returning to my happy place and filled with a deep dread about the rocky descent. (It was fine!) Three days ago, (July 22), I ran/hiked 20 miles and 7,500 feet of elevation while completing the Presidential Traverse with my close friend (the one who was with me when I broke my ankle) and her sister. It was my first full day training run, an adventure I had originally planned on completing in early June.
Physically, my training is fine. I feel good about where it is based on where it was two months ago. I am working with a PT and running coach to get me to the starting line as well trained as possible, while also avoiding a repeat ankle or overuse injury.
Final preparations for running 100 miles is about so much more than the training miles. Especially with having a coach (I have always self-coached in the past), physical training is all just completing the assigned workouts. Unlike with shorter, and local, ultra races, destination 100 milers include A LOT of logistics. When do you fly in? How can you maximize your sleep and minimize travel stress on the way? Where will you stay? How will you have access to the food you are used to eating? Who will be your crew? Have they crewed before? Do they know the area? What do they need to help you have a successful race? Are you going to have pacers? Where can you pick up and/or switch pacers? How far does each pacer want to go? Who is willing to pace at night? What is the temperature going to be? Is it going to change dramatically from day to night? What if your gear fails? What will you eat, and when?
And how do you possibly plan all these logistics, and run all these miles when you’re not sure you believe you can do it?
As an ultra runner and a coach I believe the biggest indicator of a successful race is someone’s belief that they can complete their goal. There are too many hours and too many variables in an ultramarathon where you will be presented with the choice to quit. If you believe you can complete the distance, or the time goal you’ve set for yourself, you are less likely to give up when things get hard. I know that, and yet, two months out from Bear 2021, I am still struggling to believe that I can run 100 miles.
So this year, final preparations are looking a little different. While I train my body at lower mileage and intensities than I’m used to, I’m doubling the effort in training my mind. I feel a fear and a vulnerability that I didn’t feel before with running. It’s the same fear and vulnerability that nearly ended my river guiding career after an accident in my early 20s. Now though, I have life experience, and ultra running experience to draw on and rebuild my confidence.
Every day is a chance to hone in my final mental preparations for the Bear. Every free moment is a moment that I can remind myself that I can do this, and that it is possible. That’s easy in the moments where I’m having a great run or I’m remembering the pride I felt at finishing 70 miles in the pouring rain. It’s a lot more difficult on the days where my ankle is achy or my legs hurt after 3 miles or Strava reminds me how many miles or how fast I was running at this time last year.
From an Instagram post I made on July 7: “There is a moment in every ultra where it doesn’t matter how physically prepared you are. It doesn’t matter how many miles you ran in training or how dialed in your nutrition is. It doesn’t matter if the weather is perfect or your gear is solid. Even when everything is going right, there will be moments that are hard. Moments that suck. Moments that the only thing that can save you is the simple belief that you ARE capable of covering the distance.
Sure, a perfect training cycle can help with that confidence but a “perfect” training cycle is not real life. There will be late night work calls and too early alarms. There will be illnesses and injuries. There will be days where training just isn't possible. These are the moments where you have to believe. Believe that you can do it. You can finish the distance. You can take on the mountains and the dark and the cold and the heat. Your legs can only take you so far. It’s up to your mind to carry you across the finish.”