Consistency of training is a huge piece of the puzzle, but there are other tertiary activities and decisions that help keep the running manageable. One personal example of this that I identified early in my ultra-marathon running career was that I wanted to avoid lower leg injuries, overuse injuries, and muscle imbalances as much as possible. Over the course of my post-collegiate running career, I have addressed these in a variety of ways including working on strengthening my posterior chain with kettlebell swings and deadlifts, stiff ankles and hips with mobility work, and lower leg strength with proper footwear. I had lost an entire indoor and outdoor track season in college due to Achilles tendonitis. Lower leg muscles, although often easy to forget, operate the same as all others. A small increase in stimulus followed by adequate recovery will gradually make them stronger over time. My weapon of choice in this journey was low profile natural footwear. Putting anything on our feet provides protection. The more protection you use, the more you potentially allow certain areas of your feet to atrophy. Think of it like wearing a cast on your foot. If you did that to your hand, imagine how weak your grip strength would be when you took it off? Over the years, I have exposed my feet to thousands of miles in low(er) profile shoes in hopes of creating bulletproof lower legs. It is my best example of taking a previous weakness and turning it into a strength. I am confident this is a big reason why I can wear a low profile shoe like the Altra Vanish or Solstice for 100-mile races.
The race itself wasn’t too hard for me to wrap my head around. However, how it played out was. Before SDD, I had never negative split a 100-mile race. Historically, I have always planned on at least a slight pace reduction, so I would aim for the first half to be a bit faster than the second. When I came through mile 40, I did some quick math in my head and realized I would most likely come through 50 miles in about 5 hours 40 minutes. This briefly alarmed me. It was hard to shake the fact that I had never negative split a 100 miler, and with that mindset, I would be on a razor’s edge of breaking the 100-mile World Record of 11 hours 28 minutes 03 seconds. I recall a thought crossing my mind around midway that I should just relax and take what I get on the day and focus on Spartathlon. It was a moment of weakness, no doubt; especially in hindsight. I firmly believe that if you did the work in training, the biggest variable between having a good or great day is how many times can you push through self-doubt.
Fortunately for me, after having that moment of weakness, I glanced over at the screen which displayed each lap and noticed my pace was still within the ranges I had set before I started. I reflected on how much time and energy I spent preparing for this race and told myself to remain focused. One trick I like to use is mentally minimizing the task at hand. Yes, 12 hours is long, but when compared to the hundreds of hours, days, weeks, months spent preparing, it is relatively small. I like to tell myself that even if I have hours of running left, I’m in the final percent of the whole process.
When I went through 100 kilometers, I saw my split of 7 hours 03 minutes. This was motivating to me because it inched me closer to a point in the race where I could wrap my head around what was left. It was also five minutes slower than what I split at Desert Solstice in 2015 when I broke the American 100 Mile Record but fell short of my A goal of the World Record. That day I really struggled in the final fifth of the race. I gave back much more time than I should have from miles 80-100. It was at this point I realized that I felt great and that perhaps paced things right. Perhaps I’ll have a chance to get back what may have been a missed opportunity in 2015.
When I started closing in on mile 70, I got into a much different headspace than I had been in all day. At this point, all I had left was a single long run. No more did I need to think about running 100 miles that day. I could now just do what I had been doing for weeks leading into the race.
This new mindset helped pass the next 10 miles quickly. It felt somewhat strange since historically I have always felt like the final stages of 100 milers felt like every minute was two. I didn’t give this too much thought other than some motivation that things were going well. When I hit mile 80, I had another shift in mindset. The mile 80-100 stretch I mentioned above was now my driving motivation. I was in a great spot to finish under the 100 World Record. It almost felt like I was able to go back in time and redeem what I left on the table at Desert Solstice 2015. I was as motivated as ever to make sure this time would be different.