When a person first finds out that you’ve ran a 100 miler, their first reaction is usually something of the “I don’t even like driving that far” variant. Then very often, it’s followed by the next most common question, “what goes through your mind for 100 miles?” Over the course of a full day with yourself, you often have enough time to ponder just about anything.
What is a person really thinking about though for a full 100 miles? Nickademus Hollon, Inov-8 athlete and winner of the 2017 Orcas Island 100 captures his experience below.
Adding another layer of thought, Nick illustrates his thoughts and actions from his first person perspective as the athlete then humorously juxtaposes that with the detached third person point of view of himself as his own running coach.
In addition to running for inov-8, Nickademus is the Head Endurance Coach with his company Lucky 13 Coaching and the Gait/ Endurance Analyst for Complete Human Performance.
RainShadow Running’s Orcas Island 100 is a brutally tough 100-mile foot race held on the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest in the tail-end of winter. In addition to the 26,000ft of vertical gain, in this year’s addition racers battled a 25-mile loop course with mud, snow, tree-roots, ice, rocks and the wicked 40% grade power-line climb.
Athlete: Race my own race, race my own race, race my own race. (Gun goes off) Okay and I’m in first. Okay cool, whatever. Just keep running, just keep running. (Checking watch) HR at 160BPM, 85% MHR and climbing, cadence 172SPM, RPE ~7.5, is this sustainable? Mostly. (Checks shoulders, retracts scapula, picks up knees.) Only 99 miles left… shoot, don’t think about that.
Coach: The first few miles are all about keeping your cool and racing your own race. Watch your breathing rhythms or rate of perceived exertion (RPE) at the start instead of Heart-Rate. With the adrenaline of a race start, heart rate will be wild no matter who you are. A mile or so, start going internal and thinking form, cadence, movement efficiency, keeping it easy. But most importantly, race your own race!
Athlete: Ah, look at that beautiful waterfall. Man what a cool place to get to run! Pick up my feet, pick up my feet. Hey it’s the race photographer! Quick look strong, whoops… shouldn’t have run that hill for the photo. Shorten my stride, pull back my shoulders. No one behind me as far as I can see, hurry good lead still! It’s so much easier to run my own race when I’ve not got anyone ahead of me.
Coach: Double digits now. If you are keeping it easy, this should have come up somewhat effortlessly. You’re still holding first place. That may be a mistake if 2nd place starts hunting you early or you get an ego about holding 1st. It’s like the one ring in Lord of the Rings; you don’t want to hold it for too long before it starts corrupting you. Speaking of corruption how’s your form? Shoulders back? When did you last eat? What did you eat? Can you do this again next loop?
Athlete: Woo! First lap done. 4hrs and 20min’s or so. That puts me precisely 30 minutes ahead of the course record currently. Money in the bank for later loops. Feeling good!
Athlete: Ugh that first lap was too fast. This climb sucks. Cadence? Ugh slow. My hips hurt. Downhill! Shorten stride, maintain form, maintain form. Sustainable. Eat. Eat. Ugh I need to eat more.
Coach: Aim for consistent replication on the second loop. Your first lap was too fast. You’re always too damn fast at first, even after eight years of coaching you Nick!
Athlete: Okay, this was a 40-minute descent on the first lap. Should be about 50-minutes or less this time around. I can do this, just focus on cadence; short, quick, easy steps. Hey, I don’t remember there being a hill here. Oh no, second place, he’s right on me! Go go go!!
Coach: Don’t look; he’s three minutes off you. Race your own race. Still 60+ miles of race left. Stay smart, eat right and watch your form and you’ll win. Keep this race easy and keep yourself feeling good, the side effect of doing that will be speed.
Athlete: Is he on me? Was that his light? Squat, stretch, food, eat, change shoes. Is he here yet? Was that his light? Eat, eat; Headlamp check (leaves it on table), eat, okay I gotta’ go!
Coach: You’re good! You put 15 minutes on him in that descent by running scared and staying focused on form. Keep your wits about you, stay out of his line of sight and don’t forget your back-up head…lamp.
Athlete: Let things come, let them go, do not own, do not possess; give up control. If I am feeling good, feel good. Do not repress, express. I feel good, really good. Okay I’ll run this 3.2-mile climb, bomb the next descent then run the next climb! Woo!
Coach: Good work. Don’t wreck yourself though hanging onto first place. You put two minutes on him by pushing by that climb. Stay out of his line of sight and you’ll break his spirit. Keep really focusing on eating. The seconds spent fueling right at aid stations are MINUTES saved on the trail. Stay smart, stay focused.
Athlete: Man this bacon is really good…And these M&M’s and this ginger ale and this coffee and these oreos…OMG I love food!
Coach: Eat the bacon. Eat all the bacon, good fats, satiating and at the rate you’re moving no digestive issues. With M&M’s? Okay…Getting a little weird there with your food combo’s…
Athlete: I have 2hrs and 20min’s to make it between Cascade Aid station (mile 65) and the Moran State Park Aid Station (mile 75) to stay on track for the course record. That’s a 60-minute power-line climb, generous 20-minute descent on the backside, generous 30-minute climb up Constitution then a quick descent 40-minute descent back into camp. Provided nothing fatigues and everything goes exactly, 100% correct.
Coach: Good math skills. Nothing ever goes as planned. You should know that by now.
Athlete: Wow that was an awful climb. So ‘bout that “quick” descent into camp to match the course record; I don’t know if that’s happening. The aid station guy offered me some smoked salmon. I went for Oreos, tomato bisque, coffee, and what I think were someone’s old tater-tots.
Coach: Quick steps, quick steps, quick steps, and eat! You haven’t been eating the entire climb! Eat you fool! Your food combinations are terrible this late in a race. Get out of here, he’s coming!
Athlete: Last lap! Everything is ending! This is it; these are the last times I’ll have to do everything, Hurray!! Ow my hips. Man these cookies are good. If I climb strong, then second place won’t get me. I wonder how my fiancé is doing out here? Wow, I am way off the course record.
Coach: Remember your why. Why did you sign up for this event? It’s an experiment. A big test of your mechanical skills and efficiencies, what muscles weaken, what muscles don’t. Watch your shoulders, quit slumping over, chest up. Keep your core engaged. Stay in the game. Be smart. Stay efficient (Oh and 2nd place is ~45+min’s behind you know you’re safe but I’m not going to tell you that).
Athlete: This climb is awful. I feel like I am taking forever and a day on it. Why won’t it end!? Is that second? No, no, we’re safe. Eat. Ugh. So sick of eating. I hate bars, I hate gels, I hate liquids, I hate food. Did someone say bacon? Is there bacon up there? I really hope there is bacon up there.
Coach: This late in the race, your mind is gone. Your cognitive decisions start to waiver, your palette gets really sick of chewing, swallowing and everything that entails digestion. If you’re in the top field, it’s crucial here that you don’t start your push too early. Twenty miles is a still a lot of race to hang onto still.
Athlete: Whoop, whoop! Just the last descent now. I got this thing. I’d have to finish in less than five minutes (five miles from the finish) to get the course record. But win? Yes, yes, I can win. And damn right I got something in the tank. Come on second place, show up. Do it. I dare you. Do it. I’ll fight you off.
Coach: Five miles from the finish? Anything goes at this point. If you feel like smoked salmon, go for it. If you feel like wrapping some M&M’s in salami go for it. If you feel like listening to Final Fantasy 7 music from when you were 11, go for it. Just keep on keeping on, the finish is near. Stay strong and stay ahead, the damage is done.
Athlete: A headlamp is descending FAST! Behind me!! That’s him! That’s him! Nooo!!!! He’s catching up!! How the hell could this be?!?! Who catches me on descents!?! Who tries to catch me this late in the race?? NOT ON MY WATCH, HUZZAH!!
Coach: Running scared, nerves, doubt and uncertainty mount in the final miles of a race. It’s most important here to stay focused, stay efficient and avoid making a single mistake. A 100 miler’s worst nightmare is a sprint finish in the last mile of the race. We’ll do anything to avoid that.
Athlete: He’s coming, he’s coming, ahhh!!! Ugh so many climbs, legs hurt, complain…complain…Is he behind me!? Why is this last mile so long? Was this hill here before?
Coach: The damage is done at this point. Short of falling and breaking a leg (also a worst nightmare scenario) there isn’t much left. Smell the barn, feel the finish line tractor beaming you in. And yes, if your still scared of second place, run like hell!
Athlete: Done! I did it! Ahh sweet relief. Hey my head-lamp! That’s where I left it…I wonder where second place is at?
Coach: The finish line is a sacred area. And it can be a lot of different experiences for different athletes. Elation, frustration, jubilation but most of all relief from the self-imposed pressures of time and competition.
So there you have it, inside the mind of the winner of the 2017 Orcas Island 100. And a special thank you to all the race crew and volunteers for orchestrating such a well-done event!