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How to run 100 mile races – Brendan Davies

A 100-mile race such as Western States or Ultra-Trail Mt Fuji represents the ultimate mental and physical test of endurance

The grandmaster of 100-mile running in the US, Karl Meltzer, has a famous saying ‘100 miles isn’t that far.’

Karl, with 36 wins at the distance, must feel like it’s just another day when he takes to the start line. And while there are lots of 100 milers to have a crack at in the US, there are not as many here in Australia. I have raced a truckload of 100km races (last count 17) in Australia, but I’ve run more 100 milers in Japan than I have my own backyard!

So what is it that drew me overseas to some of the biggest ultra races in the world, events like the Ultra-Trail Mt Fuji (UTMF) (Japan) and Western States Endurance Run (WSER) (US)?

Without a doubt the 100-mile distance represents the ultimate mental and physical test of endurance. Take 100 miles, throw in some gnarly terrain and mountain elevation (UTMF has nearly 10,000m of elevation change), add a dash of harsh and unpredictable weather (at the Western States runners often battle everything from ice and snow to scorching hot temperatures) and top it all off with deadly wildlife, night hallucinations and navigational challenges. Put simply, it is the pinnacle of extreme sports, all in one neat package!

Cramps, nausea, blisters, dehydration, getting lost and the dreaded death by chaffing; all these are just waiting to pop out at any moment!

There is also a real mystery to racing 100 miles. Running 100 miles reminds me of when I was a kid playing pass the parcel…the further you go, the more and more you unravel, and it’s only a matter of time before you get your own little surprise. Cramps, nausea, blisters, dehydration, getting lost and the dreaded death by chaffing; all these are just waiting to pop out at any moment!

Brendan Davies WSER100

Brendan Davies on his way to 8th place at the 2014 Western States 100-mile Endurance Run. Photo by Matt Trappe

Running 100 mile races I’ve learnt the true meaning of resilience, perseverance and resourcefulness

Ok, so have I convinced you that running 100 miles is a great way to spend a day yet? Maybe not. But what about the flipside? Suffice to say the reasons I run these extremes are multiple. For me a big draw card is the travel; these races take me to some of the most stunning locations on this planet and allow me to immerse myself in some of the most unique cultures. Secondly, the camaraderie of a miler, from athletes to spectators, is second-to-none. But the biggest draw for me is that in the space of a day I always learn so much about life and indeed myself. Through running milers I’ve learnt the true meaning of resilience, perseverance and resourcefulness. I’ve been proud of my strengths but also simultaneously humbled by my own limitations.

Another great part of running milers is that you can involve your family. My wife, Nadine, has been part of my crew in all my major 100-mile races. Believe me, there is nothing better than running into the 85-mile point and seeing your loved ones.

Brendan Davies training in The Alps

Brendan Davies training in The Alps

My top tips on how to nail your first 100-mile race

But how do you become a 100-mile runner? Can you just turn up and run one of these things? Well as much as I’d like to say yes, fact is, it’s taken me a long time to now feel even remotely comfortable with the format. I have nothing but the deepest respect for those running milers. Going into one underprepared, either physically or mentally, is a recipe for disaster. Underestimating the distance and the many challenges during the race is a sure way to a DNF. So, here are my top-10 tips for anyone tackling their first 100-miler.

1 Start planning for the race a year out.

2 Structure your training plan with the specifics of the race in mindPractice your nutrition and hydration strategies in training.

3 Practice your nutrition and hydration strategies in training.

4 Get comfortable with the gear you will use (i.e. shoes and packs) and use them in training.

5 Train on the course where possible. Nothing can give you more confidence than this.

6 Train at night in the dark with a headtorch. Nearly all milers will involve a large portion of night running.

7 Have a toolbox of mental strategies to draw on when the going gets tough.

8 Learn how to read your body for the early warning signs of fatigue, thirst and hunger.

9 Be flexible and adapt your expectations as the race wears on and things start to go awry.

10 Above all, appreciate the fortunate position you are in to be even able to race in events like these. This makes us all better people.

Hitting the trail hard in the Western States Endurance Run

Hitting the trail hard in the Western States Endurance Run

My 100-mile races:

2012: Great North Walk 100, NSW Australia (104 miles)
19h 27m, 1st place, new course record

2013: Ultra-Trail Mt Fuji, Japan (100 miles)
20h 38m, 5th place

2014: Ultra-Trail Mt Fuji, Japan (103 miles, reverse course to 2013)
21h 53m, 6th place

2014: Western States Endurance Run, US (100 miles)
15h 56m, 8th Place. Read Brendan’s race report

To come:

2014: Coast to Kosciuszko, Australia, 240km (road)

2015: Western States Endurance Run

2015: Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB)

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