“Well, after three days you are not completely fresh, you know” he says, “but it seems the exhaustion is not exponential.” (Gregoire Millet, qtd in “When Running 200 Miles is Easier on Your Body than Running 100”)
A few years ago, I was finishing a trail run at Eisenhower Park when two women getting out of a van parked next to my car spoke to me. They were interested in my Vibram Five Fingers, in which I ran on unpaved trails at the time (I have since switched to $4.99 water shoes, soles pulled out, that I buy from Academy). One of the women, Rosy, explained to me that she was training for a 100 miler, and her friend had decided to train with her. As we talked, Rosy told me that she had never run a race under a 100 miles in distance. Judging from her appearance, I would guess her age as late thirties. She had started running a few years before, but decided to go straight for the 100 mile distance for her first race. She told me that she had run several 100 milers since her first race and usually finished near the bottom. A couple of times she had actually finished last place; she explained that she didn’t worry much about her pace. She just loved the experience of the 100 mile ultra.
I admire this woman, still, and since that time I’ve come to realize that perhaps she was wise in choosing to go for the 100 mile ultra for her first distance race. Over time one realizes that marathons are difficult because of the pace one keeps for 26.2 miles, not so much for the distance of the race itself. Once a runner has finished her first marathon, she usually thinks of any longer distance race as unimaginably difficult. If 26.2 miles feels so difficult, how can anyone consider running 50 or 100 mile races, she may ask herself. If, however, a novice runner jumps into racing by starting with an ultramarathon, she probably doesn’t have the same preconceived notion of its difficulty as a runner who has run 26.2 miles as her first race distance. Of course elite ultra runners are under pressure to keep up a fast pace for 100 miles, and they seem God-like in their ability to finish a 100 mile ultra with a six or seven minute pace – including the time they spend at support stations – which means that top finishers are running an even faster pace while they’re moving. The slower runners, however, aren’t under the same pressure. To finish under thirty hours requires tenacity and training, but not the same need for speed. To finish a 100 mile race, though, is a daunting and awesome feat for any runner.
I’m thinking about Rosy today and her decision to run a 100 miler as her first race, ever, because Phillip brought my attention to an article about ultra running in Popular Mechanics. The article, “When Running 200 Miles is Easier on Your Body than Running 100,” explains that when people run races longer than 100 miles in distance, they run at a slower pace, which taxes their bodies less; therefore, the 200 miler seems easier than the 100 miler to the ultrarunner who undertakes that distance. I’m thinking now that perhaps, instead of making my goal a 100 mile race, I should just go for broke and try a 200 mile race as my first ultra . . . . but I may have to chew on this idea a while longer . . . .