The Mystique of the 100-Mile Week

AJW's TaproomEver since the first running boom in the 1970s, there has been an air of mystery and mystique around the 100-mile training week. While, in the end, it is nothing more than a number, I have found, over the years, that something about the elegant simplicity of that third digit in the weekly training volume can be inspiring and motivating. Having talked to dozens of runners over the years it seems that the benchmark of the 100-mile week is, indeed, a real thing.

Back in the Golden Age of road ultrarunning in the ‘70s and ‘80s many runners used the 100-mile benchmark as a gauge of fitness and durability. Virginia ultrarunner David Horton was notorious for his large volume as he typically attempted to peak three times a year for Barkley, Hardrock, and JFK 50. Horton always took care to balance the numbers with the limits on his body, but was certainly a diligent mileage counter and knew he was ready when he could roll through consecutive 100-mile weeks with no ill effects.

In the late ‘90s young Southern California phenom Ben Hian became synonymous with big miles and consecutive 100-mile weeks. Setting his sights each year on his local 100 miler, Angeles Crest, Ben spent the summer pounding out the miles on the trails of the San Gabriel Mountains at times peaking at as much as 180 miles per week. One of his little secrets was the Thursday morning before work 25 miler which he often used to pad the miles and work the legs before his trademark 75-mile weekends.

In recent years, several others have zeroed in on the 100-mile benchmark week and, in my opinion, none more consistently than Nick Clark. In Nick’s build up to Western States in 2012, where he finished third in a phenomenal, 15:50, he ran up 10-consecutive 100-mile weeks between the end of March and the beginning of June. Included in that total was a monthly mileage average of 419 miles a month from January to May with over 62,000 feet of climbing each month, as well. A quick scan of Nick’s blog from that period indicates that he certainly used the 100-mile benchmark as a gauge and was not unwilling to head out for a second run on Sunday afternoon to hit triple digits.

As I reflect on the 100-mile week mystique and apply it to my current circumstances, I cannot help but jump on the bandwagon. And, while I have no intention nor the ability to run off 10-consecutive 100-mile weeks, I have to admit that the inspiration of the past has fueled my fire. Just this past week I enjoyed 105 miles and 23,300 feet of climbing in my build-up to Hardrock and this morning, as I sit here writing over my coffee, I feel no ill effects. While it is, ultimately, just a number, I can’t help but think that it’s a number worth aspiring to. After all, we all need goals, don’t we?

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Ontario Beer Co - 100-mile aleThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Ontario Beer Company in Toronto, Ontario. OBC’s 100 Mile Ale is a classic American Red Ale with a smooth finish and a refreshing kick. I got a hold of a 16-ounce can of it last week at a local beer shop and really like it. A perfect way to close out a 100-mile week.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Have you experienced the 100-mile training week? If so, how did it make you feel?
  • Do you have another weekly mileage threshold on which you place great significance?

There are 13 comments

  1. Daniel Cunnama

    Coming from the rest of the world I find 100km training weeks to be quite rewarding and a lot less taxing.

  2. DF

    I’m working on my third 100mi week and finding them to be challenging but rewarding. Running double days really helps along with big weekends, especially for those of us juggling 40hr work weeks. Looking forward to seeing how this translates to my race at Laurel Highlands!

  3. Braided

    The only times I ever log 100 mile weeks are weeks when I run a 100 mile race.

    As a mid-packer (and fine with it!), peaking at 60-70 miles a week in training seems to be my sweet spot in terms of staying healthy and motivated, and having a balance with the rest of my life.

  4. Remi Delille

    –> Braided, I’m with you on the 60-70 mile sweet spot. In training for a 100-miler, I’ll certainly try to peak with an 85-mile week but too many of those and I can start to feel the ill effects on my body. Over the past couple of years, I’ve really tried to cut out all of the unnecessary running mileage and go for quality over quantity (lots of vert, heavy emphasis on quality long runs, skipping all of the junk miles, etc.) To get extra training hours on my body, I switch to cycling, swimming, and strength training.

    Now, sometimes I wish that I had the robustness of those runners that can pull off numerous 100-mile weeks in a row because it certainly is impressive and inspiring (and I probably could manage it myself, at least for a short while), but I think I’ve found my sweet spot and, fortunately, I’ve never had a running injury that has sidelined me for more than a week or two (knocking on wood!!).

  5. Steve Pero

    Back in the early 80’s I “could” run that much and did, running back and forth to work…but all it really did was make me chronically tired. That training did pay off, allowing me to easily qualify for Boston back when you had to run sub 2:50…but I always seemed to feel better running 60-70 more quality miles.

    As I slid into my 60’s, a 50 mile week was pushing it and now at 64.7, I’m lucky to get in regular 40 mile weeks, which again hurts the racing. It’s a vicious cycle of getting older with less recovery so you drop some miles from the week, which hurts the racing even more. I guess I’m heading towards becoming a hiker again like I was in my teens. Life’s a big circle.

    Mileage does pay off, but with a recovery and potential injury cost.

  6. Adam Pratt

    I don’t think constant 100-mile weeks is healthy or sustainable, but they are effective training. I always considered myself a “low-mileage” runner until I started running high mileage and found I could go longer AND faster. My marathon PR came the day after an 85-mile week. 100+ mile weeks take a lot of time, but it’s nice when you get to the point that you can spit out 10-15 mile runs without too much effort and with decent speed.

    If you’re training for a marathon or beyond, I strongly suggest people experiment with high mileage for a season and see how it goes.

  7. WeiDe

    i just finished a book by jason koop. i reckon if you do not get injured and can put in that many miles, quality miles that is, it is a huge benfit for you. i normally get issues when i get above 60 miles a week. i did run a sub 20hr 100 miler on that training basis though. i think it also has a little to do with where you live. when i am in the mountains putting in big days feels easy and rewarding, whereas in the city i do struggle and cant really see the point to spend all my time on that one nice loop i do have available to me. if my body could hold up without getting injured i would probably do a little more, but not 100 miles a week. preferance i guess

  8. Markus

    Whatever works. 100 miles per week is a nice number.

    I think a big thing what runners always forget is the actual running pace:
    There is a huge difference if a 2:10 Marathoner does an easy 20 mile in 1:38h or if Average Joe with a 4:00h Marathon best “slogs” along in for 3.5 hours.

    Just taking a weekly mileage number and throwing at out as the ultimate weekly training distance does not make sense at all.

  9. Bob Hearn

    I finally hit my first 100-mile training week, leading up to last weekend’s 24-hour race. I’d been hoping to string a few together, but injury recovery was slower than planned, and I settled for just getting there.

    The few times I’ve gone over 80 for a consistent stretch, I have noticed an almost magical effect, where every individual run is almost effortless. It’s like breaking through a wall. Especially when I do a lot of doubles, my body seems to view running as a very accustomed activity, and puts up no complaints. Now, if I were trying to do serious speedwork in there, I’m sure it would be another matter. But for the very long stuff (24-hour, Spartathlon) just big mileage seems to work well. I’m not sure what I would get out of speedwork for a race where I’ll never run faster than a 9-minute mile.

  10. SageCanaday

    Training intensity and speed plays a huge role in this of course! Back in college 8 years ago I was running many a 100+ mile training weeks over the summer to prepare for racing 8km durning cross country season and 5km-10km in track. Ironically now doing ultras I’ve run less mileage on average (trail miles take longer to get in!). There are still many 100+ mile weeks, but climbing and time and relative intensity is also factored in.

    Most people don’t have the time/resources to run 100-mile weeks in training. That has got to be a huge demand on family/work balance and on the trail that means training A LOT.

    However, we’ve seen many do quite well in 100-mile races and other ultras training off of 60-80 miles and week and periodizing their training with a bit more speed work and high intensity workouts. Balance and moderation is key as always (and you need the big single long run days), but intensity (especially around the Lactate Threshold) can allow one to make bigger gains in lieu of super high mileage (and perhaps at a lower injury/burnout risk).

  11. Dave Van Wicklin

    Damn U AJW….I was just reveling in my 82 mile week b4 reading your post, up’ed the ante & turned in 100 this week……

  12. GrumpyHasBeen

    Back when I had the luxury of being a college kid 100 mile weeks weren’t all that tough. It’s easy to run for 3 or so hours every day and play around with climbing when I get to sleep in a comfy lecture hall and have zero responsibility. Now that I’m a member of the Have Job tribe logging high millage (or training in any sense of formality) requires me to give up everything I enjoy other than running.

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