In the Really Long Run

AJW writes about the intrigue and uniqueness of 200-mile ultramarathons.

By on September 14, 2018 | Comments

Over the past week, I have looked on in awe at the hundreds of incredible athletes running the Tahoe 200 Mile and the Tor des Géants. While these events are by no means new, for some reason this year my interest has been piqued by the incredible undertaking they involve. In my running career, I have not ventured beyond 100 miles and the longest event I have ever participated in lasted just a tad under 42 hours. So, it is with the eyes of a newbie that I have watched these races.

It strikes me that there are several skills necessary in these XXXL races that are unique to them and require deliberate focus and management to get through.

First, there is the sleep challenge. In a typical 100-mile race, you can pretty much get through it on no sleep. Sometimes a brief nap here and there is necessary, but for the most part you can just hammer through. In these longer events, it seems to me that a well-thought-out sleep plan is part of the strategy and everybody manages that part a little bit differently. As such, what the body and mind are called upon to do in these circumstances is far different than what the body is typically called upon to do in a more standard ultramarathon.

Next, there is the issue of pain management. As an outsider looking in, it seems to me that the toll that these longer events takes on the feet and legs is exponentially more significant than a typical ultra. Blisters upon blisters, swollen knees, trashed ankles, and completely blown-out quads seem to be par for the course in these events. As such, there needs to be some preparation for this kind of hardship both in advance of the race and as the race is unfolding. As far as I can tell, the successful athlete in these races is able to adapt to physical deterioration and pain better than your average runner.

Finally, there is the emotional toll these events take on a person. In my observations, it seems that the accumulation of dozens of hours on the feet alone and in extreme conditions has an impact on the runner that cannot be overlooked. As such, a well-trained 200-mile runner must have a reservoir of emotional strength upon which to draw at anytime. I have to imagine that this may be the most important skill necessary for success over these multi-day events.

There is no doubt in my mind that these XXXL events represent a new frontier in long-distance running. And, while emotional strength, pain tolerance, and sleep deprivation are nothing new to ultrarunners, they are without question magnified over these longer races. Perhaps not surprisingly, for me, I find myself drawn to these events as much for the intrigue and mystery of it all than anything. It makes me curious about what my limits are in these areas not only as a runner but as a person, as well. Perhaps one of these years, I’ll even sign up to run one of these things. But, until then….

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from the Lake Tahoe region of Nevada where some of the Tahoe 200 Mile is held. 39 Degrees North is a delicious blonde ale from Great Basin Brewing Company in Reno, Nevada. Brewed in the classic blonde style, this eminently drinkable beer is a perfect summer beer for any occasion. In fact, of all the Nevada breweries, Great Basin provides some of the best bang for the buck I know.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do 200-ish-mile ultramarathons speak to you?
  • Have you run a 200-or-more-mile race? If so, which one and what was it like for you? Did the skills of sleep management, pain tolerance, and emotional strength help get you through? What other tools did you need to finish the event?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.