Preparing For The Addo Elephant Trail Run 100 Miler - Part 1 of 3

We asked endurance junkie and current (2016) Addo 100 Mile Womens Champion Linda Doke for her tips on what to be looking at to get you prepped and ready to take on 100 miles in the Eastern Cape wilderness.

This is the first in a three-part series of concise articles to help you with your preparation for the Addo 100 Miler.

Before you tackle this incredible beast, there’re some critical aspects you need to start getting your head around to help you with your training and your mental preparation for the race.

IMPORTANT NOTE: While the article is primarily aimed the 100 Mile runners, most of the advice is also pertinent to those of you that are tackling the 44km and 76km ultra trail runs as well.

100 Miles - Why so far?

No doubt you’re being asked this question often, particularly by non-runners who inevitably don’t, or won’t, understand.

I’ve been fielding such questions for 20 years, and I’ve given up trying to give an answer – the fact is, if someone has to ask this, chances are they won’t comprehend your answer.

So, rather than try to explain, just smile sweetly and reach for another helping of Christmas pudding – you’re the lucky one who’ll soon be experiencing a very special challenge that few people get to take on.

The 100 Mile journey

For some of you, Addo will be your first 100 miler.

It’ll be a journey into the unknown, a new distance for legs and an experience for your soul. The challenge will not only be physically taxing, but also mentally demanding.

On the 26th, 27th (and for some, the 28th) February, you’ll learn a lot about yourself.

You’ll be taken to some dark places in your head, there’ll be times when you question your motives, your ability, your sanity.

You’ll learn about pushing on through the dark hours, when all your body wants to do is sleep. You’ll discover heaps about perseverance, about grit, about digging deep.

Finally, you’ll experience the personal triumph of crossing the finish line after winning all those battles.

How far should you be running?

Unlike shorter distances like half-marathons and marathons, there’s very little information out there on how to train for a 100 miler.

No two runners are alike, and I believe the further the race distance, the more people differ with their body’s training requirements.

For example, I race ultra distances, and I’ve learned what works for me is less is more. In my training the most I’ll ever run is 120km a week, and even that I won’t maintain for longer than two weeks of peak training in the build-up to a race.

I’ve learned that any more than that makes me fatigued, I become injury prone, and inevitably pick up a cold.

Yet I know runners for whom 120km/week is the norm, and during peak weeks they easily cover in excess of 180km and still be injury-free.

The point is that there is no fail-safe recipe for guaranteed success in ultra-distance running.

By the time you have enough running experience to take on a 100 miler, you should know what works for you – know what your limits are in terms of training intensity, know how to read the signs that you’re over-stepping the mark, and be mature enough in your approach to know when to ease off.

While on the point of running experience, I’ll make a bold statement: your first 100 miler should not be your first ultra.

Ideally you should have completed a convincing ultra before taking on the challenge of a 100 miler. By convincing distance, I mean 80km or longer.

While a 50km race is indeed an ultra, it’s only just so, and there’s an enormous difference between running 50km and 161km.

A lot happens to you physiologically and psychologically in that 110km, believe me!

The good news is that training for a 100 miler is less about clocking in more miles in your training, and more about getting the most from the miles you’re doing.

It’s all about quality running, not quantity.

Rather than packing in long days of junk miles, make sure you do quality running during the week, and then two long runs on the weekend.

The importance of long runs

Long runs are probably the most important part of your prep for a 100 miler.

But don’t be tempted to crank up the distance of your long runs too rapidly – the 10% rule always applies! (if you don’t know the 10% rule of training build-up, then you shouldn’t be reading this column!)

Try to do at least one long run per week, preferably two.

I’m not going to prescribe distances – better to focus on time on the legs, and at this stage with just over eight weeks to go before Addo, look at making your long runs around 4-5 hours.

Back-to-back runs

Learning to run on tired legs is crucial for ultras.

Tiredness alters our running form, so be aware of this and focus on your running posture and alignment – don’t slump when you’re feeling tired!

Doing long runs on consecutive days teaches us a number of things:

  • that it’s normal for the legs to feel heavy
  • how to push on through leg fatigue
  • the importance of hydrating and refuelling during and after long runs, in preparation for later (be it later in the run, or tomorrow)

Recovery

The distance you’re training for is daunting, for sure. But hammering out huge mileage is not the way you’re going to conquer 100 miles. Be wise about your training – rather err on the conservative side than be lining up at the start line on 26 Feb with exhausted legs.

Plan your recovery days, and look forward to them – they’re a critical building block of your training programme and are just as important as your active days.

Training specificity

When preparing for an ultra, do your best to tailor your training to suit the terrain of the race.

This isn’t always possible – you might live at sea level, with your race in a mountain range at high altitude, or live on the equator with your race in freezing conditions.

The point here is that you need to do whatever you can to emulate the terrain of your race in your training.

In the case of Addo 100 Miler, we can see from the profile of the route that the course is bumpy. Sure, the profile has been condensed to squash 100 miles into the width of a page, so every bump looks sharp and steep, but having run the 76km before, I know there’re only a few technical sections.

On a scale of 1-10, I would rate the degree of technical difficulty of the course a cautious 6.

There are, however, some climbs we need to be prepared for – the nastiest of which will hit us when our legs will be least impressed!

It’s a 411m ascent over 6km, just 34km from the finish! And of course, what goes up… must come down.

In this case, the descent is longer than the climb. This 18km of mostly downhill will no doubt hammer our quads, so we’ll be wise to do the necessary leg strengthening to see us through the pounding of that descent, which we’ll be doing on very tired legs.