I could lie and claim that running a 100 miles in a training week is something I always wanted to do – a dream, an aspiration, an aim. It really wasn’t something I ever wanted to do……. It’s only out of desperation, because I couldn’t think of anything else to write about. I had writers block – “a distinctly uncomfortable inability to write” (Huston, 1998) so running a 100 miles in the week is my only option . Then more motivation for doing it came from a running friend who suggested that running a 100 miles in a week would be beyond me. So I decided to use this “Debbie Downers” negativity because there is nothing more satisfying than proving someone wrong by way of success.
Since the first running boom in the 1970s, there has been a sense of mystery and an aura around the 100-mile training week. While it is nothing more than a number there is something about the elegant simplicity of that third digit in the weekly training volume that can be inspiring and motivating. Many runners use the 100-mile benchmark as a gauge of fitness and durability. Whereas for a runner of my ability it’s more a measure of stupidity. Running a hundreds miles in a week is not in any way an exceptional achievement. Oleg Kharitonov ran 100 miles in 11:28:03 in a 100 mile track race in 2002. That’s an average of 6:53 pace, which means he essentially did four marathons in a row at an average of 3:00:16 per 26.2 miles! I was giving myself a whole week to do it, so needed to average a very modest 14.3 or so miles per day. The only way to achieve this was to run twice per day between school drops, work and eating. Heading out for two runs in a single day -logging “doubles” or “two-a-days”-is standard practice among elites. But most mortals wouldn’t dream of it, they don’t have enough time and the injury risk is too high. Doubling up and running in a depleted state can increase fat-burning, train the body to use glycogen (fuel) more proficiently, and stimulate mitochondria production (more mitochondria can delay fatigue) (Yeo et al., 2008).
Elite runners aren’t as different from you as you might think. Yes, they are the genetic lottery winners who possess a much higher level of built-in fitness than most of us. But there are two genetic foundations of endurance fitness: built-in fitness (lottery winners) and trainability, your genes influence how you respond to training . This “Trainability” is the capacity to gain aerobic fitness in response to training and it is much more common than innate ability. If you give matching training plans to different people, they’ll respond differently—and these responses tend to run in families (Wilmore et al., 1997). Within the past fifty years, the running community has accepted the adage that the more miles you run, the better of a runner you become. Running more is a certain and potent means to improve as a runner. The only other way is to run faster. Running faster is effective too, but its power is limited. Running faster certainly produces improvement quickly, but it has less long-term potential to improve running performance than running more. The gains in fitness that come with high volume are possibly more attributable to the brain than the body. Through brain-muscle communication, runners can become more efficient. But this is not without risk because increasing mileage too quickly during training is one of the biggest causes of injuries in runners (Saragiotto et al., 2014). So, I should never have tried to run a 100 mile week of the back of previous weeks of 40- 50 miles, but with 36 hours left in my training week I only have 19 miles left to do. Something strange happened in the second half of the week, the miles have started to get easier, passing more quickly and the physical and metal pain that I thought would never leave was completely gone. I have no idea if my body, life or social obligations could ever withstand another week like this but its shown me that the human body can withstand much more than we often give it credit for. And hopefully my “Negative Nelly” running mate can now see how inherently strong, capable and resilient we all are.
Huston P. (1998). Resolving writer’s block. Can Fam Physician 44, 92-97.
Saragiotto BT, Yamato TP, Hespanhol Junior LC, Rainbow MJ, Davis IS & Lopes AD. (2014). What are the main risk factors for running-related injuries? Sports Med 44, 1153-1163.
Wilmore JH, Leon AS, Rao DC, Skinner JS, Gagnon J & Bouchard C. (1997). Genetics, response to exercise, and risk factors: the HERITAGE Family Study. World Rev Nutr Diet 81, 72-83.
Yeo WK, Paton CD, Garnham AP, Burke LM, Carey AL & Hawley JA. (2008). Skeletal muscle adaptation and performance responses to once a day versus twice every second day endurance training regimens. J Appl Physiol (1985) 105, 1462-1470.