The eternal bliss of the 100 mile ultra marathon has a hold of my heart. Running into the sunrise is a marvelous sight. After half a day of chasing my shadow, the sun begins to set…and I’m still running.
Into the darkness I go, it’s an adventurous journey.
While it’s time to sleep, my feet are awake, relentlessly moving forward. My legs SCREAM to stop. Even so, my eyes remain fixated at the moon as I contemplate our place in the stars.
Eventually, the morning approaches. You can’t see the sun, but you feel it’s presence. The warmth of a new day rushes the course, and you gain a new appreciation for life.
The sun then peaks out from a distant cloud as it radiates so profoundly that you can’t help but feel the rebirth of a new day.
And then it happens…
You experience a transformation…a self-transcendent experience. You ran for an entire day straight!
What a journey…
The 100 Mile Ultra Marathon
The 100 mile ultra marathon is transformational. Race day is an exceedingly painful yet uniquely gratifying experience like no other. The distance can drain you both physically and mentally.
Some will give up, and others will persist to the finish line, but what makes the difference?
How do you stay in the race long enough to reach the finish line?
How do you reach that transcendent experience?
How do you avoid a DNF (did not finish)?
Well, although it takes an extraordinary enduring body to run 100 miles, it also takes an extraordinary enduring mind.
Think about it, the body doesn’t have the last say before giving up. The body doesn’t go limp on the course of a 100 mile ultra marathon; however, the mind sure can. It’s your mind that makes the decision to quit and walk back to the car.
Remember —the mind is the most powerful tool you have. So the same way you must focus on moving forward physically, you must also do so mentally. Start with becoming aware of your thoughts. From here, guide your mind through the struggles and obstacles that a 100 mile ultra marathon entails.
Please note: I am not a certified health physician and do not claim to be one. I’m only sharing the methods that worked for me. Remember, sometimes when you push the limits, the limits push back. So proceed with caution and never forget that safety comes first.
Running for 100 miles takes a relatively long amount of time to complete. As you can imagine, this leaves your mind vulnerable to wandering.
A wandering mind can be a dangerous mind on race day, but with a little direction, it can be the most powerful tool you have.
If you don’t focus your thoughts strategically, the voice telling you to stop will shout louder and LOUDER.
You see, when running any kind of race, there’s a clear physical path: the beginning, middle, and end. There’s course markings, volunteers, and maps. Most race organizations provide plenty of tools to steer you from start to finish. The physical guidance is hand delivered.
With that, you will have the physical side of a 100 mile ultra marathon covered. So what about the mental side?
How do you prevent your mind from running circles instead of forward like your body?
How do you stop yourself from choosing that persuasive DNF?
How do you decide to leave an aid station while suffering from extreme exhaustion?
The answer: use a mental map. This map doesn’t come with admission. It’s a course you must create within the boundaries of your mind, and I will happily be your guide.
This mental strategy will significantly reduce your chance of a DNF and provide a remarkable type of energy on race day.
Remember —Your body doesn’t give up on race day; it’s your mind that has the final say.
After running over 100 ultra distances, here’s what I can tell you: the majority of any run is done so from within, not without. In other words, the right mindset can overcome any physical adversities you face in training and on race day.
And that’s true even when you slip into the lowest of lows.
I’ve faced extreme nausea, intense cramping, torturous chafing, excessive nosebleeds, unbearable blisters, painful injuries, sleep deprivation, heat exhaustion, and many other race day obstacles.
Although you must make physical adjustments on the fly, it’s the mind that runs through the pain without losing faith that inside every struggle lies the path to significant growth.
It was the philosopher Seneca who said, “Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.”
I’ve had plenty of opportunities to give up physically; however, I’ve also placed a tremendous emphasis on emotional intelligence. I’ve always found the strength from within and used my mind strategically to overcome even the worst-case scenarios.
You see, during each race, I always reach a positive emotional state and ride it like a wave.
A positive thought is 1000 times more powerful than a negative one. That’s because a positive thought reflects the principle of creation while a negative thought reflects the principle of destruction.
And although I generate positive emotions to empower my running, I never could express it fully in words. I could never adequately describe what type of energy I was tapping into. This same internal energy helped me continue running on mile 150 of a 200 mile race with blisters the size of water balloons on my feet.
Well, that was until today. You see, one day I found myself reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I picked up a copy before my first 200 mile ultra marathon. Considering the long length of the race, I was looking for some advice for staying in the present moment.
I consider a book like The Power of The Now in the category of “self-transcendence.”
Google dictionary defines ‘self-transcendence’ as…
of the limits of the individual self and its desires in spiritual contemplation
If ‘self-transcendence’ is a new concept to you, I suggest reading up on the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race. I recently saw the documentary. The film highlights a more mindful way of running ultra distances.
Anyway, after I finished my 200 ultra marathon, I picked up another book by Eckhart Tolle titled, A New Earth. Here is where I read about The Modalities of Awakened Doing…
Here what Eckhart Tolle says…
“There are three ways in which consciousness can flow into what you do and thus through you into this world… acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm. Each one represents a certain vibrational frequency of consciousness. You need to be vigilant to make sure that one of them is engaged in doing anything at all – from the most simple task to the most complex. If you are not in the state of either acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm look closely and you will find that you are creating suffering for yourself and others.”
I then had a realization. These three states of being were precisely what I was tapping into for internal energy on race day. Finding one of the three states of being is how I avoid intense struggling. Or at the very least, they are useful tools to pull yourself out of a low on race day.
During a 100 mile ultra marathon, I start the race with enthusiasm. Eventually, I fall into enjoyment, and at my lowest, I accept my circumstance until I find my way out. Anything less than acceptance and you’re in the danger zone.
So your “mental map” during a 100 mile ultramarathon is guiding your mind back and forth between enthusiasm, enjoyment, and acceptance.
If you’ve ever said, “Running makes me feel alive!” Then guess what?
You’re about to find out why.
I now see that every time I broke free of unbearable mental suffering during a 100-mile ultra marathon, it was because I tapped into either enthusiasm, enjoyment, or acceptance.
So read on to learn how to use each state of being during a 100 mile ultra marathon to move from start to finish, and avoid a regretful DNF.
The Three States of Being
The three states of being for your 100 mile ultra marathon are enthusiasm, enjoyment, and acceptance. Tap into one of the three, and your mind will guide your body to the finish line of a 100 mile ultra marathon. Let’s dig deeper into each.
State of Being #1: Enthusiasm
When you run with enthusiasm, you feel like a projected dart propelling with enormous intensity straight to its target. In other words, running a 100 mile ultra marathon with enthusiasm provides enormous energy toward the finish line.
When you run with enthusiasm the concept of winning and losing vanishes. Enthusiasm isn’t based on exclusion, it’s based on inclusion.
And that goes for the obstacles you face on race day as well.
What do I mean exactly?
Well, at some point on race day, running a 100 mile ultra marathon becomes more about solving problems than clocking miles. Issues with nutrition, gear, and other race-ending variables eventually arise.
Yet, with enthusiasm, you never encounter an unsolvable problem; you always see a way around it. Excuses that might otherwise persuade you to stop running slip out of your psyche as you see them for what they really are: EXCUSES.
Enthusiasm turns energy-draining running into energy-producing running.
Most of the time, we start the race with enthusiasm which can be developed from running a new distance, a bucket list race, or attempting a personal best. Whatever the reason, there’s no shortage of enthusiasm at the starting line of a 100 mile ultra marathon.
Although your enthusiasm can last a while, you will most likely outrun it. The 100 mile ultra marathon is unusually long so it’s rather difficult to remain enthusiastic the entire time.
To help you stay enthusiastic for longer, let’s break down its meaning…
The Meaning of Enthusiasm
In A New Earth, enthusiasm is explained like this:
“Enthusiasm means there is a deep enjoyment in what you do plus the added element of a goal or a vision that you work toward.”
So when you have enthusiasm for ultra running, you have a great vision to transform into the runner you know you can be.
Remember this: When you find enjoyment in your race and work towards reaching the finish line, you tap into the power of enthusiasm. On the other hand, if you run towards the finish line with no enjoyment, then you create added suffering for yourself.
Think about a goal you’ve ever set where you didn’t enjoy yourself….
Maybe you set a goal to earn a degree in a field you had little interest in. Let’s say it was a business degree. Even though you don’t enjoy business, you pushed yourself through class anyway. You didn’t love that accounting class, yet you dragged yourself there every Tuesday night.
In this sense, school becomes a stressful environment.
Now think of a topic you loved learning about with a goal in place…
Maybe it was a healthy cooking class. Maybe you loved to cook and had an incredible vision to live a healthier life.
As you see, when you enjoy the subject and have a goal in place, you become enthusiastic. You don’t have to drag yourself to cooking class as you dragged yourself to accounting class.
So let’s bring this example back to ultra running. Ask yourself, “What does ultra running mean to me?” and “What is my goal and by meeting this goal, what joy will it bring into your life?
By the time you reach the 100 mile ultra marathon distance, the whole weight loss thing is out the window. Our running reaches a much deeper level.
So maybe you are running a 100 mile ultra marathon to be the role model of your family. Perhaps you’ve gone through some hardships, and ultra marathon running is your vehicle for change.
Or maybe you’re running a 100 mile ultra marathon to increase your self-confidence. Now you can earn that promotion or find that relationship you’ve always envisioned. After finishing a 100 mile ultra marathon, what can’t you accomplish?
Or maybe it’s the self-transcendence experience that pulls you to such an extraordinary race. Perhaps you’re looking to find a deeper meaning of life, one where creativity flows out of you like an abundant stream. And maybe you use that creativity for your writing or artwork in a way that can serve others.
The point is this: enthusiasm is powerful when running a 100 mile ultra marathon.
Think for a minute, have you ever considered where the word ‘enthusiasm’ comes from? Enthusiasm comes from the Greek worth ‘enthousiasmos’ meaning, “Inspiration or possession by God”.
Inspired by God… need I say more?
In the book, Eckhart says, “You are still an ordinary human. What is extraordinary is what comes through you into this world.”
I think that’s true for us ultra runners as well. Running a 100 mile ultra marathon doesn’t make us extraordinary human beings. What’s extraordinary is what flows through us during these unfathomable bouts of human endurance. We transcend on the trails and then enter back into everyday life with much greater insight.
Enthusiasm will propel you forward during a 100 mile ultra marathon. The energy may appear stressful from the outside, but it’s not. It’s pure passionate intensity.
Even when negative emotions arise, enthusiasm will quickly convert them to positive. Those “I cant’s” turn into “I can’s” and your hardships transform into opportunities to better your running…and your life.
Now, as I mentioned, when racing deep into a 100 mile ultramarathon, you will most likely lose your enthusiasm at some point. Eventually, your grand vision shifts from crossing the finish line to falling asleep.
Some will hold on longer than others. It all depends on the runner and what’s genuinely driving them deep down.
To help, don’t focus on the end goal of crossing the finish line, focus on the act of running. Try your best to stay in the present moment.
I say this based on experience and from another quote found in A New Earth:
“When you want to arrive at your goal more than you want to be doing what you’re doing, you become stressed.”
So, when you want to cross the finish line more than you want to be running, you become stressed, and this extra resistance magnifies when running 100 miles. So make running in the present moment your MAIN focus, not the finish line, and watch the life enter back into your stride. Otherwise, you will fall out of enthusiasm.
If you fall out of enthusiasm, the next stop on your mental map is enjoyment.
State of Being #2: Enjoyment
When you run in the present moment during a 100 mile ultra marathon, you step away from your past worries and the future finish line. Staying in the present moment increases your ability to enjoy the race.
You don’t have to ask yourself permission to enjoy yourself. Don’t think “Can I enjoy really find enjoyment right now?” Asking yourself similar questions backfire and you develop reasons why you can’t enjoy yourself instead.
“My legs hurt” or “I’m out of energy” or “I’m tired” or “I’m hurt” or “I will train harder and enjoy the next race.”
Well, guess what?
The enjoyment for your next race won’t come unless you find enjoyment from running in the moment. Otherwise, you are experiencing a forward way of thinking.
Forward thinking stems from the common thought, “I will enjoy myself once I get to a certain point.” For example, once you make X amount of money per year THEN you will be happy. Or once you find the right partner THEN your life will be complete. Or once you reach the finish line THEN you will love running.
We continuously look at tomorrow to bring us joy…but guess what?
Tomorrow never comes.
You may look for circumstances or people to bring you joy, and when they fall short you become disappointed or angry.
We think if we lose the pounds, or find the spouse, or land the job, or earn the money THEN we will be happy. Although, as stated in A New Earth:
“Joy does not come from what you do; it flows into what you do.”
Here’s an explanation that came to mind during my last race:
It’s not the physical act of running that brings me joy on race day. What brings me joy is the aliveness that flows through me and onto the course. I unleash my soul through every stride, here lies the creation of true happiness.
In this sense, you find enjoyment in simply BEING. A human BEING enjoying BEING…who would have thought?
This is one of the reasons I’m able to run so many ultra marathon races. Granted I am enthusiastic about reaching a new distance; however, after completing the 200 mile distance, I still run multiple shorter ultra marathons. Some days I go out and run a 31 mile (50k) training run with no food or water.
On race day, the finish line is not my focal point, that’s because the finish line has a means to an end. Instead, I become fully present and surrender to the journey. By letting go I feel ALIVE, and this is an energy that no supplement could ever mimic.
Enjoy Race Day Morning
Enjoyment starts from the moment you open your eyes. On race day morning, practice gratitude before your 100 mile ultra marathon begins.
Wake up and say “Thank you.” Place your hands on your heart and focus on everything you are grateful for. Meditate on it if you can.
Be grateful for your legs that allow you to run anywhere at any time. Appreciate your heart which beats everyday without effort. Find the gratitude for the mystery of life and the chance to experience such a miraculous phenomenon.
Express appreciation for your children, spouse, friends, parents, teachers, doctors; your house, food, water, and the clothes on your back. For love, happiness, excitement, and passion. Whatever it is, feel GRATEFUL. Be thankful for the hardships since they are the lessons we learn from that make us grow; they strengthen our souls for the 100 mile ultra marathon.
Gratitude will bring enjoyment into a 100 mile ultra marathon. I also recommend practicing gratitude when the race begins.
When I’m in the middle of a race, I constantly remind myself of how fortunate I am to be there. Running with strong legs, in the present moment, with a healthy pair of lungs, finding freedom on the course, and connecting with the trails…what’s not to be grateful for?
Plus, since enjoyment instills aliveness, it will drag you out of those race day lows. When you ride the wave of aliveness, running becomes effortless. It’s in these moments when you find yourself on mile 90 feeling like it’s mile 10.
Find The Present Moment
Always bring your awareness back to the present moment when you can. When your mind wonders, readjust. Don’t think, “I’ll feel enjoyment once I’m on mile 95 and headed towards the finish line.” No, instead, feel the joy in the moment, in this moment, in the present moment.
Each time you forget your worries, and find the present, you are training your mind to do so with less effort.
In the present, the concept of time does not exist. As I like to say:
When you run in the present moment, the finish line vanishes and time becomes an illusion. Now every mile is the same mile, and you can run extraordinary distances.
And that includes the 100 mile ultra marathon!
So, now, what if you lose touch with enjoyment? What if one of your race day lows becomes too low? Well, here is where you reach the last stop of the map. Here is where you tap into acceptance.
State of Being #3: Acceptance
If you reach a part of the race where you can’t enjoy yourself, at the very least, you can ACCEPT it.
I notice when I lose enthusiasm and enjoyment on race day, to continue running, I accept my circumstances.
I say to myself, “For now, this is what I’m doing, I’m moving my feet forward, and I will continue moving my feet forward WILLINGLY.”
The key word here is WILLINGLY.
By WILLINGLY accepting, you’re are taking action. It ’s what the book calls “surrendered action” and this action still provides some energy to your 100 mile ultra marathon.
For example, when I ran 100 miles in below freezing temperatures, it was ice-cold at night, and I barely kept my eyes open. I wasn’t able to enjoy myself, and my enthusiasm went out the window hours prior.
So what did I do?
I ACCEPTED the situation and did so WILLINGLY.
It was in this acceptance where I brought peace to my situation instead of irritation. That’s even when it was so cold that my anti-chafing lubrication froze solid.
If you are having trouble experiencing enthusiasm and enjoyment, which tend to dissipate during a 100 mile ultra marathon, then ACCEPT your circumstance.
The good news is you can stay in acceptance. You don’t have to fall lower if you apply a little effort. Any lower and you have the potential to DNF.
Here’s a tip: every time you begin to fall out of acceptance, focus on your feet. Don’t ponder on where you’ve been or where you’re headed, simply focus on placing one foot in front of the other…that’s all.
By placing attention on each stride, you bring your awareness back to the present moment. Now you can find enjoyment again in the race, and if you find enjoyment, then as you run closer to the finish line, you increase the chance of becoming enthusiastic again.
So understand that you can eliminate most of your suffering on race day by ACCEPTING the situation WILLINGLY. Remind yourself that you signed up for the race, you had a reason to complete it. Accept that, and you will prevent a DNF.
Remember this—If you willingly suffer, you can run forever, but if you fall victim to suffering, you can hardly run at all. Choose to suffer, and the finish line will come.
Remember the wise words from A New Earth:
“If you are not in the state of either acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, look closely and you will find that you are creating suffering for yourself.”
What does that mean for you on race day?
It means by falling out of acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, you are adding an enormous amount of mental suffering on top of the already enormous amount of physical suffering you are experiencing.
By staying in a state of acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, it feels as if you are channeling a phenomenal form of energy where you can endure any level of physical suffering through the entire 100 miles.
So follow your mental map, go through the motions, and find one of the three modalities of awakened doing at all times on race day. Remind yourself that on the other side of the finish line is self-transcendence, and enthusiasm, enjoyment, and acceptance, can get you there.
You now know how to run a 100 mile ultra marathon with your mind.
Remember…A runner’s stamina is the result of all the struggles they are WILLING to overcome both inside and outside of their running shoes.
And if you are new to ultra running, then check out my book, The Ultramarathon Guide: A Simple Approach To Running Your First Ultramarathon. It provides a straight path with a simple to follow training program to get you across the finish line of your first ultra marathon. It’s what got me across my first one.
And if you are looking to save time, check out my other book, A Runner’s Secret: One Run Will Get IT Done. I teach you how to run ANY distance by running ONE day per week. It’s what I used to reach the 100-mile ultramarathon. I provide training programs for the 50k, 50-mile, 100k, and 100-mile distances.
Thank you very much for reading and enjoy the journey of the 100 mile ultra marathon…it’s a long one!
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