Your Pace During a 100 Miler


Experience From: Jay Hodde, ?, Joe Magruder, Matt Mahoney, "Frozen" Ed Furtaw #1 , Gordon Chace #1 , Dave Olney , Gordon Chace #2 , "Frozen" Ed Furtaw , Richard Bartel ,

Jay Hodde

Andrea asks:

Wonder if I could pick your collective brains? My husband and I are training for our 1st 100-miler (Umstead). We are wondering how to choose our pace for the 100. We've run 50's and one 100k, but beyond that is obviously a mystery to us. We've practiced 25:5 and were pleased with the results, but the question remains: how fast (or slow) to run?
Andrea, my first 100-mile attempt and my first 100-mile finish were in separate events. I didn't change anything between the two except my mental desire to finish.

How did I run? For my first finish, I ran every step of the way for the first 40 miles, then alternated walking and running (in no set fashion).

I subscribe to the saying that goes, "run until it gets too tough, then walk until it gets too easy, then repeat." The caveat here, however, is that after 50 miles or so, it NEVER gets too easy. That's where the mental side of the sport comes in to play.


Andrea, I'd start at the pace of your long runs, nice and relaxed, but then I'd start walking at every hill. Umstead's course will make this an easy decision. Also there is a stream crossing about 9-10 miles into each 12.5 mile loop, and you can use your car as a footlocker for all the socks you will need. I've never completed 100 miles either (in 1 day), and it has mainly been due to going to fast, and not walking enough! I like to eat during the walks if possible. I should be at Umstead too, but looking only at the 50, unless I can get in shape in 1 month! :)

Joe Magruder

Andrea, My first 100 mile start and first 100 mile finish were two separate races, but due to injury and not pace. I go into each 100 with the same plan; to finish. Since I have no hope of winning, either outright or age group, I run the pace that feels the most comfortable and allows for a finish. I walk all up hills, no matter how short, and try to run the flats and down hills, although this gets tougher to do as the race goes on. When in doubt, walk. Eat well & often. Drink plenty. Enjoy the scenery & friends. Try not to let the nighttime get to you mentally. Have fun. Good luck.

Matt Mahoney

Jay Hodde writes:

How did I run? For my first finish, I ran every step of the way for the first 40 miles, then alternated walking and running (in no set fashion).
That's doing it the hard way. You should walk from the beginning, all up hills. I also walk flat sections, even when I feel I can easily run. I walk/run about 1/2 my marathon pace. At this pace, the first 2 marathons seem very easy, like almost nothing, the third is a moderately challenging, and the fourth is hard. You should also expect to be much slower at night and regain some strength when the sun comes up even though you haven't slept.

Also, be sure to eat real food, your regular meals, not carbos.

"Frozen" Ed Furtaw #1

Here is an idea for picking a pace for your first 100-mile run. Based on your past performances at 50 mi and 100km and on the time limit of the 100-mile, and possibly also on your competitive instincts, choose a realistic goal time for finishing the 100-mile. Maybe 24 hours or maybe 30 hrs or something in between. For the sake of illustration, I will use 28 hours as the target finishing time. Assume that you will spend some "down-time" during the 100-mile for rest, aid stops, toilet breaks, eating, clothes changing, etc. A reasonable estimate in my experience is about 3 hours for an easily-paced 100-mile, so let's say 3 for this example. This means that you will then actually be running for 25 hours in the 100-mile. Therefore your average running speed will be 4 miles per hour.

Then go do a training run of several miles in similar terrain and conditions to the 100-mile. Run at the same pace as your average target pace for the 100-mile, 4 mph in this example. This should seem awfully slow, but do it for at least an hour to get into the groove at that pace. During this run, measure your pulse rate. If you don't have a heart rate monitor, measure it the old-fashioned way: stop or walk while counting your pulse and observing seconds on your stopwatch. It may take a little practice, but you should soon be able to measure your pulse rate by counting pulses for 6 seconds on your stop watch; that number of pulses times ten is your pulse rate per minute. Let's say it is 110 beats per minute (bpm) at the 4 mph speed.

110 bpm is now your target average pulse rate during the 100-mile. At the start of the 100-mile, you will probably want to go just a little faster than this average, but not much. (This is in recognition that realistically you will probably slow down a little during the 100-mile, especially after dark.) For example, do not allow yourself to run at a pulse rate in excess of 120 bpm. If all goes well, you will be able to maintain a pulse rate of 110 plus or minus 10 bpm all the way to the finish. Your pulse rate is, in my opinion, a better gauge of your level of effort than is speed, because speed will depend on course conditions such as hills and footing, temperature, etc.

Whatever method you use, good luck in the 100-mile! Be sure to let us know how it goes.

Gordon Chace#1

My expertise, such as it is, may be a bit different from some of the other replies. That's because I have the least basic running talent of anyone who has ever run 100 miles.

However, I do seem to be blessed with an unusually stable stomach, i.e., I ain't no Suzi "T" and in fact have never run myself into nausea. Part of my blessing is a mouth that instinctively refuses to chew and swallow when the food in question might not be able to stay down. The reason I'm talking food is that it seems far more important in 100 miles versus 100 kilometers. The 100K can be done on familiar fruits and munchies, given a good base of liquid & gel calories. 100 miles brings on profound HUNGER. The salty potato is the main thing for me, plus sandwiches of peanut butter and hummus (ground garbonzo beans with canola oil) and traces of light meats such as turkey.

As for pace, I've halved the time limit and attempted a 55+45 mix. In one failure, a heat wave knocked the first half down to 48 miles. With night cool down I perceived a major speedup and did the planned 45, i.e., my perception was distorted by the accumulation of exhaustion and perhaps also by the weirdness of running thru the night. In the successful effort, the first half was actually 56.5 due to the usual excess of early enthusiasm. The second half might have still been 45 but I was happy to retire at exactly 100 total (this was a variable distance 24-hour road race).

Another way to look at this pacing plan is to open with a five hour marathon, then ease back to a six hour cruise for the second marathon, then whatever is possible for the third and fourth marathons. My wildest dream would be to continue all the way at six hours per marathon. For perspective, when I ran regular marathons my performance ranged from 3:20 to 3:58, i.e., pretty average for my gender & age.

I find it interesting that one of the 100M trail races, Kettle Moraine, uses a late afternoon start instead of the usual pre-dawn. This implies a fresher body and mind while challenging the night. My own experience with this was that one of my 100K training runs was designed to be an over nighter, and that night was much easier than 24H's I've run where I had been on my feet for all of the day preceding the night. I found it easier to run the night at Olander Park 24H whose start/finish time is Noon, compared to FANS or CornBelt with their morning schedules. This summer I'll be doing a 24H on an evening schedule and we'll see how that goes - the flipside is more total time awake while struggling thru those final hours.

Dave Olney

My experience has been that the outcome of a 100-mile effort depends not so much on how fast you run, but how much you walk. Of course, faster runners will, on the whole, finish ahead of slower runners, all else being equal. But I think you should think more in terms of a run/walk strategy rather than worry about how fast to run when you run.

Personally, I would run just about as slowly as you can stand to--when you do run--and walk most of the up hills. In the late going, it's going to be hard enough to run at all, and if you have gone out at a good "pace" in the early miles, or run up hills that should have been walked, you may reach a point where you can't run at all.

In recent attempts at 100, I've developed a pace somewhere between running and walking that I think of as "slogging," kind of a slumped forward shuffle.

Whatever approach you decide on, remember to have fun--and good luck!

Gordon Chace #2

"Down-time" during the 100-mile for rest, aid stops, toilet breaks, eating, clothes changing, etc. A reasonable estimate in my experience is about 3 hours for an easily-paced 100-mile, so let's say 3 for this example.
Hmmmm, I'm naive of trail racing, since what I do is road &t rack 24-hour. I'm rather amazed at giving up 3 hours not making forward progress. In the 24H's I've run, I've worked down my blister repair to 2 or 3 stops of 5 minutes each. Clothes changing is either zero or a minute to pull tights over my shorts if it turns cold at night.

"If it didn't break within the first 12 hours, don't fix it."

Toilet breaks can add up if the intestines are feeling uneasy, but if the intestines are so uneasy as to accumulate three hours then its a health problem implying DNF.

Food & Drink? In 24 hour we grab & go. Perhaps walking to digest, but that's useful forward progress.

What's different about trail runs? Certainly the aid stops are fewer thus more to be grabbed each time, but I'd think in that case I'd just equip my belt pack with a big bag so that departing the station I could haul more food than fits in-hand at one moment.

"Frozen" Ed Furtaw

I thought someone might nail me for estimating 3 hours of down-time in a 100-mile trail race. Gordon Chase did. I admit it seems like a lot, but it's about what I have counted after the fact in a couple of my 100s, most recently last year's AT100. I guess I'm just a runner who likes to hang around at aid stations. I like to see my wife, get a leg massage, eat, change socks, just plain sit and rest, etc. I don't advocate that everyone should take that long, I'm just observing that that's what it has seemed to take me in some of my more casual 100s. I usually spend at least a few minutes at each aid station, if nothing more than to fill water bottles and meet the volunteers. I also try to get ice in my bottles if I can. If this takes 5 minutes and there are 20 aid stations, that's 100 minutes.

Note that the context in which I gave the 3-hour estimate was in advice for a first-timer running an "easily-paced 100-mile". I admit that one should be able to do it with a lot less down-time than that, but I was purposely giving an estimate which I thought would be appropriate for a relative novice. If it were important for me to cut an hour or two off my finishing time, I'm sure I could reduce the down-time, but then I would have proportionately less fun socializing during the run.

Richard Bartel

I have been very interested in the comments regarding pace for 100 mile runs. I thought I would share my experience with trying different approaches over the last several years. First, this will be my third 100. Thus, much of what I speak is based on shorter ultras.

Theory 1: Simply run slower. This does not seem to work for me. I cannot seem to stay motivated when I try to run slower. I also think that I am more tired as I am running at a pace I am not used to.

Theory 2: Run/walk strategy. This generally is stated in one of two ways. Walk the uphills and run the downhills and flats. Run/walk a ratio of 5/1 (or 25/5). This seems very hard for me to do on a trail run. Neither of these seem to work for me. I think they both cause me to run more than I should.

Thus, I have decided to use a run/walk approach based on the following information about my running and walking capabilities. Generally, I seem to run very comfortably at a 10 min pace and walk at a 20 minute pace. If I assume 20 aid stations with an average of 3 minutes each, my stops will total one hour. I hope to finish under 24 hours. This leaves 23 hours of running and walking. For the mathematicians on the list this gives two formulae (x+y=100 and 10x + 20y = 23*60). Solving y=38 (i.e. 38 miles walking and 62 miles running). This gives 38*20=760 minutes (12.6 hours) walking and 62*10=620 minutes (10.3 hours) running.

The first time I did this calculation, I was very surprised with the amount of walking I could do and still finish under 24 hours. Thus, I plan to walk the uphills, run the easy downhill's and run/walk at a 1/2 ratio (based on time) for the rest. I have incorporated much more walking in my training over the last month.