100 Miles … Ready or Not

Whatever “ready to run a 100-miler” feels like, I can’t say I feel it.

As I reached the end of my seven-mile run last week, my last before the 100-miler, that frightening thought crossed my mind.

When I started training back in January, I pictured future-me as something of a tank / truck / beast of a man (or at least as much a beast as my 140-pound frame would allow for). A hundred miles would be nothing for that guy.

I mean, a 26-week training program? Complete with 50K, 50-miler, and many, many runs over 20 miles — often followed the next day by 7 or 10 more miles? How could anyone do all that and not be ready?

And yet, I don’t feel so different from when I started. Sure, seven-milers are easy now. Even 20’s don’t seem like a big deal, just something to knock out in the morning so as not to disrupt the rest of a Saturday (a toddler and newborn have made that necessary).

But 100 miles?

As we drove last night from Asheville to Ohio for the race, several times I took note of just how long 50 miles feels. In a car. And I’ve got to do twice that, on foot.

A part of me feels confident: once you dive into this world of ultras, you find lots of people (relatively speaking, of course) who do 100’s. Some do much more. On vegan diets, on fruitarian diets, on any diet you can imagine. A hundred miler is extreme, but far from uncommon.

But there’s that other part of me that’s straight-up terrified. Because I’m not that superhuman I imagined … future-me is still just me.

The Impostor Syndrome and the Failure to Belong

This phenomenon isn’t unique to me (if it were, I’d find something else to write about).

It’s well-known among the happiness researchers that we think of “future-us” as an entirely different person — one who is mostly immune to pain, or at least in a much better position to handle it — from now-us. This is why we RSVP to weddings we don’t really want to go to, why (I suspect) so many of us have kids, and why we do dumb things like sign up for 100-milers.

But there’s a happy, inspiring side of this coin that I’ve been reflecting on a lot during the countdown to this race: most of what I’d describe as the peak moments and accomplishments in my life have been accompanied, moments or days before, by a sense of the Impostor SyndromeI’m in over my head, I’m out of my league, I don’t belong here, etc. 

I felt this on the high school golf team, when for the first half of the season I was ranked ninth on the team, where only the top six got to play in matches. Then one week the number 6 guy got sick, I had a great week in practice, and just like that, I was in. I’ve never been more nervous than I was when I hit that first tee shot in my first real match, because I didn’t belong there. But each shot got easier, and within a few weeks, I had actually moved up to number four and was winning my share of matches there.

I felt the same thing in the Boston Marathon starting corral. I looked around and, just like during my first marathon and every one after that, saw a bunch of runners. Men and women far more serious, more dedicated, and more fit than I. I didn’t belong. And yet here I was, having earned a spot in that marathon through more than seven years of hard work.

I can think of a lot more. Being featured and mentioned on Copyblogger. Writing a “real” book and planning a book tour to go with it. And having kids: I still don’t feel like “a dad,” at least not the way I thought my dad must have felt when I was a kid.

These things aren’t for me, the thinking goes. They’re for other people — people who are older, more poised, more skilled than I am. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of examples like this of your own that are very different from mine.

And the lesson, I think, is that an event or accomplishment seems exciting precisely because you don’t belong at first.

Nobody belongs. Until they do it.

A Reason to Finish

Given my situation, I’m as ready as I can be for this 100-miler. I did almost every training run that I could have expected to, considering we had a baby right smack in the middle of it. And I learned a ton about running through research, motivated mostly by a mild preference that I not die on this run.

But at the starting line, I’ll look around and perceive (correctly) that most people here have more ultrarunning experience than I do. And that if 30 percent of runners here won’t finish, we first-timers will contribute an even bigger share than that.

I do believe that I will finish this race. The weather should be nice — having to deal with 95 degree heat was a big concern for me, but it’s looking like mid-70’s. Twenty-four hours is my target, but I won’t even call that a goal: my goal is to finish. Breaking twenty-four hours is a distant second, and I won’t let aiming for a time goal be the reason I don’t make it.

But for all that confidence, I also don’t know what it feels like to run much past 50. From what friends tell me, the second half of a 100 brings with it some of the lowest lows a person will experience — depression, crying, guilt for abusing your crew and your pacer, questioning of your reasons for running at all.

Your brain does everything it can do get you to stop, and you need to find a reason to overcome it. Or decide that you can’t.

My biggest worry, at this point, is that I don’t know my reason to finish. Everyone who runs a 100 talks about theirs, and how it got them through. Right now, my reason is that I don’t want to have to do (again) all the work that went into this — the planning; the research about hydration, electrolytes, nutrition, and temperature; the shopping for and testing right gear; the organizing of the food (being vegan complicates things a bit), the written plans and instructions for my crew, and the training. And not just the sacrifice I’ve made, but those that my wife and kids have made to allow me to do this.

Something tells me I’ll need a stronger reason than “so I don’t have to do all this sh*t again.”

Fingers crossed, that reason will present itself when I’m 70 miles in, as the sun sets and I head into the depths of despair … so that I can come out the other side a 100-mile finisher.

Here goes nothin’.

PS — If you’d like to follow my progress tomorrow (Saturday) and send me some good vibes (which I’d appreciate!), you should be able to do so at this link. Or pay attention to the NMA Facebook page, where my wonderful wife and crew chief, Erin, will post a few updates about my progress.

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Comments

  1. Matt – you’ve done the hard work, you’ve gotten a good training base in…just remember to start slow. Slower than you’d like, to keep some fuel in the tank for the middle of the night. If it gets too warm out, walk until it cools down. Just remember to fuel and drink regularly, and don’t eat anything weird tonight. You’ve got this – good luck tomorrow!

  2. Good Luck! I did my first hundred in February and gearing up for my next in late October. Relentless forward progress and be prepared to not like any of the sweets you have with you ~16 hours or so into the run. Be prepared for salty cravings after dark ;-)

    It’s all a learning experience and enjoy the journey…every step of it, especially the one across that finish line!

  3. good luck tomorrow!

  4. From one vegan runner to another – Good Luck Tomorrow! I can’t imagine 100 miles (not yet anyway). 27 is my max so far but I’m looking into doing some 50s in the near future. I bet you are more than excited (and a bit nervous). If you’ve trained properly (which I’m sure that you have), you are ready! Enjoy your run tomorrow and thank you for representing the vegan running community!

  5. I did my first 70 miler in June having read your blog for a few years. The fact that everyone I met on race day was so positive and my wife was waiting at the finish got me through it with a smile. Trust your training, you’ll be fine.

  6. Good luck!!! I hope to do my first 100 next summer , I’ll be eager to here about your experience. Be strong and have fun!

  7. Matt, next 100 you run let me know, I can set you us with some bars, for training and for the race!
    One of our sponsored runners just finished Black Hills and placed 8th, First in his age group http://grizzlyrunner.tumblr.com/post/56435467056/black-hills-100-lookin-back-as-i-move-forward
    He consumed over a dozen bars during the race! Also, I’m considering Wasatch 100 next year for my first 100. You should run it too! :)

  8. Neil Soltis says:

    Good luck. You captured the sentiments that I have felt way too many times before the start of an event. Somehow 15-20 minutes in, all of the good training habits you developed kick in and all doubts are gone.

    Formerly lived in Cleveland. Mile 35 to 50 remain one of my favorite trails. Enjoy & keep a smile on your face.

  9. Good luck Matt. It sure does help to have a reason to run and finish. Come up with one before you toe that start line! ;-)

  10. Matt, your going to have a blast! What ever you do, don’t stop moving! You’ll go through many highs and lows but the lows are usually short lived. Push on and keep with the eating. If you run past 24 you will feel like a new man when the sun peaks out (I promise). Last week I power hiked the Tahoe rim from 30-70 then ran to the finish feeling strong. You might want to consider using “the buckle” as a motivator. It’s a sweet prize! Also, it won’t hurt to remember the many fruity fans who will be following. Good luck, stay strong and take it easy on your wife.. She’ll likely be more beat up then you at the end if all goes as planned B-)

  11. Good luck! I’m about to take the bar next week so this post was perfectly timed. I can’t relate to your grueling training program – 12 weeks of intense mental training is piddly by comparison – or quest to run 100 miles (seriously, that’s crazy). But I will say, I’m already looking forward to the next post when I get to read about how you finished. Thank you for the inspiration. Sometimes the motivation is simply having come too far to fail. And, regardless of the outcome, you can rest easy knowing you can outrun most of the rest of us when the zombie apocalypse hits. Have fun and Finish hard!

  12. Andy Zelenak says:

    Hi Matt, you’re more than ready. I expect to hear from you after the race that it was not a big deal. After all, you have a huge advantage, you’re vegan. I’m 65, competing against others one third and one half my age, and they can’t understand why they can’t keep up with me. Stay focused and stay hydrated. You’ll be fine! Andy Z.

  13. Kelly Holloman says:

    You’ll do great!! Looking forward to following your progress.

  14. Valerie says:

    You are going to do a fabulous job! you already have by being accepting of the challenge in training and tomorrow. I am inspired andhumbled.
    This was a very timely article. I’m running my first marathon Sunday (I race walked one last year) and I too feel like an imposter, AND I’m without a reason beyond “avoid the “DNF” title.” Your article validated my feelings and made me chuckle. I’m in no way comparing my little stretch of the legs to what you have before you, but it was good to read that I’m not alone in that feeling.
    Good luck! Happy Running!!!!!!

  15. First off, you are my friggin hero no matter what happens tomorrow. 100 miles is a BIG FREAKIN DEAL. Yes, others do it but how many and out of how many human beings there actually are on the planet? AND you’re a vegan. Hero supreme.

    Secondly. I’m a total imposter. I can’t even finish 3 miles without a walk break and I’m signed up for a half in December. I’m doing my runs and hopefully I’ll get there but for now……..Total imposter.

  16. Good Luck Matt. You’re an inspiration.

  17. Thanks for your inspiration in all that you do! You may not FEEL ready, but you KNOW youre ready — now just go knock it out!!

  18. You may not feel like you’re any different than you were before, but that training and learning has certainly made changes in your body. Best wishes to you tomorrow, Matt! You’ll have lots of people sending you good, strong running vibes tomorrow – I will while I’m out on my (nowhere near as long as yours) long run tomorrow morning!!

  19. Best of luck to you, Matt! You’ve trained, sacrificed, put in the time… YOU. ARE. READY. You got this. The fact that you trained and planned for a 100 miler while working, carefully planning vegan food, AND being a good husband and a dad to your two young’uns is nothing short of inspiring and amazing. Enjoy the journey tomorrow. Remember you have fans and readers from all over the country (and probably the world!) that are rooting for you! Can’t wait to hear about the exhilaration when you triumphantly cross the finish line!

  20. Kristina says:

    Good luck! You are such an inspiration– as a ‘no meat athlete,’ as a runner, and now taking on this big challenge.

  21. Here’s a reason if you need something: people like me, in similar life circumstances (wife and kids) and with similar running experience (kind of) are counting on you to finish to show us that it can be done. And so I can convince my wife that I should sign up for my first 100 next year. Good luck.

  22. Dave Ellis says:

    Go Matt, go!

  23. Milemom says:

    My hometown race! Last year my daughter and I went to watch the start…such an electrical vibe in the air. Good luck! You’ll be starting at Squire’s Castle, which is a nifty place. I’ll be keeping tabs!

  24. AlmostLawyer says:

    Good Luck! You’ve put in the prep which you know is most of the battle – just gotta show up and do your thing tomorrow!

    I’m taking the bar exam next week and this post was very well timed to give me some much needed encouragement. Thanks!

  25. Thanks so much for this post. I completed a 330 mile bicycle ride called Climate Ride in May 2013. I was still struggling with my imposter syndrome issues. I couldn’t see the positive things I achieved because I didn’t perform as the “new-me”. So, thank you again for reminding us that we all feel like imposters often.

    Good luck tomorrow and know that you will find something else to be an “imposter” in after you finish all 100 miles!

    Thanks again.

  26. Good luck Matt. Remember that no matter what happens its about how you meet the moment.

  27. Do it for the animals.

  28. Welcome to Ohio! The weather has been amazing this week. Best of luck to you during your race, and I hope you come back through here for your book tour. I just realized that part of this race is just a few miles from my house, so maybe I will come and watch!

  29. Awesome…you’ve come so far!! Great post…. my favourite line? “Nobody belongs. Until they do it.” Love it!

  30. Go Matt! You are an amazing plant based athlete – you make us all so proud! Thank you for blazing the trail for us!!! :)

  31. Milemom says:

    p.s. here’s Scott Dunlap’s race report from the2010 Burning River
    http://www.atrailrunnersblog.com/2010/08/pr-at-burning-river-100-miler.html

  32. Hai Matt,
    I’m a new 56yrs old runner and new-ish vegan , from bali Indonesia. I follow your inspirational writing that I can tell is from the heart. If your there for the journey today the finish will be automatic. My friends and I are with you in spirit. Ian

  33. Thanks for your inspiration in all you do! You may not FEEL ready, but you KNOW youre ready — now just go knock it out!

  34. Awesome!! So excited and impressed. I love your blog and relate to so much of what you write about. GOOD LUCK!!!

  35. Good luck Matt! Hope you are sleeping. I did a 12-hour UM a couple of years ago and LOVED the setup and the whole day. Just remind yourself that 100 miles in 24 hours is a brisk walk. You so got this!

  36. Matt, you have the ability to put into words what each and every one of us has felt at one time or another. Good luck and God bless.

  37. you’re awesome and it’s going to be great. truly.

    thanks for sharing this inspiring post with us, along with about a thousand others. it’s wonderful that the work you do and the impact you make goes far beyond running 100-milers…but you can do that too, and it rocks.
    can’t wait to hear your recap!

  38. Fantastic post. Truly. This one nailed it for me.
    Do we always have to know the ‘why’?
    Play=joy.

  39. Bill Garrett says:

    Matt,

    This has been my favorite post ever, and I’ve always enjoyed your honest writing and heart coming through in what you put on paper. Have a terrific run tomorrow (and Sunday) and we’ll all look forward to hearing all about it soon on NMA Radio!

  40. Vickie Frazier says:

    Good luck, Matt. I’m rooting for you!

  41. Good luck!
    I’m sure that fact that you are a father will come into your ‘second half reasoning’.
    You’ll smash it!

  42. Good luck tomorrow. We will all be rooting for you. Just remember that you are amazing and a huge inspiration to many people.

  43. Laurie Bean says:

    Sending you good vibes from Boston! Your site is so inspiring to me and when I run my first race, I’ll feel like an imposter but now I’ll know it’s okay :)

    Be safe and go kick that race’s ass!

  44. Celine Tallian says:

    You inspire through honest writing
    I’ll be running tomorrow – you’ll be the inspiration to keep it honest.. For my run will be so much shorter than yours!
    Have a good event and take the time to mingle a little – the ultra distance community is a great bunch!
    Good vibes coming your way!
    Can’t wait to read the race report

  45. Good luck dude.

  46. If it was easy everyone would do it. One step at a time, one mile at a time. The only thing between you and the finish line is that 5 inches between your ears. Rock it.

  47. natalie overton says:

    good luck!!!! and best wishes
    Natalie

  48. Matt, you got this. “Take hold and be its master.” Rock on!

  49. powerful post, very honest. Look forward to hearing the outcome.

  50. Jon Kukal says:

    Good Luck. A reason is a reason. Sometimes we only need 1 reason to accomplish our goals. Sometimes we don’t need a reason to attempt, try, and conquer a goal. And sometimes, a little craziness is all we need.

  51. Lennie Cole says:

    Matt, I stumbled upon your site and think it is truly awesome! Having just sparked an interest in ultra’s, I will visit it often. I have also began reading “Born To Run”…..what a cool book!

    Love and Peace,

    Lennie

  52. Matt, you are underestimating yourself – you did all of the hard work, so finishing the race should be an outcome that you fully deserve! I appreciate that you mentioned the feeling of ‘not belonging’ – we all know what that means, and I just started a vegan running blog to document my own training for a marathon on vegan diet (www.veganrunnereats.com). With so many awesome vegan and running blogs out there (including yours!) I have my fair share of doubts if my blog will ever ‘belong’. Thank you for inspiring is all with your running and writing, and good luck I mm your race! You got it!

  53. John in Boston says:

    Good luck Matt!!! Sending positive vibes your way.

  54. Congrats on your finish!!!!!

  55. Way to go!!! :D

  56. Sue in Sydney Oztralia says:

    Well done Matt!!!!!!! Whoooah whoooah whoooooah as we say here! Top job. You inspire us all.

    Sue.

  57. Stephen says:

    Matt, I know exactly how you feel and you tapped into something I think all of us feel at some time. For me it was last June when I made a commitment to myself and my wife to get in shape. I started running and doing road races. Starting small with 5k’s at first and then increasing distance. Even after dropping 50 lbs and starting to win in my age group, I would feel like I didn’t belong; I wasn’t on the level as everyone else. The fact is, I had become on that level but my self doubts wanted to place me back where I was and I think it was simply because it would be easier if I failed. I got involved in triathlon and am now very competitive overall and in my age group. I still have those self doubts. Then one day someone came up to me after a race and complemented me on my performance and said they wished they could compete at that level. I ensured them they could and do it even better than me. It was then that I realized everyone has those doubts and thoughts they don’t belong. This year I will compete in over 16 triathlons and 12 road races. Of the 16 triathlons, 3 are half iron and one is a full Ironman in Cozumel. I will also race in 2 half marathons and one full marathon. When I toe each line I still look around and wonder if I belong. The truth is, by the fact that you or the person next to you had the guts to toe the line in the first place, you and they belong. Give it your best. Compete with sportsmanship and spirit and enjoy the moment when you accomplish what you thought you could not do.

  58. Christopher Quinn says:

    100 miles? Ouch! I am a vegetarian and a fitness enthusiast …. but 100 miles?? That’s quite an undertaking and when you finish you really need to reward yourself.

    Congratulations on the training effort and the will to keep up your incredible fitness levels!

    Chris

  59. Jessica says:

    You did it!!

    awesome!

  60. I just got around to reading this post and I’ve already seen on FB that you completed the race — Congrats! I’m training for my first marathon right now (with your guide) and my ultimate goal one day is to do a 100-miler. I don’t have any great genes or innate talent like Rich Roll, Dean Karnazes, or Scott Jurek. I’m just a normal runner with lofty goals, and from the sounds of it that’s what you are too, which is why I like your blog. I would love it if one day you wrote a book (or e-book) about your experiences running your first 100-miler as a vegan, your thoughts and what you went through, as well as tips for others who are crazy enough to want to try it themselves. I would buy it in a heartbeat!

  61. Mackenzie says:

    By now you are done with your race, and I’m so behind on blog reading that I don’t know what the outcome was for you, but it is incredible that you are doing this. I found it very interesting to spend a few moments in the mind of a 100 mile runner. The care!

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