You did it – your first 100km. You crossed that sweet, sweet finish line after 100 glorious, gruelling kilometres. Maybe you sprinted across the line feeling like you never wanted the run to end. Maybe you spent the last 50 metres swearing so loudly that spectating parents screamed and covered their kids’ ears in shame. Maybe you limped across the line having nursed a sprained ankle for the past 97 kilometres, only to stumble into the medic’s tent and find out you probably should have stopped sooner.
But you did it. With the big race over and your goal complete, the biggest question you have to answer is NOW WHAT? It’s the moment you’ve been dreaming about for the past months (years). You’ve crossed the line in your first 100km. So what do you do now?
Everyone celebrates crossing the line differently. Some collapse into the arms of a willing volunteer. Others grab a quick selfie before heading straight to the bar.
But most are enveloped into arms of their loved ones, reduced to a sobbing heap. Chances are your friends and family are just as relieved and exhausted as you are. These are the people who have suffered through the last months (years) while you obsessed about your first century. They pandered to your every dietary whim (“Of course this meal meets the high-fat ketogenic diet, dear.”)
They consoled you when you broke down worrying you hadn’t done enough training, telling you they believe in you. Then, while you were running and enjoying the scenery, they stood around and waited. And waited. And waited. Maybe they drove for hundreds of kilometres in and out of checkpoints, wrestling a map while cursing your life choices and trying to turn fizzy coke into flat coke at your demand (thanks mum). But they were there at the finish line, whooping and cheering and wearing the biggest smiles you’ve ever seen.
Completing her first 100km at Ultra Trail Australia 2017, Melbourne ultra runner Nicola Vaughan says the first thing she did was find her friends and family. At the same race, Queensland runner Leland Pasion had to make the quick switch from runner to supporter. “Straight after the race I showered and changed quickly before watching my son run the 1km! Then I ate a light meal of leftover pizza and immediately slept for a few hours.”
Because after Friends and Family comes the next “F”… Food. Usually, my partner Mat and I have been talking about food for at least the final 30km and can’t wait for that first taste of chips/chocolate/cake. But inevitably, when faced with the food of our dreams, the sugar from the past seven checkpoints (where we swore we wouldn’t eat lollies but always grabbed a few fistfuls “just in case”) has caked the insides of our mouths and everything – EVERYTHING – tastes like shit.
Then you go to bed. Every iota of your being is exhausted – your mind, legs, fingernails. You fall into that soft, soft bed ready for the most beautiful slumber of your life – you’ve just run 100km after all.
But your legs have different ideas. They’ll twitch and kick and run and spin through the night. You’ll find yourself back on the trails tripping over branches and waking up in a sweat. In fact, it’s more exhausting being asleep than being awake. Your best bet is to force yourself into a coma with a few strong gins*.
The next day
You wake up and a feeling of bliss mixed with relief floods over you as you remember – it’s over. For the past weeks and months, you’ve been dreaming of this day. So what do you do?
“After waking up, I went with my wife and son to Echo Point for a walk to get the legs moving,” says Leland.
Of course he did. Because somehow it’s drilled into us to keep moving. It’s what we’ve been obsessing over every day for the past christ-knows-how-many months. To stop moving is to fail. Of course, there’s also a little piece of satisfaction in knowing that you can move. You walk to the café and, with every step, you exclaim to onlookers how wonderful it is that your legs actually feel good. This is amazing! A miracle!
Then you sit down for a couple of hours (maybe for most gluttonous breakfast you can find) and when you stand and try to walk… it’s all turned to custard. Your legs don’t work. Your mind is telling them to move but they flat-out refuse. Every attempt at movement sends shocks of agony through your entire being and you can’t understand why your body has suddenly turned against you.
But it’s okay, because now you look like an ultra runner. Everyone will see you hobbling along the street and know you ran your first 100km. Relish this moment. But just to be sure, keep wearing your medal/buckle/bib for longer than is socially acceptable so there is no doubt whatsoever in anyone’s mind that you ran 100km yesterday.
Then go back to your room and get someone to attack you with a massage stick or foam roller until your body feels normal again.**
The next week
The high from the cheering crowds and exercise-fuelled endorphins has worn off. The chafing has stopped making you weep shamelessly every time you shower. Your toenails are turning a dangerous shade of black (badges of honour). You’re back into the daily grind and you finally have time to reflect on the race. So what now?
“I took a day off from work and had a cryosauna for recovery and a rest week from running,” recalls ultra runner Gayle Cowling, who ran her first 100km around the Tan in 2011. “I was on a natural high, lots of adrenaline pumping through the body. I had a job interview the next week and used my experience to tell people what I had accomplished over the weekend. I got the job!”
But how long can you ride the wave of post-run adrenalin? Without the 100km goal etched into your mind, it’s easy to lose your focus and drift along with half-arsed semi-runs and – god forbid – jogs.
The remedy is to set a new goal as soon as possible. So, do you sign up for another 100km? Swear off anything longer than a parkrun? Or hang up your festering running shoes and remortgage your house to invest in a bike with matching lycra? “I was excited and proud of what I had accomplished and definitely wanted to challenge myself to see if I could do it again,” says Gayle. “My next 100km was April the following year with five shorter ultras in between… I was hooked.”
And who can blame her – science shows the endorphin highs triggered by running are proven to make it as addictive as heroin. Many runners – myself included – get hooked on seeing how far they can go.
Twenty-four hours after her first 100km, Nicole is a little more conservative. “It will be shorter runs for a little while. I definitely want to enter Buffalo Stampede 2018 and maybe, pending this recovery, have another crack at another 100km later this year,” she says.
Leland feels the same. “No races in mind for the near future but I will likely join shorter local races before deciding on my next ‘A’ race.”
The good news is, when you finally do run your next 100km (because, let’s face it, you will), you’ll know stuff. You’ll know how much it hurts. And that you’ll be in a world of pain for days afterwards. You’ll know that, yes, you will sob like a baby at the finish line, and maybe a few kilometres before that when you realise you’re not finished yet. You’ll know your family and friends will cheer you on every step of the way (so long as they can find the checkpoints). And most importantly, you’ll know you have what it takes to get the job done.
* Warning: This is not medical advice, just wise suggestions from someone who has suffered through at least five post-100km sleeps.
** Yeah, sorry but it won’t feel normal for at least a few days yet.
Originally published at Ultra168