Running 100 Miles a Week
Who wouldn't want to run 100 miles a week through the hottest part of the summer? It was June 2020 in Florida.
I wasn't training for anything and any planned races were canceled. So what in the world possessed me to do something like this?
First of all, last year – a year when seemingly nothing made any sense – seemed like the best time to seek wisdom in something ordinarily profoundly stupid. What's the worst that could happen anyway? Maybe the world would end. At the time, it didn't look like it needed much help from me. I had nothing to lose, in my view.
There were two possible outcomes.
Either I would fail to complete my little mission. And learn and grow from the experience.
Or I would succeed in my endeavor. And learn and grow from the experience.
But WHY 100 Miles a Week?
There was no shortage of virtual race options in 2020. There were probably more to choose from last year than any other year in history.
If you want the details of what led up to this decision, there is a separate post on my year long absence from social media and what was going on. It all factored into the 100 miles a week idea and I didn't include that in this post because it makes a long read. And much of it is not specific to the dedicated topic here.
If you simply need the summary, well, it's complicated. Yet it's not. Like most everyone else last year, I was trying to find a sense of purpose to keep me doing the things I loved. This was a strange way to do it, but as far as running goes, it was probably the only thing of note that I accomplished. And for me, what I learned and took away from it was absolutely worth it.
And if you don't want to read and just want to know if I finished or not, I finished my challenge. I ran 100 miles a week for six weeks. After that, I was so done with running for a while!
Not sure if I would ever write about the experience, I kept a rough little journal of how I felt. Good thing I did, because looking back over it, I forgot about a ton of little things.
It Really Wasn't as Hard as I Expected
The six week period was like a cocktail flight. The shots were potent and consisted of the highs and lows. The bulk of the experience was the mixer and made up of structure and almost a haze of peaceful, stable routine. And mostly, there was a nice little buzz.
The hardest part was, to my surprise, not only unrelated to running itself, but not physiological. There was visible evidence of the changes in my running habits. My body changed (no kidding, right?)
And the highs were not physical either.
I knew this was a new experience and I would discover things I didn't know. What they were, I had no idea at the outset, so I kept a journal, which was really just loose notes on how I felt and what day or stage I was at. Sometimes I penned down thoughts of how my body felt. Other times it was my thought processes.
10 Things That Changed While Running 100 Miles a Week
1. It broke my preconceived ideas about mileage and rest days
I don't do run streaks. Not because I think there's anything wrong with them at all. I just like to break up my week, even if it's not exactly seven days, with a day off. I like to have a start and end point to my week, whether it's the conventional Monday through Sunday or not.
However, I opted to do daily runs, mainly because taking a day off makes the other runs significantly longer. It seemed like a logical way to keep the daily grind feeling doable. Also, if anything happened (lightning storms, hurricane or something that prevented me running for a day or two) it was easier to address the deficit if I didn't have an off day in the recent mix to make life harder.
If I had to get 100 miles into a week, losing a day would have a big impact on one or more of the others. Visions of doing a few 50K's solo on the asphalt in the dark to make up for a washed out run was a good incentive to keep going.
The first week is always a bit of a mental rush. It didn't feel hard because the newness of my challenge was a distraction. On day seven I was very aware that I was running on my “day off”. The more I thought about it, the more tired I felt.
About seven miles into the run I ended up running alongside someone. We didn't know each other, but he was having a rough run and the company was therapeutic to both of us. Conversation turned away from running and onto other things and when we parted ways a few miles later my legs didn't feel heavy anymore. Funny thing, that!
The wrestle with the knowledge of not taking a rest day plagued me in a similar way into the second week. And then I forgot about it.
It got me thinking …
What if the need for a rest day is not always about my body? Maybe it's my mind that needs it. Just a thought, but what if?
Of course our bodies need rest and recovery time. I'm not suggesting otherwise. I do wonder though, if I've programmed my brain to tell my body that if it runs a certain number of days without a rest day, that it should be tired. It' hard for me to ignore the fact that it wasn't a problem once I stopped thinking about it.
We will revisit a different angle of this in one of the other points below. I took note of this particularly because at the time I was having these thoughts, it started a new thought process I had to continually squash.
You know where I'm going. “If I'm feeling like this in week 2, how will I manage six weeks?”
2. I was SO thirsty
That's not really a surprise. Last year served us the longest, hottest summer in my experience since I started running. It was brutal. And with humidity pushing 100 every day, I left plenty sweat left pooling along the trails. My hydration vest holds a couple of water bottles. I only ever used it once for an ultra last February. It is now very well used and it shows! Halfway into the challenge, I bought another vest because I couldn't keep up with rinsing it out every day.
In past summers I would happily knock out a long run on minimal fluids, simply taking advantage of the drinking fountains along the trail on the latter part of the run for a few sips.
Last year was different. Well, first of all, in the middle of summer, the city decided it was a good time to shut off the fountains with no notice. No signs. Nothing. I came home not feeling good at all that day. The next day I started taking my own water and electrolytes with me. No exceptions.
Although I run really early in the morning, the increased thirst spread further into the day. Suddenly I wanted bottles of water during the day. I don't like water and don't drink it if there is something else around. Unless I'm on a run. But now I wanted lots of it. All day. Ice cold with a dash of salt and a squeezed fresh lime made it even better – something of a craving. Straight up also hit the spot if that was all I had. Wonders never cease!
This change didn't start immediately, but it was about two weeks in when I noticed it. I could guess it was cumulative water loss through sweat perhaps. Not really certain, but addressing the problem seemed more important than identifying it.
3. My appetite changed
Some of this is not really strange. It's normal for me not to want much to eat after a long run. Now that I was doing longish runs every day, it posed a different challenge. My nutrition was more important than before with the increased physical demands. This was not the time to go light on food. Yet my stomach and just my taste for food wasn't at the level you would expect.
The weirder part of it was things that I like, and didn't want anymore. Many of these were fruits and veggies, which form the bulk of my diet. I live on fresh produce, but I didn't want to see any bananas, apples or spinach. I also went off of any kind of rice and had a serious aversion to most things sweet. I don't have a sweet tooth, but I do like some sweet things on occasion. Not last summer. Keep it away!
I also started craving things. Limes were among the favorites and I started buying a couple of mesh bags of limes at the grocery store every week. I squeezed the juice into and onto almost anything that went into my mouth. And while the thought of ice cream made me nauseous, those kids popsicles – you know, the cheap ones? Yes, those! They made an appearance on the weekly grocery list. What was left at the end of the challenge eventually got thrown out. I didn't want them anymore.
Bodies are so weird!
I treated each day much as I would if I had a hard workout at any other time. And I got very diligent with prep for the next morning the night before.
Dealing with it
I made sure I had my electrolytes mixed into water bottles in the fridge, ready to grab and go and also prepared some to sip before heading out the door.
Knowing my appetite isn't at its peak right after a run, getting low volume, calorie and nutrient dense snacks and/or drinks ready for the next day meant they were there. If I have something readily available and right in front of me when I get back, I'm likely to eat or drink it. Sometimes thinking about it feels like a bigger chore than actually doing it. If I still have to figure out what I want or, worse, make it – more often than not I get busy with my day and don't get around to it.
It's too easy to skip if it's not there and so easy to do if it is.
Maybe I was aware of my sense of responsibility to my body and had to take care of it, even when it felt like a hassle. It's so easy to think “It won't matter if I skip it just one time…” The result is often a new routine of skipping whatever it was. Because it's less hassle. Knowing my weaknesses, I tried to pre-empt what I could to remove as many potential pitfalls as possible.
4. I needed more sleep
Oh wow, did I sleep! This is particularly noteworthy because I've suffered from chronic insomnia for most of my adult life. It's rare for me to sleep straight through the night without waking. Usually it takes me a long time to fall asleep too, no matter how tired I am.
Not last summer! I was nodding off at the dinner table at 7 pm and by 9:30 I crashed into bed. That's a couple of hours before I usually go to bed. Not only that, I was asleep in minutes and didn't move until my alarm went off the next morning. This continued throughout the challenge and for another week or so beyond.
Despite my alarm going off anywhere between 4 am and 5 am, when I got up, I felt awake. And I am not a morning person by nature. Grasping what it felt like to have consistent, good quality sleep was almost a shock to me. Generally, I do sleep better when I have a running routine. I think most people do. But for me, it was like a precious tonic; something of a gift I didn't expect.
During this time I got both more sleep and better quality sleep and I liked it. Not enough to run 100 miles a week to get that feeling, but I shall seek a happy compromise.
5. Routine helps a lot
Some people thrive on variety and spontaneity. Others like routine, at least to some extent.
I fall into the second category. I'm definitely someone who does well with structure. That said, I love even more to break the structure with something totally bizarre. Where's the fun if the structure isn't there there? That's like trying to enjoy being a rebel when their aren't any rules – it falls flat.
Still, over a period of time, the structure serves me better so a routine with some flexibility is ideal. This was part of the reason I chose to do most of my runs between 12 and 18 miles rather than slamming a couple of 20's in every week. Not unlike having a busy schedule and trying a new eating plan. Often it's just easier to eat the same thing for lunch every day and cut the hassle.
This also reduced the risk of having a day where something happened and I couldn't run adding a couple of back to back super long runs onto the week. I guess I was playing it safe. It was a form of insurance in case anything hindered a run or two at any stage.
Another factor is that my runs are dictated by the time I get home. So if I want more miles, I have to leave earlier. Wake up late? Shorter run.
Overall it was just easier to do longish runs every day and get up at more or less the same time each morning.
6. My body changed
This should probably not come as news. Yet it's different when you're wrapped up on a mission. You kind of don't notice things until suddenly.
I lost a significant proportion of weight, despite really upping my intake of fats and proteins. The scale read me over 10 pounds down over six weeks. That may not be much for some. I am fairly small and don't carry a lot of spare fat so I kept a careful eye on it over the last two weeks.
While I didn't look or feel unhealthy, I did notice that my ankles and the area above my knees got quite gaunt looking. I guess 100 miles a week will do that over time. Though I don't weigh myself, in summer I do so that I can get a feel of my hydration needs. So I weigh on the weigh out the door and then when I get back.
I bought a few pairs of double layered running shorts and decided that they were cut too large because they started sliding and falling down when I got sweaty and heavy. That doesn't take long in Florida in summer. Twenty minutes will take you from dry to pooling. Of course, it never occurred to me at the time that this was running related.
I wear those shorts all the time now, sweat like crazy and they don't move.
Any residual muscle definition I built into my arms with years of hard work disappeared without a trace within the first month. I did not have the time need the additional stress on my body from doing non essential strength work during the challenge. In hindsight, that was probably a good move. Towards the end I was thinking about how to conserve energy so I didn't burn unnecessary calories.
Laugh if you will. This was the year that restaurants were either closed or serving limited menus. Grocery stores weren't stocked as usual and anything I wanted to eat got prepared at home. More food prep? No thank you!
7. VO2 tanked after the first month.
Garmin was not pleased with me. It was quite angry, actually. So I turned off the alerts.
It wasn't a cause for concern as I wasn't planning any races and if any were possible last year, there was no inclination to perform at a certain level. If anything, I just wanted to get out and run somewhere different and see some humans who like running. So I didn't worry about it.
It was interesting though. My VO2 Max, according to Garmin, took a massive plummet from 59 to 49. That's one heck of a dive in six weeks. It makes sense though. I wasn't allowing recovery time between 42 back to back long runs. I was also not doing any speed work – not that I ever do those anymore – but I wasn't challenging different aerobic systems.
My 100 miles a week episode got me into great steady endurance shape. I could just keep running. There was no chance of any marathon PR's though. Perhaps if I did an ultra race a few weeks after the challenge it would shape up quite nicely for me. But that wasn't my goal at this time.
If you get bent out of shape by seeing fitness and pace averages fall, high volume challenges for anything but a short term are not your friend. It wasn't an issue to me at all. I didn't care. A few years ago, it would be cause for alarm. We go through different seasons in our lives and in our running. This was a good time for me to do this.
8. Sore muscles no more
I think some of it had to do with slowing down. By week five I was running significantly slower than I was in week one. It was more enjoyable and didn't leave me feeling beat up by the workout. I wondered many times why I didn't do this before.
I didn't do many runs over 18 miles, but I remember realizing after a 20 miler that I didn't feel sore or heavy in my legs. Perhaps the extra attention to daily maintenance helped offset the ouch factor. No doubt the sleep and hydration helped too.
I feel like I go through continuous phases of progress, maintenance and drops in every aspect of my life. For me, usually one is slower to catch up than the other. In this case, my mind was still stuck in ‘the way things work' from a previous season (or seasons) and my body was operating in another.
9. I felt trapped by the demands of the routine
Running is not just about the run. Anything you do with dedication, regularity and passion impacts other areas of your life. It's the restrictions from the responsibilities to uphold the routine that eventually get to you.
First of all, the past few years of running without tracking all my runs was liberating. It became part of a very enjoyable running lifestyle. I wear my Garmin all the time. I'm obsessed with the ability to check the time at any time. I need to see the time when I run so I know when to turn around and head home. Suddenly I had to track every one of them so I could submit my stats for the distance. What was once an obsession became a chore.
I didn't care for it.
The running wasn't the killer
The most difficult thing for me was not the running. It wasn't getting up early, or not having a day to sleep it. The real struggle was the things it cost me to keep my routine. Staying up late to watch a movie wasn't an option anymore.
The constant focus on calories and how to ingest more through the day became old really fast. My family was already suffering with the rest of the world with getting tired of eating at home all the time. Everyone cried boredom about food. My take is it was more boredom with having choices and thinking about food, because everyone was at home. Nonetheless, the food wars did not help to welcome any need for extra food prep for myself. I routinely wished that I could top up my calories with a USB port and be done with it.
My husband and daughter actually enjoy eating and found this idea outrageously insane.
I had to think about the next day, hydration and sleep. The Friday night drink with a movie had restrictions. I couldn't serve dinner too late because we had to start our movie early and I couldn't have more than one drink. I made a lot of notes about my feelings of ‘sacrifice'.
Reading back over them, it's interesting to see that what troubled me most wasn't getting up early, going to bed early or what I could or could not eat (or drink). It was how it impacted almost every other aspect of my life. It was also a good reminder of something I've said for years.
“Running is a big part of my life, but it's not instead of my life”.
10. The inevitable post challenge void
You would think this was a no-brainer. I was woefully unprepared for the crash.
The greater the high, the harder the fall.
I loved (and hated) and loved this challenge. I was out there every single day and I met so many people in a time when I felt so isolated. Runners, cyclists, walkers – and cute dogs – became part of my daily routine. I got to know their names. They knew me. Sometimes I would trot alongside someone for a little bit so we could chat.
Cutting the distance meant cutting the time. That translated to crossing paths with fewer people and the realization that nothing lasts forever. And some of these things were over.
I sunk into a black hole for a while after that. Right after my 100 miles a week, I was signed up for a virtual challenge that was very differently structured. It wasn't conducive to seeing my regulars and I had recovery days (that I needed) in between. It didn't feel the same and I tackled that challenge as a chore. When I was done with it, I didn't like running anymore.
It's hard to be sure exactly how you'll feel at the end of a given task or challenge. One thing is pretty certain though. If you've been on a high or in a good routine and that stops, it hurts. I'm embarrassed to say I never really thought about it until it happened. But it hurt.
If I mentally prepared myself for the unknown, but some kind of a low, my psychological processing may have been more effective. You live and learn. Sometimes old lessons, over and over!
How I fueled and recovered
Dogs! No, seriously. Do you know how nice it feels when you get back after a long run and dogs start vigorously licking your legs? It's like a massage! They love the sweat that we think is so gross. I'm not shy to admit to smearing peanut butter on my legs on occasion and letting them do the work!
In addition to dogs, I had a few favorites that are available to everyone.
My fuel and electrolytes for the runs: I'm a Hammer Nutrition fan. The products work very well for me and they're particularly good for anyone who struggles to take in calories during a run.
My water bottles were filled with a heavily diluted mix of Hammer Heed. Some calories and electrolytes helped for sure and I love that their products aren't sweet. My usual Heed go-to is Melon. Through this challenge I had a thing for the Lemon Lime. I like all the flavors; it just depends on my mood. And what I have in the house at the time.
I also carried a couple of Hammer Endurolytes, which are electrolyte capsules that you can just swallow with water. They aren't too big and go down easily. I use them on marathons and anything longer or races in particularly hot conditions.
Hammer also has some great supplements and I love the Tissue Rejuvenator for recovery so I took a few of those every day immediately when I got back and then a couple more later in the day. They help reduce muscular stiffness and I find them extremely effective with reducing inflammation.
Because I was so thirsty during the day and tried to increase my water intake, I went through a lot of the Hammer Fizz and just sipped on it through the day.
Muscle and Tissue Work
For recovery tools, there were a few favorites.
I have a Roller Fitness peanut roller. It works like a foam roller but its shape is awesome for those awkward areas, like around ankles and knees, for example. I also use the little foot roller. I have a couple of them and I usually leave them in the kitchen. While I'm prepping food or cooking it's so easy to just roll my feet over them. these little things worked overtime last summer!
I like my RollRecovery Roll8. It hurts a lot if you get out of the habit of using it regularly, but I really do feel the difference with regular use.
My Sidekick Curve Muscle Scraper was another frequently used tool. Sitting on the couch or lounging on the bed was a great place to get into any tricky spots, especially when you really need to dig into an area with precision. It feels weird and it took me a long time to get used to it when I first bought it. Some massage oil or lotion helps prevent too much friction on the skin.
As far as recovery, I didn't overthink it. I left my tools strategically placed so that I would see each one and use it during the day. It doesn't take long to build a habit. This was a good one to build.
What I Learned from the Experience
I challenged the ‘rules', embracing some and defying others. It helped to keep an open mind on how I tackled things for this season. Everything felt so much better when I just stopped thinking about it. Self analysis is good and brings out a lot of truth that yields useful and valuable information. Tackling a beast that sometimes felt overwhelming, the best thing I did was to just stop thinking about it and go do my run.
I do want to make it very clear that the following is a set of observations I drew from my personal experience. No two bodies are the same, so this is only what I took away from the challenge. If you want to run 100 miles a week you will have at least as many points to take away from it, and they will be different.
Your running history and regular mileage will also factor in. I'm very comfortable with a normal average of 60-70 miles a week and happily exceed that for (very few) peak weeks when training for something specific. I never ran 100 miles in a week prior to this and any high mileage weeks in the past were isolated weeks. They were always around my peak fitness during a training block and usually preceded or followed by a much easier phase.
This is neither advice, nor a recommendation in any way. Quite honestly, it's not something I encourage!
Slowly does it and it hurts less
Contrary to what you often read out there, unless you are under the guidance of a coach, have a LOT of running history, training and experience and probably a slew of other conditions… the high mileage did NOT make me faster! It had the complete opposite effect. Now I wasn't trying to run faster so there was no detriment to me in that.
Slowing down was a conscious effort to reduce the stress on my body. And honestly, I loved it! Ironically, my running 100 miles a week felt less taxing on me than a couple of speed workouts in a seven day span within a well structured training plan. I've always coped way better with endurance than speed. Most of my running buddies prefer it the other way around. Their bodies do better with a differently structured running week. It's so individual and so personal.
I guess it makes sense when I think back to some of the post race experiences that surprised me in the past. There was one road marathon where I strolled off the course and didn't feel like anything crazy happened that day. Aside from that, every single one of them left me feeling pretty beat up for a couple of days and not really in the mood to run for several more.
When I discovered off-road races and hit up the trails with longer distances, it hurt REALLY bad after! Yet a day or two later, I was good to go again. I did wonder a few times if the slower pace just made it easier on my body, despite the longer distances. I think this experience confirmed the above for me. At least, it works that way in my case. Maybe it's just because I'm an older runner!
My feet were just fine, thank you!
As soon as you embark on a high mileage endeavor, there is this general assumption of things that will and won't happen.
I did not get blisters, although there were days when sweat was spraying out of my shoes like I was splashing through puddles. The result was shriveled skin like I came out of a pool after several hours. It was all back to normal within an hour. I did put some diaper cream under my toes so perhaps that helped. Blisters didn't threaten me though.
I did not get any black toenails, neither did I lose any. It's a mystery to me why some people struggle with this and others don't. While there are some obvious things you can do (or shouldn't) to protect your feet, I can't say that I do anything special to deserve coming out of this experience with unscathed feet and toes. This is just a whole topic in its own right and one I am not experienced or qualified in to give comments or advice. I simply drew the assumption that I have farmyard feet with tough skin and accept that as an unearned blessing.
Sometimes it's temporary; for a season. This was definitely an isolated season. Perhaps the only one of its kind for me.
There are also times when it's just a natural progression of forward movement.
My little experiment/challenge or however I end up looking at it was all part of that. It wasn't forever and it was never meant to be long term. Until the world blew up in the spring of 2020, running was my challenge in what I perceived to be my normal world.
In an instantly insane, uncertain world, I needed running to be my normal as the balancing factor. It did what it was supposed to do.
It's OK to do something different for a while. And it's also fine to let it end and move on.
Would I do it again?
Yes, perhaps. But, I'm not rushing out to repeat it again this summer.
I am also not apprehensive about hearing “100 miles a week” because things are never as daunting once you know what's in them. Eliminate the unknown factor and much of the fear often goes with it. That said, I don't see any merit whatsoever in me doing so many miles as part of training.
I'm not elite, not competitive and not training for any marathons. And certainly not at the level where mileage like this is beneficial to me in any way at all. At least, not to produce positive results in an event.
For me, the purpose was the challenge and the experience. It was extremely valuable to me emotionally and psychologically. In fact, I think those two areas felt the strongest impact and it was positive. However I don't see it as a useful tool in my arsenal for race prep of any kind. Perhaps for a longer ultra if such mileage works its way into peak week, it would be useful. But otherwise, it's just numbers, now that the initial novelty has worn off. It's also simply not sustainable for any length of time.
So you were really healthy after this, right?
I cannot say that it produced a healthier me either. Although I felt pretty darn good physically, there were emotional and psychological gains in the mix. The satisfaction of a sense of achievement. It also gave me a sense of purpose in the middle of a year that had its butt in the air and head underground! So that was all good, but if I was signed up for a race at the end wanted to push my limits, I would have deferred it. Purely on the grounds that I didn't feel in myself that extra physical stress was good for me at the time.
The truth always exists before the evidence shows up. Somehow, I think we all instinctively know this.
Even if all this mileage was sustainable and healthy, I can't say I would do it long term. The greatest cost was sacrificing time with the people I love and doing things I enjoy. The running itself only took a few hours out of my day and the people in my life were asleep so I figured it didn't impact them.
They were gracious and supportive. But it cost them quality time with me. By the end of the day, I was whipped.
The experience didn't hurt me. I gained in that I learned a lot. That said, if I continued it for another month or two, I expect that negative symptoms would emerge as a result. This is simply not sustainable in any ongoing or long term capacity and certainly not healthy. Although I felt good physically at the end of the six weeks, there was a growing awareness of eventual negative impacts on my body. And I wasn't going to push the boundaries to see what they were.
It was a rush while it lasted. Just don't expect a round two this year. It's not on my calendar!