How to prepare for a 100 mile race on a running track

By Chris Knight | 5 Minute Read

The Centurion Track 100 involves completing 403 laps of a running track in order to rack up your 100 miles.

Tom Payn was making his debut in the race in September and duly won in a time of 12:25:30, becoming the 8th-fastest British 100-miler of all-time.

We caught up with the man who is now the 14th-fastest 100-mile runner in the world…

 

So Tom, you’re based in Tuscany and doing a lot of ultra running nowadays. What inspired you to come back to sunny England to run 100 miles on the track of the Julie Rose Stadium in Ashford?

So, the Centurion Track 100 was a new race this year and it really caught my interest, which might sound strange as it involves running 403 laps around a track.

I grew up on the track and have always loved it but, having done some ultras recently, this was a new challenge and something that got me really excited.

 

Was there anything specific you did to prepare for what I guess could become quite a monotonous race?

I thought of it as being similar in a way to a 24-hour race because it’s very much a mental battle, as well as physical.

I also keep going around telling people how much I love running and so I thought this was going to be a really good test of just how much I loved it!

In terms of the training, this sort of race was an unknown to me and I still wanted to pick a target time, so I had a rough idea that I wanted to hit the 12-hour mark, ideally under 12 hours, which would have put me in the top-three British runners of all-time. 

It was quite an ambitious target, but I felt my every day running pace was not far off the mark. I aimed to run around 4:30 per kilometre and I trained with that in mind, but the way I do my training is all by effort level anyway, so I wanted to be fairly quick and not just go out and do lots of plodding.

In the last six-to-eight weeks, I started doing some more specific runs, so I think my longest training run away from the track was about 75km at altitude on an undulating course. I managed to hit that pace of around 4:30 per kilometre, so that gave me the confidence that the 12-hour target was about right.

And then on top of that, I did do some long runs on the track and I also practiced switching directions, because in the race you switch directions every four hours… I'd never run in the opposite direction on the track but I think it was quite good to practice that to get used to the feeling.

 

The changes of direction would have helped to mix things up a bit during the race, but there must have been a danger of getting bored during 403 laps of a track and this impacting your performance?

That's the really interesting question and so I had music on in the background the whole-time, but I had it down quite low so I could hear my wife (and fellow Run, Namaste, Eat coach) Rachel and so she didn't have to shout while she was crewing me.

 

Tom and Rachel PaynImage: Tom Payn Instagram ©

 

I’ve always found I’m running at my best when I’m getting into a zone and I found this really amazing mental space that I loved during my trial races. I was hoping I'd find that in this race and I'm not sure I found that same space, but I definitely was very happy.

I think I went into it with a really positive attitude and I focused on keeping that throughout the race. Any time I was struggling, mentally my way of dealing with that was to be even more positive, so give more smiles and more waves to the crowd!

Looking back on some of my better races in my career, they're normally the ones where I'm happiest and I haven't let any of the tough bits of those races get to me. It’s probably in my nature, but maybe I really focused on it this time.

 

And in terms of the difficulty of the race, how did it compare - both mentally and physically - to other events you’ve taken part in during your career?

I think physically it was definitely up there, because obviously 12 hours of running at a fairly decent pace is tough on the body. I dealt with it very well mentally, especially when I’d done 300 laps but still had a hundred to go - it could have been easy for something like that to get to me.

 

You’ve trained in Kenya in the past, what was the biggest thing you learned during that time to help inform your own training?

I went out there and lived on a Kenyan training camp and I really immersed myself in the culture as I just wanted to do everything that they did and learn as much as I could from them. And so, some of the biggest things I learned from them were how much they really respected recovery…

They would do their recovery runs really, really easy, so that they could then do their hard runs really hard. That was an eye-opener for me because my easy runs in the past hadn’t been easy enough and I was probably still holding fatigue for those harder runs.

Sleep was a big thing too, so I shared a room and a bunk bed with this Kenyan guy, who’d run a seriously quick 59:30 for a half marathon, and he would sleep for eight or nine hours a night, and he’d also nap for two or three hours during the day, which was amazing!

 

I’m slightly jealous of that sleeping ability! So, we've covered the physical and mental aspects of your Centurion race, but can you tell us a bit about how you approached nutrition?

I’ve always struggled with eating and drinking enough, so a real focus for me this time was to trial my nutrition and hydration in training, so I then had a really solid plan for the race.

It helped that Rachel was crewing me because she obviously knows me really well and we didn't have to waste energy to talk about what I need because we already had the plan in place. She can tell by my body language if I need a little more fuel, real foods instead of gels, or need to change things around. 

Hydration was a big focus in the build-up as I wanted to actually get it right this time, especially if I wanted to finish the race in that mark of around 12 hours.

One of the things I knew I struggled with was drinking and it came to a head when I did a 20-mile run with another marathon runner in Portugal. I noticed when we finished that we were both sweaty but my clothes and hands were caked in salt, which was the first time I noticed that there was actually a difference between how much salt people lose in their sweat.

So, I did the Advanced Sweat Test last year and it confirmed that I’m a very salty sweater, while I'm also a very heavy sweater.

During my build-up to this race, I sent a few questions to James via email and he phoned me back the next day, which was so nice of him. We chatted about how much I should aim to drink, depending on temperatures and things like that, and it was really useful.

I knew which Precision Hydration products I needed to use and we worked out that around 500-600ml of fluids an hour was going to be about right for me.

So, our plan was for Rachel to give me a bottle every 30 minutes and we had the PH 1000 in three of those, while every fourth bottle would just be plain water.

 

Will you be using what you’ve learned for another crack at the Centurion Track 100 in 2020?

I definitely do want to do another 100-mile track with the guys from Centurion, but I think for next year I've got some different targets. It’s yet to be confirmed but I'm probably going to go for the 100km distance next year, with a view to doing the trial races for the GB Team heading to the World Championships in September.

 

Nice! Well congrats on a solid performance and good luck for 2020 Tom...

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