A Probably Pointless Challenge
No one needs to run 200 miles in a week, but with no races on the horizon, Jason Ayr needed a challenge. Running just once every day, he averaged 28.6 miles per day for a week. This is his personal journal to 200.
Words by Jason Ayr
Photos by Emily Maye
Day 1: 28.31mi – 3:04:45 – 6:31.6/mile
As 4 p.m. approaches I realize I haven’t been treating the day’s hydration and preparations any differently than a normal evening run. I’ve promised my girlfriend Sam I’ll pace her 4x2400m workout and I’ve promised myself it will be day one of a 200-mile week in singles. The longer evening and pacing duties will require a much earlier start to my run than typical, with the goal of having two hours of running behind me before taking to the track for Sam’s repeats. At 4:40pm, after chugging a liter of Nuun and lathering up with some last-minute Vaseline, I head out for the first steps of what will be a long week of jogging.
Starting slightly dehydrated, and with no plans for fueling or hydration on the run, I am luckily saved by Sam with a liter of Gatorade waiting for me when I arrive at Roxborough High School’s outdoor track, which I gulp down quickly. With just over 18 miles in my legs we set out for the 24 laps of workout.
I pace the majority of Sam’s workouts. I tend to offer some words of encouragement at key points of the workout. Simple phrases like “the next three laps are the workout” and “last 800’s free” and those little notes to distract her through another interval or two. Tonight, however, as the final reps of my pacing duties approach 25 miles on my legs Sam doesn’t receive her typical phrases of soccer dad-like encouragement. Those lines of encouragement I reserve for myself. “These three laps are the workout”, “last one’s free”, and even “just get her through three and you can drop out” all ring through my head as the week’s challenge starts to feel a bit more daunting.
We successfully make it through the reps and set out for a 3-mile cool-down, mainly to get me to my minimum quota for day one.
By the end of the short drive home from the track I am shivering and stiff – all the signs of digging a dehydration hole. My stomach is pretty upset with me, too. This is not an ideal spot to have found myself in barely 14 percent into the week. The focus from this point on must be: hydrate, fuel, stretch, recover. Those are activities I have been able to recklessly botch for the many 100-mile weeks in my past decade of running.
After three liters of Nuun and an IPA I force down half a bag of Trader Joe’s potstickers before using a foam roller for the first time in my life.
Day 2: 29.06mi – 3:14:06 – 6:40.8/mile
After a day of serious focus on hydrating and fueling the 5:30pm start time of the second run brings with it slight nervousness. I’m unsure how I will feel coming off the first long run that ended with me feeling so depleted and the idea of being so far in the hole by the second day is unnerving. I’ve agreed to meet Sam at 6pm for her 8 mile run, so I take the opportunity to start slightly earlier and sneak in five miles alone. Though I feel good early on I am still slightly apprehensive in the warmer temperatures that something may still go wrong. I pack a GU in my half-tights’ pocket and a credit card for a planned Gatorade stop later in the run.
I pick up Sam after 5 miles and we head out to Fairmount Park. She is coming off a long shift at the hospital and I am running a little anxiously, making for an unenjoyable start to the run for her. After a few miles of my miserable pace-pushing we agree to split; those would be the last steps I share with another runner for the week.
I run out to the Schuylkill River Trail via Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and fall into the familiar Falls Bridge Loop. This will be the loop I do the next 160 miles on.
I spend most of the run cautiously assessing how I feel from last night’s rocky start. The miles seem to flow by and time blurs a bit as the run wears on. It certainly helps that this run started nearly an hour later than last night’s trot, offering more miles in the cooler temps and less direct sunlight. At mile 15 I stop briefly to grab a Gatorade and suck down my GU with it. The second half of this run feels very good and my outlook on the remainder of the week drastically improves. I finish the run not realizing I had crept under 6:30 pace for the second half of the run and feel confident my newfound routine of rehydrate, refuel, eat, and stretch will keep my momentum forward for the week. My one concern remains: can I avoid any aches and pains that will derail the effort?
Day 3: 29.23mi – 3:12:05 – 6:34.3/mile
I walk the 3-mile round trip to Philadelphia Runner midday to grab a new pair of trainers. I feel the lunch time walk will shake out any stiffness and I am certainly overdue for new shoes. The fresh slab of foam feels like bouncing across clouds on the third run. I’ve never been someone who rotates trainers or even tracks mileage on a pair of shoes. I typically just buy shoes as deals come to my attention or when my current pair is visibly worn through the rubber, but rotating shoes at this higher mileage makes an incredible difference.
Tonight, I run the roughly two miles out to the Falls Bridge Loop, do three 8.5-mile laps, and run the two miles home. With a 7-Eleven positioned at 6.5, 15, and 23.5 miles, this loop is an ideal route to cover the roughly 29 miles each night. The MLK side of the river offers significant tree coverage and there’s hardly a hill on the entire loop. Barring the 3.5-mile segment from Falls Bridge to the Lloyd Rec Center, a section where children run rogue, cyclists attempt impossibly reckless passes, and many Philadelphians decide to enjoy a happy hour beverage or seven in the bar-less world we now find ourselves in, the loop is pretty mindless and provides a smooth flow to each run.
Experimenting with my Gatorade timing I wait until mile 23.5 to fuel up tonight. This isn’t too damaging a decision for the third day of running, but after tonight I must stay safely clear of digging a dehydration hole. Fueling before the 150-minute mark of each future run will be important. With bloodshot eyes full of suntan lotion and sweat, a body wrung dry of its fluids, and that tender stiffness in stride that comes after several days of 3-hour runs strung together I slam a liter of Gatorade onto the 7-Eleven counter and use the small remaining spot of dryness on my half-tights to wipe my credit card clear of sweat before pushing the card into the chip reader. Out in the parking lot I stretch each quadricep accompanied by a sustained chug and head back to the trail with my remaining half liter sloshing in my hand. I take sloppy swigs from the twist-off capped bottle for the next 3-miles before performing an unprecedented athletic feat: a clean shot into the Lloyd Rec Center’s trash can from 12-inches out.
Having not checked any splits throughout the run I am pleasantly surprised to see I stayed smoothly under 6:40 pace at the finish. Not checking splits during each run becomes the best way to find the sweet spot I know is important for the variables at play: a pace that minimizes the time on my feet while staying well within myself effort-wise.
I finish the run and get right into my now familiar routine of hydrate, refuel, stretch, and an IPA to facilitate the calorie restoration process. Tonight I add a milkshake to the beverage line-up.
Day 4: 28.60mi – 3:07:18 – 6:32.9/mile
Tonight’s run and tomorrow night’s run I have mentally circled as the make or break efforts of the week. The way I see it, if any ache or pain creeps up in these next two runs it’d be unwise to push through the remaining 60 or more miles on a hobbled stride.
I focus on not checking any splits, setting my Garmin to time of day. I’ve always been someone who plays a lot of mental games heavily based in specific statistics, such as how many seconds are left in a run, or, the softer approach, how many outdoor track laps are left in a run. Over the course of a 10-mile easy run looking at things in terms of 4,000 seconds or 40 laps isn’t too overwhelming, but while racing or when running over-distance type runs the practice proves to be much more of a mental burden than a way to break the run up. I’ve never been able to really shake the habit, even when racing distances up to the marathon. This run I begin the process of successfully avoiding this unproductive habit. I am not focused on what I have behind me or what is left in front of me. I am getting lost in the effort. Awareness of external factors when attempting to engage in any task is an incredibly inefficient distraction from being present. The runs begin to pass by seemingly quicker than typical evening runs in a week with half as much mileage. I feel fully engaged.
I take my single GU with a Gatorade at the mile 15 7-Eleven stop. After treating each quad to a stretch and getting half the liter down I head back to the trail with my half-full bottle. Three miles later I toss the emptied bottle into the Lloyd Rec Center trash can mid-stride.
I finish the run, chug a liter of Nuun quickly, grab a beer, and head out with the dogs for a quick walk. The routine feels normal by this point. With over half the mileage for the week behind me I am confident that fatigue-wise things are sustainable. A cautious eye remains on any impending aches and pains.
Day 5: 29.22mi – 3:11:24 – 6:33.0/mile
The work week now behind me, I feel lightened of mental baggage as I head out for Friday evening’s run. I’m buzzing from an afternoon coffee, the first afternoon coffee since Monday, a routine that is typically daily in a normal training week, but one I have avoided to keep the beginnings of each run relaxed and in the interest of hydration.
Now on my third consecutive day of the same loop it is becoming easier to get completely lost in the run, at times almost losing track of which 8.5-mile lap I am on. I take my single GU and Gatorade at mile 15. On the back half of tonight’s final lap Sam surprises me with our dogs, Ruthie and Mac, and a bottle of Pedialyte. It’s my first time taking in hydration twice in a run, which results in the smoothest final 10k of the week so far. I am again surprised with the gear my body naturally finds for the night – my last three nights in a row have now averaged within one second per mile of each other without a single split checked in the preceding 106 miles. More information for my future self: let the body do the running.
Foam rolling with my nightly catalog of beverages around me I start to fall in love with this new routine. I’m sleeping better, my appetite and recovery feel completely in sync, and each run feels weirdly important.
Day 6: 29.28mi – 3:09:44 – 6:28.8/mile
Temperatures over the weekend have begun to climb and with the rising warmth comes typical Mid Atlantic summer storms. Tonight I wait out the thunder storms and get my latest start of the week – after 6pm. Under cloudy skies, though still quite humid out, the run starts much more comfortably than the sunny starts of the previous five days. I spare myself the thick layer of suntan lotion, avoiding the bloodshot, irritated eyes that have typically been setting in by the third mile on the previous runs.
I stop for Gatorade at mile 15 and suck down a GU with it. Sam has planned to again meet me at mile 23, giving me a second mental checkpoint, which ultimately makes for a quicker second lap than the previous nights’. Due to the later start time darkness creeps in over the final 10k, which, coupled with the sense of confidence that comes with closing out the penultimate day, results in an even smoother final 10k than the previous night. I purposely leave just north of a marathon on the balance for the final day tomorrow.
Wrapping up this run feels like the real finish line of the week. I am now officially into the highest mileage range I had ever been in my life, and on six runs. A nearly “normal” long run remains. And no aches or pains have yet shown up as added hurdles.
I decide to put a more serious focus on IPAs during tonight’s recovery routine.
Day 7: 26.32mi – 2:49:17 – 6:25.9/mile
Today’s forecasted storms never come. The sun beats unhindered by clouds; temperatures rise into the nineties; a heavy blanket of humidity flattens the city. After procrastinating as long as possible I head out the door just past 5pm to finish out the week with my final marathon.
The first 3.5-miles are fully exposed to the sun. Within 25 minutes I know I need to either drastically increase my two planned fluids stops or deviate from my standard loop to limit sun exposure. With interest in minimizing stops I choose the latter. My amended route means short, 2.5 mile out-and-backs on MLK’s mostly tree-covered section until my final 3.5 miles home.
At mile 14.5 Sam waits for me with Pedialyte. She graciously offers to hang tight for another 45 minutes so I can loop back for a hydration stop at 21-miles before my final push home. This evening the heat seems to really be affecting my stomach and I am not able to take any GU. The Pedialyte helps enough. There will be no final hammer session on tonight’s run as weather proves the final challenge to overcome and, admittedly, the final few miles are not the smooth, floating miles I have experienced the previous few nights. Later review of the statistics would indicate I squeeze out a final mile just south of six minutes, though not by design, but more as a final push to finish.
The finish is anti-climactic, as these things often go. Maybe it’s because the finish line is just there to frame the challenge. Maybe it’s important to sometimes be reminded that the finish line isn’t the goal. The finish lines and the counting and the analyzing are all derivative. The simple part is the hard part is the best part: the doing.
I walk the half mile back to my apartment with Sam, who had waited at the end of the trail with Kylie to watch my 200th mile come to close. Tonight I leave the Nuun in its canister and grab an IPA to accompany me in the shower. I will also leave the foam roller propped in the corner and replace that with an IPA as well. There is a small sense of accomplishment as I sip beer and talk with Sam at the kitchen table, but it doesn’t quite fill the void where excited anticipation for the following day’s run had existed the previous six nights.
From a conventional training perspective, I didn’t set out to accomplish much with this challenge. If anything, I just hoped I wouldn’t do too much damage. But as I reflect on this simple, and probably meaningless endeavor, I can now see the very valuable droplets of learning that emerged throughout the week. We can’t digest everything all at once all the time. There is value in minimizing the inputs; in focusing our full selves into the task at hand, for however brief a moment that may be. There’s magic in anything we can fully immerse ourselves in.
We’re very fortunate to have such a malleable activity like running to twist and bend and use to explore ourselves. While traditional competition may be on hold, take this amazing tool we have and draw yourself an arbitrary finish line to your own pointless challenge and really get lost in the doing. Maybe something worth understanding will come out on the other end.
Total: 200.02mi – 21:48:39 – 6:32.6/mile