ultra running

Running allows me to go to a place that I can not access in modern society. It lets me tap into a part of my brain that can only be reached through such physical exhaustion and determination that running 10+ miles can create. If it were merely about staying in shape or looking good I’m not sure it would be as appeasing. Something about running for hours at a time, having emotional ups and downs, and getting to the point that your mind is cloudy but calm all in the course of a single run is addicting. You just can’t get that much pain and pleasure for free anywhere else
—  NakdRunr
A reminder: running is a mental sport

My coaches sent an email to all of their athletes about the heat.  We’ve had a heat wave in Boulder - it hit close to 100 yesterday.  And some of their athletes live in even hotter places.  They made a point about how you can’t control the weather.  But there are things you can control: effort level, hydration, and overall attitude.  I toughed it out through a really hard workout semi well.  It was harder than I was expecting, though it likely wasn’t too much so because of the heat.  Then a friend at work went out around lunch time and banged out a 7 mile run at her standard pace in 99 degree heat.  

That really got me thinking about the mental aspect again - something i really need to focus on with something as serious as Leadville 2 months away.  My coaches has been on me a bit to think more positively about my ability and not get too down on bad hill workouts and trail runs.  That got me thinking about two very specific race examples that really emphasize this point.


My first Wambaw Swamp Stomp 50 miler in South Carolina.  It was my 3rd ever 50 miler after two pretty humbling experiences the previous year.  This race was run on basically a 6 week training plan.  I went from a marathon in early February to basically taking a month off.  I started ramping up in mid march when I was in Cuba for 3 weeks, peaked with 70 miles two weeks after coming back to the states, tapered, and ran my race.  

So race day comes along and I really don’t have any crazy expectations.  I’d like to do well, obviously.  But my main goal was to not walk at all in the first 50k and to finish under 10 hours.  At around mile 28 I started to bonk hard and went through all of the standard ultra-marathon stages of grief.  “Why did I sign up for this?”  “Why do I keep doing this to myself?”  “Why didn’t I just stay home and sleep in instead of driving 2 hours before dawn to this race?”  “Why do I suck so much at this?”

At this point I had enough experience to know that the only way out of a bonk is food.  Even if you feel nauseous, you need to eat to bounce back.  So for about 30-60 seconds, I stopped on the trail.  I didn’t walk.  I stopped.  I told myself that I’m going to force down some food and start running again.  I wanted to at least hit my first goal of running the first 50k.  Just eat and force myself to keep running for 3 more miles.  That would put me within a mile of an aid station and I could re-assess form there.  So I did just that.  i tried to zone out and forget about how awful i felt and I kept going.

Soon, the food digested and the bonk started to fade.  I hit the 50k point and felt okay enough to at least push to the next aid station.  Then something magical happened.  By the time I got to the aid station i felt fine.  I grabbed a couple of handfuls of food and pushed to get as many miles in the bank as possible before I bonked again.  but the bonk never came and I kept going.  At 35 miles my legs started to feel pretty heavy, but I was still able to keep running.  And by that time, the feeling of running way farther than I ever have before started an adrenaline rush that kept going until long after I finished the race, picked up a pizza, and drove 2 hours home.

For those last 15 miles I ate on a strict schedule and just kept going - and constantly reminded myself that I felt okay and that I could keep going.  By the time I hit the mid 40′s there was no way i was going to stop running.  I’d come that far and I didn’t want to screw it up.  So with a goal of going sub 10 hours, I did this:

I was dangerously close to running 50 miles at a sub 10:00 pace.  Without stopping at aid stations and going briefly off course at about 18 miles, I would have.

What’s crazy is that I wasn’t super fit for this race.  I’m most likely stronger now than i was back then.  It was just a really good day and for the last 20 miles, I REALLY wanted it.  Running isn’t that hard when you enjoy what you’re doing.  If you really want it and you can keep eating, you can basically go forever.


On the opposite end of that, I went into my second 100k feeling really burnt out and unmotivated.  I didn’t want to do the race.  I signed up for it out of desperation because I wanted a Western States qualifier.  I’d had a really rough training season leading up to it.  I feel like I burned up all that I had in July, when I severely sprained, deeply bone bruised, and slightly broke my right ankle.  Then I ran the White River 50 on it 3 weeks later (and finished in the top half).  After that, everything seemed like a struggle.

Despite the attitude issues, I started the race pretty well.  I ran the first half with about 5000 feet of climbing in a little over 6 hours.  My legs didn’t feel good, but I was moving okay and was staring down a relatively doable 13 mile section.  Then the wheels completely came off.  Some process got stuck on my phone, so the battery died half way through the race.  So I had no music.  Then on the next major climb, I started to hit a low point.  I always run with music, so when all I had in my head were doubts, it really started to take a toll.  Everything turned negative, every step got harder.  A little over half way through the loop, I took a gnarly fall and got bruised up.  That was pretty much the end for me.  

As I mostly walked the rest of the loop, all I could think about was quitting early, going back to my hotel, taking a shower, eating a good dinner, and going to bed early.  I convinced myself that not completing a Western States qualifier was a good thing - because then I wouldn’t have to do this again next year.  And at 45 miles, with 18 miles left and a good 6 hours until the cutoff, I quit.  My first and only DNF.


The moral of these long-winded stories is that running - especially endurance/ultra running but for any race or difficult workout - is a psychological battle.  If you’re not going into it mentally ready, you’re at a huge disadvantage.  Your mind always quits before your body.  If you can keep pushing mentally, you can (within extreme reason) keep pushing physically.

Something i need to remind myself when the panic starts to set in about Leadville.

10

22 Miles on Saturday

Maine is neat. I live in a neat place. I live in a place where I can run across a series of islands with incredible views and I think that’s neat as hell.

Overcast for most of the run, but still beautiful. It was about 40ºF. Took my long sleeve off 2 miles in, and ran in a singlet+gloves while wearing my Salomon vest.  Really surprised with my splits. To be honest, there was a hell of a lot of stopping and walking. I wanted to go out, enjoy my long run, and not feel like I was on the verge of death, so I walked, and I’m okay with that. 

3 weeks out from my first 50k race of the year. Glad to get the miles in, but really need to spend some time on the trails. It’s still snowy out which makes it tough, but I’m going to have to find another way to suffer through it, because that 3 weeks is coming up quick. Woof.

Looking over my race calendar for the year and I’m having a moment.

I ran a 50 mile race in November. On my birthday, 11 days ago, I ran a 50k. Not even a race, but because I wanted to.

WHAT EVEN. SERIOUSLY WHAT THE FUCK. HOW DID THIS EVEN BECOME THIS PERSON. I mean I’m not mad about it, like at all, BUT HOW DID THIS HAPPEN. I RUN ULTRAS. IM AN ULTRA MARATHONER AND I DON’T HESITATE IN USING THE TERM.

Me, 3 years ago: “If I keep at it, maybe I’ll be able to run a 5k without walking.”

Me, 3 minutes ago: “I think 3 weeks enough time between a 50k race and a 50 mile, right?”

FOR SRS. WHAT THE EFF. 

No– but really though, I just went back through at my old Nike+ data. LOOK AT THIS ↓  JUST. LOOK AT IT ↓  3 years ago, almost to the day. ↓ ↓ ↓ 

January 20, 2014 – 3.44 miles, 10’56” avg pace,

“First ever group run with fleet feet. Snowed, breathed REALLY hard, but I met a girl named Emy who paced me well. Really excited about it.”

3 years ago. I look back on this moment often. Hits me right in the feels, for several reasons. It reminds me anything is possible. If you want something, and are willing to work for it and work hard, the world is your goddamn oyster. At the time, I only ever *dreamed* of running a half marathon. Me? Run 13.1 miles? I could barely wrap my brain around the idea of running 5 miles

October of the same year (9 months later), I ran my first marathon. It sucked. It sucked so much. It sucked to a point where I was ashamed at how terribly it went, that I didn’t even write a tumblr post about it, which was why I started this runblog in the first place– to document my training leading up to the momentous event of running a marathon. So yeah. It sucked. But I kept running

…and now I’m here, sitting in a coffee shop, trying to pick a couple 50 mile races for the spring, and deciding which 100k I want to attempt in the fall. 

Still not sure how I got to this point, but I’m really fucking happy to be here.