I'm writing this for two reasons: Im anxious for the North County 50 miler to start, and Im alone with no internet. I never realized how dependent I was on the web until I moved into my new place without it. I'm writing this as I sit here with nothing to do but think, and nothing to think about but my impending doom at this race. This race has become my “A” race for the year, almost unexpectedly. I may enter one of the Woodstock races, but am still somewhat undecided. I have a few good things in my corner, but a few demons to exorcise if Im going to run this thing well.
Lets start with the good:
Solid long run training- Although many of my elite running role models run much higher weekly mileage, I feel that I’ve run a respectable amount of miles in preparation for this race. I wish I had done more long runs on the terrain that I’ll be running August 28th, but the purpose of the long run isn’t race simulation. The purpose is(in my humble opinion) to get the body accustomed to prolonged time on its feet. This has been done with excess this summer. My first documented long run of the season was a road marathon distance training run in preparation for the Kal-Haven Ultra. It went exceedingly well, especially for an unsupported solo run on hilly terrain and snowy roads. At 3:30, it was hardly preparation for a 50, but a good start to the year. Then was the actual running of the Kal-Haven. It went much better than expected, beating my goal time by about 45 minutes. From then on, I felt a bit of momentum building. Long runs then were a bit far apart. Many days, however, consisted of multiple runs with totals exceeding marathon distance. Mind the Ducks, the 12 hour that gets mentioned frequently, was the greatest confidence booster and training run as I contemplated the 50. 12 hours provided me with an opportunity to exceed 50 miles of running, hone my eating skills(I love this sport), and boost confidence. Not many runners have that feeling of safety going into their first 50miler. Next was our now famous(or should I say notorious) double crossing of the Kal Haven trail. By doing this, Jason, Mark, and I became excess, personified(especially Mark, who was training for a MARATHON). Most ultra runners I know do not run that distance for a training run for a 100 miler. The prolonged fatigue I experienced afterward provided a good explanation as to why. I’m not sure if my speed ever fully returned after that run. The final run that pushed my distance/exhaustion threshold was my pacing of Jason at Burning River. I only covered about 30 miles(or less, Im not sure), but even as crew members, Shelly, Art, and I didn’t sleep more than 8 hours over the course of 3 days. At the end of this episode of sleep deprivation, I guided my zombie friend through the woods of Northeast Ohio from sunset to sunrise(I joke of course, Jason was pretty coherent the entire time).
….So, I know how to be exhausted.
Semi-solid speed training- This year has been a breathrough year for me with regard to speed. In my formative years of running(all 3 of them), I always hated to do speedwork. The only real sprint efforts were actually done during races. This year has been different with my joining of the Western Michigan University Running Club. Being accountable for showing up to and participating in runs that are beyond my comfort zone has done wonders for getting faster. Though actual track workouts have been sparse, the amount of times I’ve been pushed to run faster can’t even be counted. Let’s just say I’m rarely the one setting the pace. I'm surrounded by supportive people who make me laugh and make the miles go by effortlessly, even when im running at redline. 5k training has been helpful, even for long races. I’ve whittled away at my 5k time, which I feel has made me a much more efficient runner.
….So, I know how to run fast(though my body is often reluctant).
A shift to more trail miles- Over the past month or so, I’ve changed most of my miles into trail miles. Much of this has been an attempt to keep burnout at arm’s length and increase my focus. Its also a matter of specificity-NCT is a trail race, so I want to train on trails. Last week was an 86 mile week, with about 20 of those miles being on the road. I’m hoping that the undulating terrain has helped me get more familiar with not being able to set my heart on “cruise control,” as Im sure will be the case at NCT. Though the course is not notoriously hilly, I am somewhat familiar with the area and its tendency to be deceivingly inconsistent. Running different trails has kept me from being able to run with a pattern. I feel that this should help when I’m placed onto a course I’ve never seen before.
Though a relatively new runner, trails have always felt like home. I realize that its an entirely different sport, I was essentially raised on a snowmobile. My sister and I were riding 100+ mile days at the age of 11 years old with our family. I’m often reminded of these times when I carelessly float over obstacles in the trails without flinching or thinking twice. Maybe navigating a 500lb machine over jagged bumps as an 11 year old at excessive speeds has taught me how to anticipate and adjust to adverse conditions on the fly. Trail riding on motocross bikes has given me and edge as well. As I mentioned, the connections are faint, but in my mind, they go hand in hand. The ability to adjust to terrain variations at 40-60mph has helped me learn to think quickly and...not die(a couple close calls). My love of the trails probably just because of my childhood memories of the wilderness and the calm that comes over me every time I re-enter. While Im by no means a hunter, I used to go hunting with my father at a young age. I loved the 1-1.5 hour trek to our hunting blind. We would cross streams, climb hills, and traverse swamps by the dim light of our mag-lites. Ever since then, I’ve felt that trails were home, even if I’m not necessarily the best trail runner.
…So, I like trails.
How about the bad news?
Lack of speed- I’m sounding contradictory here, but bear with me. I have the ability to run short and fast. I have the ability to run long and slow. Imagine a venn diagram the doesn’t overlap. The deciding factor at North Country will be if I can put together the pieces of the puzzle to run a strong race. I can run 5:30 pace for 3.1 miles. I can cover 68 miles at a pace of about 13:00 pace(actual running pace was about 10:30 or something, total time with breaks was about 14:00). Can I run 50 miles at 9:00-10:00 pace? I suppose we will see shortly. I’m cautiously optimistic that these two sides of my running persona will come together in harmony for 1 day.
…So, I’m slower than I’d like to be.
Lack of definitive goals- I think this should actually be a positive instead of a negative, but I’ll explain. I’m conflicted about how I even want to run this race. I’ve had some relative success recently, and that has given me a shot of confidence. It has also gotten inside my head and polluted my thoughts. Had I never covered this distance before, I would simply wish for a semi-solid finish that beat the cut off time. Since I have placed in the top 5 in almost every race I’ve entered this year, including ultras, I’m afraid of my own success. Worrying about how I’m going to place has caused me to cheat myself out of the innocence of my running. It has created this shifting of goals from intrinsic to extrinsic. I feel like the race has already been run, and I'm just waiting for the results. The work(or lack thereof) has already been put in, now we get to see what it adds up to.
Wow, I hope I edit this mofo, it jumps around like crazy.
To try to regroup, I’m feeling like going into a race with expectations for myself is a bit of a burden. I’ve never, in any distance of race, calculated pace into a finishing time. Now I know by memory that I’ll need to run 9:36 pace to break 8 hours,). The 8 hour mark has been stuck in my head ever since someone asked me my goal time for the race. Im trying to banish these non-productive thoughts from my head. Whatever pace I run will be my pace. I’ll automatically run a sustainable pace, so worrying would be a waste of time for such a distance. I would never dream of quitting if I wasn’t hitting a goal split, so why would I bother worrying about it? As you can see, I’m having a hard time even assembling a coherent sentence. I go back and forth.
…So, I can’t focus.
Terrain/Foorwear- I’m a minimalist runner by choice. I feel that the manner in which something is done is often more important than how fast. I’m also a minimalist runner by default. The more substantial the shoe, the more problems I seem to have. My original plan was to employ the New Balance MT100 as my primary trail shoe. I used it extensively for about 1 month, but found it to simply be too much shoe for me to handle. I had knee and foot pain in the shoe, not to mention occasional bouts with blistering(I hate wearing socks with these shoes). I can only seem to be able to use the MT100 on the most technical of terrain in my area. The inherent problem with this is that technical terrain seldom constitutes an entire route here in Michigan. Patches of roots, rocks, and logs are between trails of soft soil, bare-footable trails, and gravel sections. For that, the Vibram Fivefingers Treks fit the bill almost perfectly. Traction is good on loamy soil and roots/rocks, and the groundfeel is nearly a perfect compromise between tactile sensation and environmental protection. The only time that I wish I had more is during rocky, rooted descents in which a perfect area to place my foot doesn’t exist. As I’ve learned recently, the Treks provide the best compromise…unless they don’t. Any speed lost by navigating a downhill will surely be made up by fresh legs later in the race provided by a more minimal footwear. If I were to attempt a race in the Western part of the country, I would probably opt for the NB100(or possibly the minimus- can’t wait for its arrival). (Last minute edit-I also have a flat, slipperlike shoe that shall not be mentioned, as it hasn't actually been released yet. I can say that I like it and that I may end up using it for NCT).
…So, details like footwear worry me.
So why am I even doing this?
I’m not going to win. I know I can cover the distance. If I know these things, then why am I wasting the time? What is it about racing that the mid/back of the packers love? I struggled with this for a little while. I feel a bit of disappointment in myself when I worry about the times of others. I truly care about the success of others, but am I willing to wish someone well enough to beat me? Im hoping that this arrogance I'm experiencing is nothing more than a phase of immaturity, and that recognizing it is a good step. These thoughts are, of course, secondary to a genuine desire to see others triumph. I want to do my best, not someone else’s best. I’ve always taken pride in my appreciation of others’ success but have felt that slipping as I climb the ladder in my running career. I want to do well, but I want(to want) others to do well. Where is the middle ground? If I don’t care how others are doing, then why do I spend the time and money to “compete” against them? This conundrum had me held in limbo for some time. I honestly considered putting running on hiatus until I could take joy in the triumphs of others. Try as I might, I’m no nihilist; I know things matter.
After a conversation with my friend(and sister-you can check facebook) Kate, I was introduced to my answer: The primal urge to be part of a hunting herd. The fastest runner is valuable, but so is the slowest, as are those in the middle. One cannot exist without the other. Each runner has a role in their herd, and none is any bigger than the next. We all feel it at the start line. That nervous anticipation. That excitement to see what we’re capable of. Running stride for stride with people, pushing one another, trying to separate pain and euphoria. I think its what makes us human even though so very many of us have forgotten. What makes us human is that we’re all animals. That’s why I love it. It all hit me when Kate simply stated, “ I like being part of a herd race.” It was one of those moments where all things become clear and purposes are stated. I’m not a failure because I’m finishing in the middle. We’re all are part of something bigger, stampeding down the road in an attempt to reclaim a part of ourselves that has been overshadowed by bigger houses, newer cars, promotions, and the like. If I’m not an angry college student influenced by “Fight Club” then I don’t know who is. I’d better refine this piece of crap before posting it. "Being tired isn't the same as being rich, but often times it's close enough." This is one of the final lines in the book, and it has resonated with me more than any line in "Born to Run" ever could. Lets all run and fight hard, so little problems in life fade into the horizon behind us.