The intention is almost always good. I start a new year, a new season, a new month, with grand running goals. There was a span of maybe two or three weeks in December-January when I felt like it was going to be "my year" for running well. I was running at least 7 miles a day, meeting up with friends to run like the "old days," I felt good, felt strong, felt motivated and dove into a year-long race plan.
Running ultras takes planning, at least for me. Especially when registrations go live six months or more before a race, and open and close within hours. If I sign up for a 50-mile, 100k, or 100-miler, I had better know that my time schedule will permit the training and not conflict with any major events of my children. Besides, the registration cost for so many of these races is steep -- steep if you are registering for multiple events throughout the year. After investing $100 or more sometimes, to "not go" is what happens only in the event of true injury. If I have paid money to do a race, and my name appears on the "registered" list, then you better believe I am going to run that race. Even when I am not adequately trained. Which is my downfall, and the topic of this sorta-mini race-report on the Bull Run Run 50-miler which took place yesterday.
"Not adequately trained" has been my excuse for quite some time. But yesterday, while I was running in the hills of Clifton, Virginia (near Manassas), I had quite the revelation: I am tired of just hanging on... I am tired of just getting by... finishing is good, yes, but even if it is a little embarrassing? Hmmm... now therein lies the point.
My friend Roy, a veteran ultrarunner and one of my favorite role models, would normally say "a finish is a finish" which is a good way to say "you put in the time training, you simply had a less than stellar day out there, we all have them." But I am sure that Roy would only say this if he knew I was ready... not if I just sorta half-assed it, showed up because I was registered, hung in there and finished... sorta badly. I get that. I suffered more than normal yesterday because I haven't done the time on the trails recently.
It is difficult for me to explain this to newer trail runners, because for some of them getting a finish is an accomplishment. I totally honor that. And colleagues at work wouldn't even ask me my finish time, probably because most of them believe that I used multiple days to cover 50 miles because who does that anyhow, run for 50 miles, that is absolutely crazy. Ultrarunners are a slim population, and I respect my sport and respect my body's ability to complete these trail races. I thank God I have the capability to do it at all. Yes, each finish is a finish.
But take note, I am serious this time.
My trail revelation involved a mind-body connection, somewhere after the 16 mile mark. My inner thighs were becoming painful, little spasms that I have been experiencing lately just sitting at my office desk doing nothing physical. I was still moving fairly well, and continued forward, knocking off each aid station and running through pain that did not go away this time with Advil.
I didn't ever consider quitting, because I knew I had finished many 50-milers before, and I was convinced that I could endure 12 hours of practically anything and still live. I knew I could get it done. It may not be pretty, and it may not be impressive to Mark Speedy-Pancake or new friendly companion Paul, but I knew the finish would come eventually. And besides, my daughter Savanna would be proud of me every time I would see her on the course that day.
I didn't consider quitting, but admittedly, I did consider not even starting. It had been a slightly cold night, huddled up in layers that were actually comfortable once I stopped caring about the big black spiders I felt certain were all over Happy-the-Hippo, my pillowpet, as well as my hood and down my sleeping bag.
Laying in my platform-tent bunkbed at 5:08 a.m., with a cramp that felt like a migraine in my neck, I ran through the entire scenario of just not getting up for the race. I remembered that my only flashlight was dim with low battery, and none of my race clothes or drop box items were sorted. Breakfast food was all the way back in the car, and the race started in a little over an hour. It all seemed like too much. Like maybe I cannot do everything I used to be able to do anymore.
I played it out in my head... I could lay there, sleep more, hope the aches went away, and be up to cheer on Mark later in the day. I could be warm like a normal person, eat a real breakfast, relax. Why was that not good enough for me? Why did I get up, falling around in the dark, take advil with no water, and drag all three of my bags to the restroom, and muddle through getting dressed? Because I could endure anything for 12 hours?
I hauled it all then down the hill to the car and sat in the front seat with 20 minutes to go, wolfing down a doughnut and my thermos of coffee. I didn't sort my drop box, it could all sit there for sorting if I needed it later. I kept thinking, how on earth am I gonna get it together? I am a broken mess.
I was so unprepared mentally, but the hard part was over, I was up and dressed and only had to be there at the starting line. The rest would work itself out, including the passage of 50 trail miles. I could just take it hour by hour. So I went to the starting line, saw my friends and started going when the RD told me to go.
Miles ticked by, I didn't feel like talking with anyone, so unlike me. I did feel better after changing into my Moeben skirt at the 16 mile aid station, and going to the bathroom and getting some Icy Hot for my muscles. I saw Paul and my dirlie Savanna and that re-energized me to walk out of the aid station for more fun.
And then the revelation-- I realizing I am now officially sick of just enduring these long races. I am sick of just hanging-on for dear life, for just barely showing up, for being less than spirited.
Honestly looking at myself, I have been cutting runs short or not going at all. Despite my improving performance in 50k's of late, I honestly have not been doing enough back-to-back long runs. Most of my weekday runs are at home, on the roads, by myself. Boring and sometimes painful. My thighs are a little chunky, I am eating crap-food again like burgers and pizza. This is the time when I need to be training with motivated groups, beat my body down so it will re-build itself, eat salads and drink lots of water.
I need to become a priority again in my own life.
Running along that dry single-track, I was having a pleasant time, really. There were actually moments I felt strong out there, racing down the hills and passing weaker runners. Imagine if I really trained. Imagine if I put in time like Mark Pancake had for this race, maybe I would have been closer to my 11 hour goal. Somewhere inside my gut I knew if I trained I would be good. "Good" relative to myself, relative to the other 45-year old half-assed ultra-runners show up mainly 'cuz they paid money for it.
Now is the time that I stop just hanging-on, and start excelling... or it is just plain time to quit.
The prospect of quitting the sport I love is a little threatening... actually, a lot threatening. The ending of the story I played out in my head for the day in Virginia had I NOT run, involved lots of eating fattening sugary food, lots of laying around, lots of feeling sorry for myself and falling deeper into the pit of despair. It feels like it could all snow-ball and not stop. I fear I would become fat and sleep all day. I realize I am always one day short of quitting and going to hell. The road of good intentions, you know.
Intentions for me have to start becoming achieved daily goals. And sure, I can make excuses that I am no longer married to or dating an ultrarunner who will motivate me, and I can pretend like I am superwoman who can maintain a job, house, three high maintenance pets, a garden, raising a teen and worrying about a young-adult daughter. But I cannot do it all. As a single woman, something has to change. I literally cannot do it all.
That's why I am faced with the sad realization that it is either excelling or quitting for me at this point. Because the productivity level here in my house today is low at best. Bags are not yet unpacked, and dinner is not made (or on my mind), I slept til 10:30 a.m. and still feel like sleeping. I feel dragged out because I dragged my untrained ass around roots and rocks for nearly 12 hours yesterday.
All in all, I had a good time in Virginia. Traveling with Mark, Paul and Savanna was a really nice escape, a good memory made. The bluebells that were supposedly bloomed-out from the early spring were still alive and beautiful, and the Bull Run course was the best I had seen it. Volunteers were organized and positive, and I felt supported and appreciated despite my finish time. It was afterall, 50 miles. And I did finish.
Now comes the time of deep contemplation. In the month of June I was hoping to do the Mohican 50 on a Saturday and that Sunday do the Canton Marathon. I do not want to feel like that is a stretch for me to do. And, I don't want it to be a suffer fest, at least for what is within my control. I will need to train at Mohican, do doubles, be strong and proud inside.
In the month of July, I have a 50k race planned for one week AND two-weeks out from the Burning River 100. There is absolutely no way I am going to do the BR100 again unless I am really and truly trained, at least so that I can give it a valid shot. Then later in the season I had hoped to do Woodstock 100k or 100 mile, and then the West Virginia Trilogy -- a 50k Friday, 50 mile Saturday, and half marathon on Sunday, on the hilly trails of WV. I would expect to finish all three events, or it would be a loss for me. I won't register if I am not ready, physically and mentally.
It is time to prove to myself that I am either a strong trail/ultra runner, or just another aging depressed single woman-quitter who feels sorry for herself and has gone down hill and given up on a healthy life. I cannot stay here in this middle, not being good at anything.
My daughter Savanna asked me, "so what are you gonna do differently then?" Good question. I look around and there is no one else here, no one to force me into accountability, no one to really care if I run or not. Just like getting myself out of bed yesterday morning in Virginia, there is just myself. I have to let go of doing it all, be okay with that, and start a new plan of self-motivation. It is, after all, up to me to show up and meet friends and log the time.
My intentions are really good this time. Either you will see me at races -- or I will be quiet and absent.
I sincerely hope I am not a quitter.
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