I just head out onto loop 3. I’ve already run 40 miles out of 100. My feet are really hurting, as expected. It’s now pitch dark. I’m alone. It’s chilly, but not too cold. But cold enough that I don’t want to stop for any more than a minute or two. I know once I finish running this current 20-mile loop I’ll have run as far as I’ve run before. Beyond that is new. And once I get back to the start of that 4th loop, I’m going to be really tired. And my feet are still going to hurt. And my back will be chafed. And my appetite will be waning. It might rain. Did I pack spare batteries in my drop bag for my headlamp? It’s going to be really, really difficult to head back out into the dark woods. Alone again. at what? 2am? 3am? What even is time at this point? What is even the point of running? Why am I doing this again?
Just. Keep. Going. Think later.
I’m participating in a 100-mile trail race, which you probably already know if you’re reading my blog. I’ve been busy training for this sucker, and I feel as ready as I think I can be, considering my life situation. It’s been a challenge, to say the least, to get in adequate mileage while being an over-the-road trucker. But I think I did okay. I had a really intense 3-week training block that ended about a week ago, and I figured if I could survive that, maybe I could actually pull this thing off. I somehow put in a 65-mile, 77-mile, and 80-mile week, respectively. During those three weeks I had a 20-mile long run, a 32-mile long run and a 40-mile long run. I learned a lot from all of them.
The biggest things I learned in my training runs this time around? One is that, yes, my feet are going to hurt. It seems like a no-brainer, but for some reason, starting out each new long run all fresh, somewhere deep in my brain I think there’s like this chance that maybe they won’t hurt this time. But they always do. And when I stop for a few minutes for a break and start up again, I hobble like I can barely walk. But then I get going and I can run again. It still hurts, but I can still run. It never seems to worsen to a point where I can’t stand it any longer. And miraculously, the next day, or maybe the day after that? I’m fine. Nothing is broken. So keep running. Your feet will hurt. That’s part of the challenge. Take it on.
Another big thing I learned during my long runs is that when I hit a low, there’s one thing I need to do. Change something. Anything. One time I stopped, sat down on a bench and changed my headlamp batteries. I couldn’t believe how dull it had gotten. I thought I was stumbling because I was bonking. But those new batteries and that bright beam of light showing me all the roots and rocks in front of me was such a boost that I felt like flying down the trail. I smiled and prodded on. On another run I was listening to a podcast that I didn’t realize was boring me to death until I changed over to music. Or maybe it’s just that I needed music at that point. But that simple change gave me a super-charge I didn’t expect.
Or change my pace. Or eat something. Or just stop and take that poop already. Something. Change something. Do something different, if even for a second. And realize that this low will most likely pass. It might not seem like it, but just keep going and find out.
So… Visualization. It’s not a secret weapon or anything. It’s just a tool that I use a lot. I really have no idea what’s going to happen out on the trail Friday and Saturday. But I can try to place myself there, imagine some scenarios and run them through my head. And then I can remind myself that everything that happens will be all the things I never thought of. But maybe I’ve prepared myself mentally for something similar and it’ll be easier to deal with. The scenario at the top of this blog entry hasn’t happened. Yet? Maybe it will, maybe it’ll be totally different. Maybe I’ll be running the fastest pace I’ve ever run, laughing and skipping down the trail. And there’ll be a unicorn. Well, if that happens, it’ll probably mean I’m hallucinating. Or maybe I’ll be puking and trying not to crap my pants at the same time and crying because everything sucks. Or maybe I’ll just be running and thinking about when I should eat my next smooshie food that I made. And which one? Avocado or chia pudding? Almond butter strawberry? Sweet potato.
So after all the hard physical training, I began my taper. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know if I was supposed to taper sooner, if I’m doing it right, or wrong, or whatever. I didn’t have a trainer of any sort. I didn’t follow any programs. I didn’t follow anybody’s book. I just gathered random knowledge from previous runs, stuff I’ve heard in podcasts, read on social media, and then I just did what I thought might be good… yup. I winged it. Basically I kept up a steady 40-ish mile average week with a few 60-mile weeks sprinkled in for a couple of months, then did that heavy 3-week training block, then dropped my miles from that 80-mile week to a 30-mile week to start tapering. I was so ready to taper after those three weeks. I mean, I could not wait. But then I realized all the extra time I suddenly had left my mind free to think up all kinds of different things, and that was almost just as exhausting as all the running. But in a different way. Honestly, I was just tired. And I was tired of running. But that’s what I figured the taper was for. To get untired of running. It’s working. Now I’m in the last week before the race… well, actually, the last days before the race, and I’m doing what I’ve done for previous races I’ve run. Not run. At all. I’m going to take short walks every day, and that’s all. By the time race days rolls around, I hope to be aching to run. Aching for a trail. For the woods. And I will be.
Tapering also gave me time to work through some logistics of the race, make lists, shop for things, make more lists, think about drop bags (which I’ve never done before), prepare mentally. Visualize. Overthink. Underthink something, I’m sure. Obsess. Write a long, boring blog entry about it. Prepare all the things.
Prepare for something that I’ve been building up to for two years. I remember thinking, “in a couple years, when I turn 40, I wanna do something cool.” I wanted to go on another thru-hike, but it didn’t seem reasonable in my current life situation. I couldn’t afford to take 6-9 months off of work and leave my husband behind. It just wasn’t going to work. So ultrarunning came into my life. I think of a long trail run kind of like a super-condensed thru-hike. I like to go long distances, push myself, endure, meet cool people, eat lots of food, and that all happens at these races, in a very intense, short time (relatively speaking, of course). It feels temporarily satisfying. So at 38 I thought, “maybe I could run a 100-miler when I turn 40.” Well, it stuck and here I am. I turned 40 in July and and my first race as a 40-year old is going to be this 100-mile race. Leading up to this I’ve run a 50k (Dances with Dirt in Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin), a 50-miler (Marquette Trail 50 in Marquette, MI), and a 100k (Kettle Moraine 100 along the Ice Age Trail in the southern unit of Kettle Moraine, WI). All part of my build-up-to-100 plan. I was all in, man. I’ve also run a couple of the Frozen Otter winter races, which are basically a 100k distance, and while they’re great endurance challenges and keep me in shape and definitely helped toward this ultimate goal, I still see the winter races as a whole different beast for some reason. They’re just different. Great, but different. That’s a whole different blog entry for another day. And I hope to do many, many more winter things. They’re peaceful, hard, beautiful, and rad.
So, anyway, I feel ready. I’ve worked hard – as hard as I could – I feel as though I squeezed out every drop of time I had to get in the miles that I got in. My diet was even mostly right-on for the past month. Looking back at my training, the only things I think I could’ve improved on was maybe swapping out a little bit of quantity of miles for quality of miles. Meaning, maybe a few more hill sessions and intervals instead of stupid, random 5-mile road runs. And for some reason I just stopped doing my daily strength workouts. I was so focused on running miles that I just dropped off the strength stuff completely. I hope that doesn’t come back to bite me. But here we are. And here we go anyway.
I’ll do a full race recap after I finish. Of course. And it’ll be long, as usual. But hopefully I’ll be able to do it all justice. The course, the volunteers, my crew, the event as a whole and what it feels like to run 100 miles for the first time.
If you’re curious about the race, you can check it out. It takes place in Dubuque, Iowa and is called the Mines of Spain 100. It consists of 5 20-mile “loops” that wander around along the Mississippi river and what looks to be some pretty tall bluffs (so, yeah, some great scenery and some good climbs, too). My crew (which is Adam, my mom and my dad) will be at the start/finish set up in what’s being called “crew-ville.” They’ll have a tent, table, chairs and all my racing garbage in a bin, and that’s where I’ll see them every 20 miles. I liked this setup because my crew didn’t have to chase me all over with the car. They can park their butts, drink beer, play cards, mingle with other crews and runners and smother me with hugs, food, and lube when I come around every 20 miles.
I also have a pacer for the first time. I don’t have a ton of ultra-runner friends yet since I’m still so new at this, but Jessica, a girl I met at a Frozen Otter race and stayed connected with through social media, volunteered to run with me on my last loop, which is so crazy-awesome. Because I’ll have company and a great distraction from sore feet and a person there to maybe remind me that it’s probably a good idea to drink some water once in a while, and somebody that can still add and subtract. Which really, does math matter, anyway? I mean, just keep moving forward and the miles will wind down eventually. Right? I really have no idea. This is all new to me. To be honest, I think for me, one of the biggest advantages to having a pacer is there is another person there that wants to run, to see the course, it’s prettiness, and enjoy the excitement of the race right along with me, and dammit, I’m not going to let her down. So mentally, that’s a huge push for me to get to loop 5 and take that “victory lap” as she called it. I love that.
Whew. The tangents. Anyway, that’s the race. It’s on Friday. It’s a couple of days away. I’ve gone through about every emotion possible. I’ve cried about it, I’ve laughed about it, I’ve gotten a stomach ache about it, I’ve doubted myself about it, but… I’ve mostly tried to focus on the thought, “You’ve got this.” I’m not going to quit. I’m just not. At some point I’m going to cross the line of “can I really do this thing?” to “this is just what I’m doing and it’s a fun adventure.” Or maybe I’ll just ride that line the whole time. Or maybe I’ll jump back and forth. It doesn’t matter. It’s a time to live. It’s a time to feel alive. Let’s go run.
I’ve got this.
Oh… and P.S. I have a post-race fun surprise to share with y’all soon, too! Sooooo, stay tuned! 😉
Tonight I love liver and onions. I eat a lot of it the week before a race. Good stuff!