I planned to run my first 50 miler this fall. I recruited Mac to run with me and copied a training schedule from Wookie Kim.
For the first 13 weeks of the 24-week training plan I was diligent. I followed the plan. I listened to my body. I logged the miles.
Then I went to Washington. I planned the Washington trip for two years, more or less. Planning that far in advance puts one's efforts in a vacuum- weather cannot be forecasted, health cannot be predicted, and plans outside the trip cannot be anticipated. When I decided to run Monongahela, I knew training would require me to log two weeks of long miles in Washington. I was prepared for that commitment.
Running in Washington exceeded expectation. It's not hard to lace up your sneakers and get out the door when you're living out of a tent and have no other daily obligations. The fact that endless miles of scenic trails abound outside the tent walls didn't hurt either. Rather than choosing between asphalt or concrete routes, I got to choose dirt and scree. I crossed remnant snow fields and gurgling streams. The miles were magnificent. Even with a brief pause in the training schedule to climb Mount Rainier, I was back loping along the trails, ticking off miles with ease.
I would be remiss to not mention how awesome it was to log miles with Jordan, again. Since training for the Baltimore and Raleigh Marathons last fall, we haven't run together very much. Despite him taking time off from running, we fell into a comfortable pace together. Dirt definitely levels the fitness playing field and I found myself chasing him up climbs a few times.
For the two weeks we were visiting, the weather was a perfect blend of cool sunshine. I was pleased to wear my favorite long sleeved shirts for the first time since the Mid-Atlantic winter ended. If I was sweating during an easy run it was because I was climbing to spectacular views. Even the hotter days were tempered with alpine winds and coastal breezes.
Then, I returned to Baltimore- back to an apartment to clean, a desk job, and to my serious dismay, the blistering hot depths of summer. Talk about snapping back to reality.
The day after returning, the temperature spiked to 98°F and the following week's temperatures remained in the high 90s. Exacerbating the heat? The thick, suffocating humidity. Writing this now, I don't remember how humid the middle of July was in Baltimore, but if I had to guess, it would be safe to assume somewhere between "Moist" and "Pass the Gold Bond". Even leaving my apartment to walk to work meant immediately perspiring. A run of any length meant dehydration and the ensuing headache.
Waking up at stupid o'clock to run in temperatures only moderately cooler than scorching on dirty concrete sidewalks ranked really low on my priority list. As these things tend to go, one week of resting and adjusting back to a normal schedule at work, turned into two, and two turned into three. Here I am, 6.5 weeks after the trip to Washington and my running schedule still is not back on track. I have been running (and swimming and biking), but only sporadically. When I have gone for runs, clipping out 10-16 miles has been easy, but those distances are only a small fraction of a 50-mile run. And those 10-16 mile runs have been along the flat Promenade of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Now, nothing against running in Baltimore, but let’s be honest, a loop or two climbing Federal Hill on a short run isn’t exactly appropriate training for the undulating hills and mountain climbs of a 50-mile trail race in rugged West Virginia.
The do-or-die date for registering for Monongahela was last Friday, August 26, 2016. I did not register.
There are 101 excuses I can come up with for choosing to not run Monongahela this year, but then again, there are 101 excuses I can come up with for not running an ultra at all. Most of the excuses are complete bullshit. If I’m being candid, I’m not running the race because I failed to train enough and I don’t want to fail come race day. That’s what I’ve been grappling with: do I want to register and really test my guts and willpower, or do I want to put off this aspiration for a time when the race might be a little more comfortable? By not registering, I made my choice and frankly, I’m a little disappointed in myself.
To date, I have one DNR (I couldn’t swing the 8 hour drive from Baltimore to Vermont for the Key Bank Vermont City Marathon) and I have no DNFs. I have had some really lousy races since I started running. In every distance from the 800 m to the marathon, whether from injury, or poor preparation, or weather, or just a bad day, I have had races that have just flat-out sucked. But, I’ve finished every one of them. Sometimes I think it’s a little masochistic.
Yet, here I am, raising the white flag on my first 50-miler before it has even started. But why? As I have gone back and forth with the decision to run or not to run this race, I have been trying to identify why I am saying no to this race when I’ve said yes to so many others. The best I can come up with is this: 50 miles is almost double the maximum distance I have run in a single day and exceeds the maximum distance I have traversed in a single day by almost 10 miles- the same distance as my midweek runs. 50 miles represents untouched territory to me. It is new and exciting. 50 miles holds the capability of being an experience, rather than just another event. And I guess, I want to keep 50 miles on that pedestal until I’m fully ready to give it my all; until, I have taken control of the factors I can to achieve success on race day. So, for now, I’ll keep my nose down and my feet on the dirt because I’m ready to push miles and to chase the finish line.
Spring 2017: The North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain State Park