Haven't written about my latest running efforts in a while so I'm going to try to wrap it all up into one post so I can catch up and then try to blog about this more consistently...
At the end of 2010 I had started training for an Ironman but after a few months of hard training had decided that my heart wasn't in it, my body wasn't dealing well with the training and there was just no joy in the process. I've worked (and continue to work) or differentiating between when a lack of joy means I'm on the wrong track versus the track is just really difficult and so at times unpleasant, and by late February I came to the conclusion that I had chosen the wrong goal.
Fitness goals have always served as a good anchor for me when I want to bring other aspects of my life into more balance, and I have always found a lot of satisfaction in taking on a big athletic challenge. For a few months I felt a bit unsettled after giving up the Ironman goal. I settled on doing the Philadelphia marathon in November and started training for that last at the beginning of last summer. After a couple of months of training, I realized that while I was excited to do another marathon. At that point I had done four marathons and one Ironman (so, really, five marathons), and I wanted a new challenge as well, something I hadn't done before.
So, at the end of August I sent a link to the American River 50 mile run to my marathon-running friend Brad, with the subject line "Crazytown?" and asked if he had any interest in doing that race. Within 48 hours he signed on to do it with me. Gulp. Ah, the danger of hanging out with people who have the same willingness to dive into an unknown and quite large challenge. So, I was committed.
I figured I should do the training appropriate for a marathon and then use that as the base to begin ultra training. Whereas I've usually just pulled up a Hal Higdon training program and followed that to get ready for a marathon, this time I spent a lot of time reseraching different training programs and philosophies and developing my own plan. I wasn't interested in working with a coach and really wanted to navigate my own way. Rather than following a typical plan building up to a 20-22 mile run before the marathon, I decided I'd limit my pre-marathon long run to 16 miles, but would follow each long run with a semi-long run the following day (so maybe 16 one day followed by 10 the next day). The fall training went pretty well. I started having some IT-band issues, but with plenty of foam rolling, sports massages and Advil when necessary, it seemed to stay relatively in check. I ended up running the Nike women's marathon in October as a training run, and felt pretty good heading into the Philadelphia marathon in November.
The Philadelphia marathon was a good learning experience. I felt confident that I could go under 4:30 as I'd done about that on a harder course for my training run in SF a month prior, so my strategy was to just push reasonably hard from the beginning and see if I could hold onto that pace. I crossed the half in 2:04 (felt comfortable, definitely slower than I would do if I was just racing the half) and I felt solid for about 5 more miles. At around mile 17, I just couldn't stomach any more gu and decided I'd be okay finishing the race without any more fuel. Bad choice, which soon became obvious as my energy completely lagged. Basically I got behind on the nutrition and couldn't catch up. So, the need to really figure out a solid nutrition plan for future races/training became clear. My other conclusions based on the race were that if I wanted to improve my performance significantly I'd need to increase my weekly mileage, do some strength training and some speed work; not rocket science, but it was a good reminder that I clearly passed the threshold where simply finishing the marathon was the bar to be focusing on and I ought to raise the bar.
Given my timeline with the American River 50 in April, I decided that my main focus needed to be increasing weekly mileage and long runs in particular. (In reflection, it probably would have been a better idea to improve speed before going for longer distance. But, the registration was in and I felt committed). While I wasn't really able to ramp things up in December (recovering from Philadelphia marathon and enjoying our two weeks in Australia), I managed to finish the year with my first ever trail race - a 30k hilly challenge - on December 31. While it was a total disaster in some respects (I have never in my life run slower or wanted to quit more), and I spent much of the run swearing at myself for the idiocy of thinking I could ever run a 50 mile race, in the end I found that I had fallen in love with trail running. It was amazing to run a race that was so uncrowded, so uncommercial and so immersed in nature.
So in spite of my poor showing (which Ryan kindly re-positioned as first place among people who just flew home from Australia), I finished feeling proud of myself for not succumbing to the urge to throw in the towel, really excited to be training for AR50, and with a deep respect for trail runners.
In the six weeks since that race, I've gotten into a solid groove with training and am feeling like I have chosen the right big hairy audacious goal. I've run two 50+ mile weeks (a new record for me), including two back-to-back 20 mile runs in each of those weeks. With seven weeks left until the race, I am both excited and nervous, trying to fine tune how to spend the remaining time I have left to train. I've started having some of what I refer to as "the wheels are coming off" type injuries which aren't surprising given my jump in training. So, I'm trying to balance the seeming opposites of increasing training while allowing my body more space to recover. I'm trying to consolidate my running to three or four days per week to allow more days for recovery, and am becoming best friends with my foam roller.
As my knee pain and other various ailments have increased this week, I'm also coming to the unfortunate conclusion that I ought to lose ten pounds for this race. After spending so many years obsessing about weight and finally getting to a generally peaceful place of accepting that my life will be no better or worse if my weight is ten pounds more or less, I have to accept the fact that in this case my life will be better if I lose ten pounds (just less of me pounding on these runs seems like a good way to reduce injury). Kind of a bummer as I really enjoy not weighing myself or paying too much attention to what I eat, but, it's time to deal. I'm going to work on finding a way to be accountable and goal oriented without being weird and obsessive.
As my obsessive personality makes me seek out anything I can read from other people who have done ultras, I've found it interesting (and frustrating) that most of the blogs and race reports I've found are all written by people who are pretty damn fast runners. So, I feel a bit obliged to offer up my thoughts and experience as a totally average athlete who is pursuing this goal. I always find it unfortunate when I'm talking with someone about athletic pursuits (whether about a half marathon, a full, a triathlon, whatever) and their response is "I could never do that." I completely understand someone not wanting to pursue these goals, but I wanted to offer up my experience as a counter to that belief, that the only thing you have to do is put on your shoes, put one foot in front of the other and keep going.