Preparing for another year of growth

Since last year’s season ended, I’ve been trying to understand how I feel about my growth and performance as a runner in 2015.  Overall, I can see considerable improvement from years past, both from a performance and health standpoint, however I can’t help but think I fell short delivering on a good cycle of training and racing that leads to satiating my personal competitiveness.  The primary goal was to stay healthy, and as a result I wasn’t able to push my body as hard as I would have liked.  But, in the end I’m still healthy and ready to push myself in 2016!

My performance at Fat Dog 120 was a complete and utter blowout and yet I feel this has left a permanent and positive impact on my experience and approach to running ultras.  Most runners will learn a thing or two from a challenging race.  The unexpected inclement weather that we saw left me beaten and bruised, forcing down my throat more than a handful of lessons about myself and my running.

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That 1000 yard stare…

One of these lessons I learned was that you really need to know when to quit, but if you aren’t there yet (physically, mentally, or it’s just not possible given your geographic location!) give it all you’ve got.

At the 55 mile mark, after an entire day of stomach issues and severe caloric deficit, one episode of hypothermia, sideways rain and sub-zero windchill, I started ramming my feet into unforeseen roots and rocks under the illumination of my apparently under-luminated headlamps, which tipped my mental state from sub-par to outright non-existent.  I was done.  I spent the next couple of hours wallowing in my own self pity and wondering if I should make the decisions to drop at the next aid station or continue on.

Looking back, this thought of dropping here is hilarious because I unknowingly couldn’t actually drop for another 15-20 miles, whereas I thought the next drop point was 5 miles away. You should have seen the look on my face when I realized this…

I stopped at the next remote aid station (Nicomen) for far too long trying to warm up as I was hitting another episode of hypothermia from the self-pity party I was having instead of trying to keep up my temperature with brisk hiking or running (I now understand why pacers can be so important!).

As I continued on from here, I was something like 4 hours behind where I should have been because of the aforementioned pity-party and all I could think of at this point is how there was no way I could go through another day and night of running considering the abuse I was going through.

Turns out, most of this ‘abuse’ I was going through was self-inflicting mental behaviours that could have been overcome. Not to minimize the physical pain I was going through, but seriously, I was being quite the ‘whiney baby’.

I went through swings of physical pain followed by relief, but continuous mental struggles were aplenty.  Getting to the next aid station at mile 73 (Cayuse Flats) was actually more challenging when I was physically feeling okay.  I knew I could physically continue on to make it another 5 miles past the next station to meet my crew, but mentally I had already checked out and it was a complete let-down.

Once I arrived at Cayuse and officially dropped, I felt much relief as I was able to come to terms with everything that had happened over the last 23 hours.  The only regret I had was not pushing through when I was still on course.  I easily could have come in to Cayuse 2-3 hours before I did if it weren’t for going down the rabbit-hole of mental struggles, which could have given me the drive to make it to my crew 5 miles away before making the decision to drop.

Being alone with my thoughts throughout that last 20 miles of the course was one of the toughest experiences I’ve had as a runner.  I look back and wish I could have made it five more miles to have support when making that decision to drop.  Chances are, I would have made the same choice (especially after hearing the war stories of day 2 for some people!), but having others around for support cannot be overstated during those important decisions on and off the trails.

In the end, I’m glad I decided to drop out as this allowed me to be healthy enough to run a fall race, and ended up showing what I built over the season.  On paper, I hit a new level of success with this final race of 2015, the Golden Ultra, coming 4th in the open men’s division, 15 minutes away from landing on the podium.  I went into this race with the mindset of staying healthy and having fun on the course, without any intentional focus on personal performance.

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Day 2 at the Golden Ultra, 20 miles in and having a great (albeit challenging) time!

Upon finishing and for the first few days after the race, I felt that it couldn’t have gone any better.  Conditions were perfect, stomach was fine, and I felt strong over all three days.  Looking back however, I feel this is one of my least satisfying races. I was riding on my Fat Dog training and wasn’t intending to push myself.  I’m happy with the result but wouldn’t say I hold that race in the same regard as I do with others I have ran in the past due to the focus on taking it relatively easy.

So… what am I taking away from 2015 for a successful 2016?  I plan on training smart, but training hard.  Even if physically I need to take it easy, I’ll make sure I’m pushing myself mentally.  No matter how well I perform physically, the reward comes from the mental struggle.

I look forward to a successful and rewarding 2016!

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