The Final Countdown

Heading into my race this weekend, I cannot help but think how does one write a pre-race blog when one’s thoughts are tumbling around due to excitement, nerves, and uncertainty.  When I write, I can usually go with my stream of consciousness and turn it into a tangible story.  In this case with my pre-race nerves racing around in my brain, I have had to outline my thoughts to create a clear report. As you may have guessed from the title of this post, Europe’s song “Final Countdown” has been popping up in my head at random moments this past week. I am counting down the hours and minutes until race morning on Saturday, praying for my nerves to calm and to have faith in my training plan.  With less than a week (1 day and 2 wake-ups) until the big 1-0-0, the Umstead 100 miler, I find myself reflecting on this dream, my previous attempt, the effort and discipline I’ve exhibited throughout training, my motivation to run unimaginable (to some) distances, and how I am preparing to push towards and across the finish line.

The Dream: Running 100 miles has been a dream of mine the past 6 years, after reading Dean Karnazes’ book “UltraMarathon Man” during my Ironman training.  His stories sparked an interest in me to push myself to run longer and longer distances, and while I’ve completed four 50 milers since 2013 the 100 mile distance has been my true goal. During my previous attempt last year, I had to make the difficult decision to pull out of the race due to terrible foot blisters resulting in a tweaked knee.  Up until that point, I felt prepared, ready, and full of energy and confidence, only to have to pull out after the first 50 miles.  Ignorance truly can be bliss as I remember simply being excited for the adventure in 2015.

Learning from Failure: As many Type A personalities, I dislike the idea of failure and constantly strive to put myself into a space where failure will not occur.  It is not to say I have never failed before, or learned from those times, just that I dislike it and work to make sure I hit my goals.  Post Umstead 2015, it mattered less to me that I accomplished an amazing personal feat (First Female in the 50) than my inability to get the 100 mile finish.  My failure to finish something I started hurt me at the most fundamental level and was a fear realized.  I may have feared a DNF (Did Not Finish) but it did not stop me from learning from the experience and analyzing it for the future.  As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “do something that scares you every day.” After the DNF, I can admit that as much as I still dream of running 100 milers I now had a healthy dose of fear to overcome.  It is a good thing I love running.  As I looked to the future, I had to let go of my ego so I could truly open my mind and heart to gain experience and learn from my first attempt. After analyzing my 2015 race, I researched impediments that could keep me from finishing the next time and how to mitigate incidents. First step was buying and reading the book “Fixing Your Feet” by John Vonhof. As I sat in the Red Cross tent last year, the amazingly experienced volunteers told me about how this book is the Holy Grail for ultra runners and hikers alike.  Words cannot express how much I love this “how to” guide for keeping my feet healthy (and provides me validation for my monthly pedicures).  One major thought I came to during my reflection was that I may not have crossed the finish line, but I can say I finished with a more complete understanding of what it takes to do a race of this magnitude, as well as what types of mishaps and obstacles can pop up throughout.

Body of Work: The big race is looming and I cannot help but reflect on my body or work leading up to Saturday. With thousands upon thousands of miles run on road, trail and the treadmill, I feel strong. I will not let my self-doubts and anxiety diminish all the miles I’ve run in the last two years to get the starting line.  Have I done enough? Did I choose the right training plan?  Will my food and logistics be spot on? Can I get past my recent 3 x day stomach bug? The answer HAS to be yes.  I HAVE done the work! I HAVE run the miles! I HAVE prepared myself mentally, physically and spiritually.  This is MY adventure…the one I’ve chosen, and I will believe in my effort and training.  I also must remember that I began this ultra marathon adventure with the need to test myself and confront any self-imposed limitations.  These long foot races also gift me with a singularity of purpose and focus, which is both clarifying and cleansing in a society that is more often than not pulling me in 100 different directions.

Questions from the Masses: As I was putting this post together, the questions my friends, family and co-workers have asked me during this process popped up in my mind. So I figured I’d answer some of them before the race.

  • Do you sleep?  Who really needs sleep these days?  Well, we all do, but on a run the answer is no. No, I will not sleep.  I will run, or hike, the 100 miles without sleep. A quote from Dean Karnazes is highly appropriate here: “I will run. If I cannot run, I will walk and if I can’t walk, I will crawl to the finish.” Note that he does not mention sleeping.
  • Will you take a break? Not really.  I will take walking breaks to consume calories, switch out clothes/socks based on weather, and fix and take care of medical issues.
  • Are you crazy? No, I do not believe so; however, I have not sought out professional help.  I will say that the more I run, the better I feel, the more centered I become, and the more able I am to think through life’s most difficult questions.  The benefits I’ve derived from endurance running is greater than any consequences.
  • What do you think about during something like this? This is probably one of the most popular questions I field from friends, family and co-workers alike.  I know for some people, myself included, training runs can be boring. You are out there on the road or trail, putting in the work, maybe listening to music or audiobook and you zone out. Long foot races are different. I am focused but also present, looking around the course, watching the sunrise and reveling in the adventure of it all.  Surrounded by likeminded people with the same goal, there is a sense of community unparalleled in the shorter foot races and triathlons I have raced. So what do I think about? Everything or nothing.  Sometimes its just about enjoying the moment.  Sometimes it is about assessing my physical and mental state.
  • Have you ever felt like you cannot go on? Of course! Obviously I had to pull out of last year’s race because I could not go further without causing injury. Other races I’ve had moments where I felt I could not run another step, only to look internally to find the perseverance and fortitude to take the next step. Next thing I knew I would be jogging and then running again. During the JFK 50 this past year, I thought back and hamstring spasms were going to derail my entire day and race.  I took the time to stretch and decided to walk a mile. I saw the sun shining through the trees and reflecting off the water and knew I could start running again.

Life is a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, so why should an ultramarathon be different?

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