Ultra Truths

Dan

To say that this summer has not really gone to plan with regards to racing would be somewhat of an understatement.  My training for the most part has been spot on, clicking off the distances I had prescribed for myself and over all feeling great, ramping up when I felt good and enjoying ‘bonus” runs with friends, and on the days where I wasn’t feeling at my best I would dial back, but on average always hitting the KM’s.  Races however have been a different story….

I came into the ultra season feeling strong, my winter training was focused on speed and shorter races.  With each week and each race, PB’s seemed to tumble with easy, 2 mins off a 5k, over 20 mins off a 30k, my basic 5k track workout was faster than my previous PB.  The transition to an ultra training program was smooth, factoring in more trails and adding in a second long run on Sundays.  The first trail race of the season was PYP 25k this too went great, and then immediately after racing went south….

Some of this will be a rehash so apologies, but as much as anything else I want this posting to help give me some much needed introspection.

Next up was Bear mountain, a race I had been thirsty for all winter, I had some lofty ambitions about improving on the previous years performance.  But the week before I was struck with a random injury, stepping out of bed I had shooting pains radiating from my foot to my hip, this subsided somewhat before the race but my foot was still in pain, still I decided to toe the line, quickly it became apparent that the goals I had set were not going to be realistic and I timed out at the first hard cutoff.  Now here is something that I have not discussed with anyone to this point including Heather – I was in pain, I did sit down and wallow in self-pity at an aid station gathering my thoughts, I was happy to have missed the cut-off, but here is the thing I have not admitted to myself or anyone else, I could have made that cut-off maybe not by much but I could have done it, I let myself be timed out of that race.  The pain was a factor, worrying about more damage that I could have caused also factored in there, but more than anything there was over riding sense of vanity and entitlement.  I did not want to go on if this wasn’t going to be the race I had planned, I deserve better, I will get the “planned” later, but will address the deserve now.  Quite what gave me the delusion that I deserve a given result or time is beyond me, I am still a relatively inexperienced ultra runner, but what strikes me the most as I look at this, is the notion that the race owed me something rather than the other way around.  I owe the race and myself my best effort; the race owes me nothing (well a tee shirt is nice).  I wouldn’t have finished this race and ultimately stopping was probably the right thing for my leg, but I could have maned up made that cut-off and called it quits having pushed as hard as I could to that point, leaving the best of what I had on course, instead I let the clock tick down to take that decision out of my hands.  Key Lesson = Vanity has no place in ultra or any other type of running.

Next up was the Niagara Ultra.  Here again I went in with an expectation of what I was capable of.  However this is a good news story, I set out to sub 5 hour this, despite being on pace up to around the 30k mark the heat kicked my ass, and I ended up far far slower.  The difference here was I acknowledged that I am not a good heat runner and was able to adjust my expectations.  I realigned my goals mid race, resetting my watch and in essence starting a new race mentally.  I crossed the finish line, and didn’t give a toss that my goal time had been chucked out of the window, I was happy to have adapted.  Key Lesson = Mental strength and adaptation = medal.

Limberlost, “lost” being the key part of this race, so a few things went wrong on this one.  Physically I was A-ok but I did get lost on lap one and later lost my race bib, these things added a few kilometers to my race.  After getting lost on lap one I automatically gave up on the race, I decided I would lounge around wait for Heather and then go out for a lap with her and call it a day.  I waited the better part of an hour for H before we went out together, then after some miscommunication I lost her half way around, I came in from that loop and flopped down, justifying that with my detours I was not that far off 42k anyway.  The reality is I had hours and hours to do one more lap, but again it wasn’t going to be the race “I wanted” so why bother.  So here is that vanity again, but also I think it shows a lack of respect for the people who did finish the marathon in 8 hours,  somehow I put myself above them, yet they were the ones with a medal at the end of the day not me, so who is the better runner? Key Lesson = Respect the race, respect the racers

Dirty Girls, now this one is something different again (look at me learning lessons).  The 24 hours at last years race was my A race, I loved it I got my first belt buckle and my first hallucination, so was excited to hit up this race again.  This time was the 12 hour race, run over night, I love night running so it was going to be a good time.  As we know I had a slight mishap putting a hole in my knee that required stitches and subsequently got infected.  For the infection I was given a 10 day course of antibiotics, which I was told may upset my stomach, I explained the race to the doctor and he suggested I stop taking the antibiotics the day before, I hadn’t explained it was a night race so I figured I could just stop taking them 8 hours before the race.  The running felt great and I had some great company but by the third lap I had stomach cramps and some kidney pain, I called it quits at 24k.  This time I absolutely did the right thing stopping, I was putting pressure on my body that it wasn’t up for, in essence I had done my best.  It did not however feel that way, especially not as I was shivering in the car under a picnic blanket, with thoughts of not toeing the line at Haliburton or reducing my distance running through my mind.  What I should have been doing was acknowledging on this day under these conditions I had given my all that I could/should give and far from being a bad thing that was something I should celebrate.  What more can I expect than my best on a given day. Key lesson = My best is good enough.

Acknowledging these short comings is, I believe, essential for my growth as a runner.  The entitlement and to some extent arrogance I have shown in these races has led me to feel far too much pressure which in turn means that I have not enjoyed the races, which is a shame as they are all fantastic courses run be great RD’s.  Also accepting that the people who finished and finished slower than my planned time still achieved something I did not, to the trail gods I apologise for this lack of respect.   Another question I had asked myself was around my mental toughness, am I softer than I think? The answer I came back with is probably I am, but I am tough enough to run 120k at Dirty Girls and 50 miles at Bear Mountain, so I was tough enough to have run all of these races.  Whats more is I am mentally tough enough to run a 100 miles?

Haliburton race strategy is as follows, run without a watch, run by feel, keep it simple, run happy and stay on course until I either finish or they drag me off.

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4 comments on “Ultra Truths

  1. Alex says:

    Hi Dan. Thanks for your posting. You are a bit hard on yourself I think but I understand where you are coming from. You are a tough cookie and hindsight is always easy. I’ve had one DNF this season and others in past years – and gone through injuries and self-doubt myself. Every race is a learning experience and you need to go in positive, having a plan, but be able to adjust. You can’t go in cocky and you have to be aware of your body, what it is capable of on a particular day. It may come together and it may not. Facing the challenges of the course and the weather are things we all face together. Sometimes you can push your body and sometimes your mind convinces you to give up – that you can’t do any more. I think this is a unique feature of ultra running and it is a learning experience. You are a good runner, making gains. I look forward to toeing the line with you at Haliburton 100 mile and facing the same challenges together. Alex

    • raceinpieces says:

      Thanks Alex, I am looking forward to Haliburton, my only expectation of the race is that I stay on the course until I finish or get pulled off, either way it will be the best effort I can give on the day. Oh yeah and that I run happy. See you on the start line!!

  2. Alex Kaine says:

    Another Alex weighing in…

    Dan I think your mind set is the exact perspective one needs to truly excel in ultras. I also believe its not a perspective that can be taught but must be experienced. It is not easily gained, not often understood and can so easily be lost “when we have things figured out”. Let go and set yourself free – Eat, Drink, and be Merry. I’d wish you good luck but I can honestly say “This time you won’t need it.” Enjoy!

  3. mum & Gaz says:

    I know how hard you are on yourself, sometimes that is a good thing …. but and this is important ! balance is important too, don’t lose sight of this fact – enjoy your running ! so get out there, enjoy it and the results will follow – you have done your preparation ( know that you have had set back with gammy leg and infection but thats in the past now) xxxxx

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