While I have finished 36 marathons & 50Ks, I still consider myself a newbie at “real” ultras of 50+ miles. I lucked out and ran very well in my first 50 and 100 (JFK in ’07 and Vermont in ’08). Then I had a long series of DNFs at the longer distances.
Once I had completed the distance, each time my focus was a certain milestone or time goal. Along with my overconfidence from having finished the distance before, this caused me to push way too hard at the start and then quit when something inevitably went wrong. When the mind is set on a sub 7 hour 50 or a top 10 finish, it is difficult not to see additional pain as futile once those goals go out the window.
At JFK and Vermont I was both terrified out of my mind and also unbelievably driven to finish the distance. Failure was not an option and never entered my mind. I ran good times there, but that was more of a nice byproduct, and the focus for 100% of the race was finishing.
I had a good run at the Ice Age 50 because while Dylan and I went out a bit hot, we settled into a more doable pace early on. I was fed up with DNFs, which drove me at the Mason Dixon Longest Day 100K. With the lack of aid stations and unmarked course that is unnavigable in sections, it also isn’t the kind of race where you can focus on goals even if you want to, and it was easier to go into finishing mode despite injuring my hip early on. The recent North Face 50 was the first time where I went in with aggressive goals and started fast but found the will to finish when things went south.
So where is all this rambling going? I think I might finally be realizing what it takes to make it happen in these races. I hope I can go in with the right mindset in the future and get a higher % of these races done in a more enjoyable fashion. With that, here is what I’d say I’ve learned:
- Getting injured is a good reason to drop. Any other reason sucks.
- 50 or 100 miles is very far. Finishing is a success. No matter what.
- Missing a goal time / placement doesn’t matter. No one really cares whether you ran 8 hours or 10 hours or whether you finished in 4th or 12th.
- Predicting a finish time for 50 or 100 miles is harder than predicting the stock market, so I shouldn’t bother trying.
- Hiking in the woods is fun. If the race isn’t going well, just do that for a while.
- There is a lot of good food at aid stations (and sometimes good beer, too). Stop and enjoy it.
- If I am worried that I am going out too slow, I must have forgotten how far I am running and dropped a zero from the distance.
- Even if I run slow there will still be beer at the finish. In fact when I finish fast I am often too early for the beer! No one likes having to wait for beer.
Words to live by right there, folks. Words to live by.