I have been using a coach for just over a year now and since then have had the very different experiences of training hardcore for a 72 mile grueling trail race and subsequently backing out of every other ultra I had planned for the rest of the year and training for fun.
When I first started training for Georgia Death Race (GDR), which was going to be my first race over the 50 mile distance, I knew that I was going to have to put in my 110% if I was going to have any chance of finishing. It was the reason I signed up for a coach in the first place. I wasn’t sure how I would respond to coaching or if I would even like it but it ended up being the best decision I made for myself in regards to running. I spent 5 intense months training in a way I never have before. I previously would fly by the seat of my pants. I would run when I wanted to; getting measly miles in during the week and then extremely long runs on the weekends. I didn’t do any speed or hill workouts, and I didn’t really understand the need for them either. I had self-trained myself ever since I started running and I seemed to be getting to the finish line just fine by doing so. That is until I DNF’d my first 55k after 4 already successful ultras, ruh roh. It wasn’t exactly the confidence boost I needed to feel like I could get myself to the finish line of the hardest race I had planned on doing to date. So I dived straight in and because of my really strong desire to succeed, I started to take myself a little too seriously and subconsciously put unintended pressure on myself. I was, what I would call, extremely focused. I would do a lot of training runs solo and tried my best to make sure I stuck to my plan as closely as possible. I would still go on runs with friends and have fun running, but definitely felt underneath it all was a super high expectation I was accidentally setting for myself. When it came time for race day, I felt completely and utterly prepared but nauseously nervous at the same time. All of that went away once I took off from the start line and I let myself get lost in the excitement and difficulty of the course. The hard work I put in paid off, and I say that sincerely even though my end result was a DNF at mile 45 due to missing the cutoff. I don’t think I would have been able to get as far as I did without the time and training I had put in all those months leading up to it and I don’t regret any of the choices that I made.
What I wasn’t expecting was for the recovery to feel harder than all of the training I had put in and the actual race itself combined. I did not bounce back as quickly as I thought and all of the gains I had made leading up to GDR seemed to be slipping through my fingers every day. It was extremely frustrating to feel like I was essentially starting over when I didn’t even finish the race that was making me feel this way. I was signed up for 2 more ultras at the time I returned from my DNF. I ruefully backed out of the first one that was only a couple months later when I still wasn’t feeling up to par. The decision to back out of the second one came when I realized I just didn’t have the fire in me to put toward another ultra, regardless of finally being recovered. It was the first time since starting running that I had backed out of a race, let alone two…and I actually felt pretty OK about it. I wanted to focus my energy on having fun during the summer and trying my luck at running some shorter distances. As an ultra-runner a 50k is what would be considered short, but I opted to let go of my ultra ego and attempt distances in the ½ marathon range. This was completely out of my wheelhouse and still pretty much is. You have to work harder and run faster because you can’t justify walking as much with less mileage to cover. I finished a lot of those races feeling more worked than most of my 50ks and with a new outlook on what running means to me.
The time I spent training for these smaller races was drastically different than the time I spent training for GDR. I was spending weekends in the high alpine with friends and without the pressure of a new scary distance looming over me. I realized that I didn’t need to finish a big crazy race to consider myself a successful runner. This new mindset was brought on by experiencing the juxtaposition of really focused running and much more relaxed running. I started to realize that it’s possible to train hard for something while still having fun and without stressing yourself out over the possible outcome. I gained a better understanding of my own body and its abilities and the toll it takes to do longer distances. I am not the kind of runner that can go out and do 6 ultras a year without blinking an eye nor do I even want to be. I want to be able to run for as long as possible. Racing is all about the exciting adventure and when it stops being that for me, is when I will stop racing.
So I am going into 2019 with a much different perspective on running, racing and fulfillment. I still have some new and exciting goals I’m going to tackle, but the one that I won’t let myself fail at is having a blast while out there doing what I love.