Six things I learned during my first year of training for ultramarathons
I had a solid four years of barefoot running behind me
But I hadn’t run further than 8-miles since before my girls were born. I had heard about the Western States 100 when I thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1999 and now that I felt my feet and knees were safely rehabilitated I wanted to see if something like a 100-miles would even be possible. But being somewhat reasonable, I decided to aim for the VT50 first. It still seemed like a solidly impossible dream . . .
Last fall I ran into Kim Parrot, a fellow runner, at the Blue Hill Co Op right after she had finished her first-ever 13-mile run. She was beaming! She told me that it was exactly 6.5 miles from the Library to the Brooklin town sign . . . So that weekend, buoyed by her success, I stashed a water bottle and a snack in the snow bank next to the sign and took off from the library on my first 13 mile run in over 10 years.The South Blue Hill route is a good one with lots of gorgeous Bay views, the mountain in the background, wintering ducks at the reversing falls and a porta-pottie at the boat launch. On the return I was grateful when Jerome and the girls pulled up beside me to cheer me on and offer me some hot water. When I got back to the library I was both elated and terrified. Which is why I came up with . . .
Ultra-Training Rule No. 1:
Never, ever ask yourself “How could I possibly run another x# of miles on top of what I just did?”
Running has taught me that time and distance are far more elastic than I ever thought. Running ultras isn’t about how far you run, it’s about running. And you don’t really need to know how much longer or further you have to run if you just keep running!
I had another memorable training moment late last winter. The trails were still icy and hard to run so I planned a 24-mile training run on the roads around the Blue Hill Peninsula. I stashed some water and snacks behind the North Blue Hill Grange and on a friend’s porch in town and off I went. It was a long lonely run on one of those bleak, not yet spring days and I was really wishing I had a running partner. And then there was the moment that I had to pee so badly I quickly squatted on the side of the road and landed right on top of a rose bush as not one, but two acquaintances drove by – ouch! In my haste to pull myself back together I scratched myself so badly that later when I got home my underwear was stuck to the dried blood on the back of my legs. (And I wasn’t even trail running!) Which leads to . . .
Ultra-Training Rule No. 2:
Go before you have to go.
Give yourself more than a second to find a semi-private, thorn-free spot preferably out of view from your neighbor’s window and your friends driving by.
The day after that long road run, I ran the 10-mile Bridge the Gap race on Verona Island. Jerome and the girls ran the first mile with me and then I headed off on a lonely (but incredibly scenic) loop. It was cold and I was barefoot and because I had run the first mile very slowly with my family, I ended up all alone on the course (unless you count the chase car flashing it’s lights behind me). Plus, I was really hurting from my long run the day before. I spent the last hour of the race alternately swearing at and singing to the crows like a mad woman. I’ve never had so much fun running in so much pain. Hence . . .
Ultra-Training Rule No. 3:
It is better to go crazy than to go home.
Just because it hurts doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. You’re already crazy enough to be running such long distances, why hold back?
By late Spring my confidence as a runner was building but my foot was hurting. I was looking forward to my most competitive race season yet and I didn’t want it to end before it started. So out came my bike. I ended up biking about half my training “runs” in April and May and I’ve had no foot problems since . . .
Ultra-Training Rule No. 4:
Cross training is a great way to keep yourself in the game.
Training for triathlons has allowed me to gain fitness while at the same time healing many of my older running injuries. That seems like a win win strategy to me!
I’ve never thought of myself as a real runner. If real runners are gazelles, I’m more of a moose. But even mooses like to be part of a herd, and that’s why racing is fun, or as some people call it “running together with bibs”. Maybe you don’t know this, and you have been too intimidated to try running races because you don’t think you’ll fit into the herd. But I guarantee that at every race you attend there will be elks, gazelles and lots of fellow meese. Just knowing that makes the running world a cozier place . . .
Ultra-Training Rule No. 5:
Everyone is a friend when you get to the watering hole. Smile often, make room for one more, get to know your fellow runners. We’re all part of the same herd.
I had planned to end my race season with the MDI Marathon on Jerome’s birthday. But that was before I got a great offer to run a brand new 100k race in Costa Rica in November. Suddenly the VT50 and MDI Marathon became training runs, and last weekend’s casual long run became a 30 miler that included running up Cadillac and into the hinterlands of the Roosevelt carriage roads that only Gary Allen knows the way out of.
And that’s how in one year I’ve gone from celebrating the success of a 13-mile training run to running 70 miles a week. Which is how I know . . .