Avid readers of this blog may remember that after a particularly frustrating half-marathon last year, I decided to up the ante and set myself the challenge of completing an ultra marathon.
Yesterday, I competed in the ‘Pick Your Poison’ 50km trail run. I have two things to say about that experience.
I finished. And it hurt.
It was a thrilling, painful, and humbling experience. Towards the end of the race I was ready to swear off running for good. Now that 24 hours have passed, maybe I can be a bit more objective, and think about some of the lessons I’ve learned from this experience.
What I’ve learned
First, it is actually possible to set yourself a Big, Hairy, Audacious goal and actually achieve it. Last summer I couldn’t run past the 10k mark without my legs giving out. Yesterday I did 50km on brutal, draining hills.
Second: you get what you train for. As Archilocus said 2600 years ago, we do not rise to the level of our expectations but fall to the level of our training. I’ve done lots of 25km training runs over the last few months, and the first 25km yesterday went very well. The second 25km were absolutely brutal.
Third: preparation matters. It took months to prepare for this race. I’ve rebuilt my gait from the ground up. I’ve experimented with nutritional plans, I’ve done long slow runs and fast hill repeats. I reconnoitered the course, carbo loaded all last week, and carefully tapered. All this preparation was enough to get me through the first half without too much hassle. The second half I did just because I’d said I was going to, and I refused to stop, even as my quads were screaming at me on every jolting downhill step.
Fourth: community matters. From Patrick, my training partner who encourages me to get up for our early morning Sunday runs, to my colleague Shane who selflessly gave up his Saturday to pass me snacks and cheer me on and even pace me on the final loop when I was close to cracking, to all the strangers and volunteers on the course who encouraged and motivated me; all these people helped me achieve my goal.
Fifth: intentionality matters. Yesterday I achieved something at the very limit of my abilities, not on a whim but as a result of months of planning, preparation and hard work. I managed to struggle through the final kilometers partly because I’ve practiced slogging out an extra 10k at the end of a run when I’m already exhausted. Achievement is not an aspiration but a choice.
Finally, joy matters. Even in the middle of the pain, I tried to recognize that I had been granted the opportunity to run in beautiful sunshine through stunning Ontario scenery, surrounded by inspiring, motivated athletes, and that I had a body that could respond to the demands I was placing on it to achieve something I could be proud of.