Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Resetting My Runner's Mindset

As I begin my nearly year-long journey to participate in the Ouray 100 ultramarathon, I’m quickly realizing one of the biggest challenges will be to reset my mindset about running training. For the past couple years while I focused on my goal to run a marathon in under three hours, I was always acutely aware of the number of miles I was running each week and the average pace of that mileage. That weekly mileage number became a bit of a bellweather to let me know if I was training the way I intended to.

Weekly mileage will not be that bellwether during this year-long training focus for Ouray. In fact, the opposite. I need to break my habit of watching the weekly mileage and making sure I am hitting predetermined benchmarks. My mindset has to reset to allow myself to do the right training each day and let the mileage focus fall away. And that is going to be a really tough thing after two years of really chasing big mileage.

Yesterday offered just such a challenge. When an evening meeting at work ended much earlier than anticipated yesterday, I had the opportunity to go for a run that I wasn’t sure I would get to do at the beginning of the day. On my training plan, if I did get to go, it was supposed to be a power hike and not actually a run at all. For Ouray, I’m going to have to become a far better walker and hiker than I am today. But as I faced the decision to use this newfound time, I also found myself being pulled toward running instead of fast walking. In the 45 minutes I now had, I could run a very easy 5 miles. Alternatively, I might be able to walk a bit over 3 miles with my fastest walk. 

It was really challenging to give up those 2 extra miles. 2 miles doesn’t seem like a lot, but make that choice 5 days in a week and a 75 mile week becomes only a 65 mile week. I’ve been siding with the higher number in these trade-off decisions for two years. I am conditioned to seek the higher mileage option reflexively now.

But that is no longer the good decision. I walked for the 45 minutes yesterday. Afterwards, I was still bothered by the 2 miles I missed out on. Yet it was the right decision, no matter how wrong it feels to me. And improving my decision making is one of the biggest focuses of this entire training journey to Ouray next year.

My runner’s mindset needs to be reset. It’s not about raw mileage, but doing the right things to have me ready to hike for 52 hours and cross 14 very high San Juan peaks. That is the singular focus. Two extra miles of running would have done absolutely nothing to improve my chances of succeeding.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Enjoyment Did Not Have Anything To Do With It

A couple weeks ago, I made my mind up to take on a new adventure and journey. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for at least a year, and have been afraid to really consider. But I have decided to not let that fear prevent me from going on an adventure that really calls to me. Instead, I’ll dive into the deep end and take plenty of time to get myself ready for this journey.

I have decided to run the Ouray 100 ultramarathon next year in 2021. I don’t know that I’ll actually get into the race. It’s possible all participants from the 2020 COVID cancelled race are simply rolled over into 2021. It’s possible we’re still too deep into the COVID pandemic and the race doesn’t happen at all. It’s possible the race director does not accept my meager qualifications for entry, though I do believe I just squeak into the requirements. Even so, I am going to prepare as if I will be running Ouray 100 next year. And that scares me tremendously.

In many respects, I have no business trying to run Ouray 100. I have very limited mountain racing experience. I will have very few, potentially no, opportunities to train in the mountains or even on any real hills. I don’t know how to read mountain weather and don’t have sense for when a lightning storm is rolling in. I’m unaccustomed to the dramatic shifts in temperature that will be encountered during the race. I know little about potential wildlife to be concerned with. There’s simply a lot I’m not prepared for.

And it’s also a very different style of race than what my training has prepared me for. Ouray 100 is high, really high. The race is run in the towering San Juan mountains, tagging a dozen or so of the peaks in the area. It’s a constant shift from climbing up to a peak, then back down to Ouray. The race ascends and descends over 40,000 feet, an unimaginable number to me. I’ve trained primarily for flat and fast running, the kind of running we do in Florida. Ouray really isn’t a running race at all. It has a 52 hour cut-off to go 100 miles, or a 32 minute mile. On flat ground a 32 minute mile is a casual stroll. Yet I expect I’ll need every one of those hours if I want any chance to complete this race. 

My training will have to change dramatically. I’m going to have to become a proficient hiker. I’ll have to become much improved on remaining on my feet for very long periods of time. I’ll have to figure out how to improve both my uphill and downhill hiking and running. I’ll have to give up a lot of speed in the process of becoming a much better hiker, climber and descender. Thank goodness I reached my primary marathon goal earlier this year!

I will have to become a far better decision maker than I’ve been in ultramarathons. The races I’ve participated in have been easy enough to allow for bad decisions to be made. The result of those decisions was simply a slower time than a good decision would have resulted in. I will not have that luxury at Ouray. I will need every minute to finish. A bad decision could put me in a lightning storm at the top of an exposed peak, or in plummeting temperatures without proper clothing to prevent hypothermia. My decision making will have to be dialed in.

Fortunately, I do have nearly a full year to figure this out. My training will look extremely boring and monotonous. While I plan to keep a finger on the speed with two weekly running speed workouts, I’m also adding a lot of hiking around the neighborhood in a weighted pack. Often, that will be just power walking down to the bridge over Interstate 95 and then crossing that bridge back and forth for miles at a time. It sounds terribly monotonous. I’m also going to do my best to make nearly every non-workout run a bridge repeat run. Again, get to a bridge and then just run back and forth. So very boring. And I’ll do this for the next year. I plan to purchase a plyo box to do box step ups and jump downs. My hope is the jump downs exert some of the same eccentric force on the legs that downhill running does. All monotonous and boring.

I hope to organize a trip up to the Georgia mountains early in 2021 with some running friends to spend a weekend putting in big miles running the dragonback trails of the southern Appalachian mountains. This will be the big break from the monotony of endless bridge repeats.

I have a guiding principle as I work through this monotony, a quote I heard while listening to the Armchair Explorer podcast yesterday. In an episode in which explorer Ed Stafford discussed his trek on foot to cover every inch of the Amazon river, he stated “Enjoyment did not have anything to do with it.” This struck me profoundly. In the pursuit of big goals and journeys, enjoyment might not be a part of the equation. The enjoyment may come in little bits and pieces here and there. Stafford discusses the tiny amount of enjoyment of taking a bath at the end of the night, but that the day was drudgery and even misery otherwise. This is what my training will be. Drudgery, misery, monotony. Probably not much enjoyment beyond knowing that I’m on a journey to do something I don’t really think I can do.

And make no mistake, I don’t think I’m taking anything on like a trek to cover the entire Amazon. Plenty of people finish the Ouray 100 every year. It’s a really tough race and may include some actual risk and challenges I’m not accustomed to, but it’s still just a race. But to me and what I know of myself and my training, it feels as frightening and nearly insurmountable as a trek along the Amazon. To spend the next year changing myself from a marathon runner who runs ultras to a fast climbing hiker who at least is book smart on the mountains feels like a massive challenge...and one I’m excited to take on.

Enjoyment does not have anything to do with it.

Note: I plan to chronicle some of the training I do and steps I take during this year of preparation on this blog. I’ll probably write about gear I’m testing, fears and emotions I’m facing, and whatever else comes to mind. Feel free to follow along if you find yourself interested. And if you have any tips or advice, I’d be more than happy to hear from you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

My Renewed Daily Writing Practice

Beginning today, I plan to rebuild a daily writing practice. At least 30 minutes each weekday morning while I drink my first cup of tea or coffee. I will make no demands of this writing practice other than it be daily and 30 minutes. I will allow exceptions to the daily habit for those mornings when I go for a very early run, as I often do on Thursdays. My plan on those days is to make up the 30 minutes of writing at some other point during the day.

I am free to write about whatever I like. Personal, professional, something I've recently read about, something just bobbing around in my head with no real intention. It doesn't matter. Just write, for 30 minutes, every day. I do hope to eventually start pushing some of this writing back to a blog. I do hope that eventually some ideas will feel bigger and worthy of fleshing out into a professional article or even a book. But none of that is necessary for now. The goal is to just write and get back in the habit of writing regularly.

I am a writer who has not been writing. That's a tough thing to come to grips with. It feels inauthentic to myself, incongruous with who I know I am. Yet, I've been doing this for several years. This writing practice is my first step toward getting back to alignment. 

What are some things I might write about? That's a good question. And, it makes sense to start to start building that list. A list I can add to and pull up at a moment's notice when it's time to write. I think I'll wrap up this first note here, happily having committed to words my desire my plan of action, and then get started on that list for the remainder of my 30 minutes.