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.

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