“Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being — a call that asks who they are …”
- David Blaikie
You have to want it.
That’s the secret to running long distances. Kind of disappointing isn’t it? I’ll bet you thought that it was a physical thing. It’s not. A person can train and be in the best shape of their lives. If you get to the starting line and can’t answer the simple question “why am I doing this?” Then you need to walk away.
Our athletic journeys all start with some sort of drive within. There is some sort of sense of urgency, and a need. If you grow stale and complacent then the want will be replaced by habbit. This is a dangerous place to be mentally. Physical training will only take you so far. Nobody trains for a 24 hour event by running 80 miles as a long run. Instead they rely on back to back runs on tired legs and then ask their mind to take them the rest of the way.
Recently I experienced my first DNF (did not finish). I was attempting my first night race- a 60K. The details of the race and course are not important. What’s important is that I found myself at the starting line of a race feeling pretty uninspired about the whole thing. I was confident that physically I was in shape to finish the 37 miles, but what took me by surprise is how mentally unprepared I was. Running at night was a whole different animal than what I was used to, and I was having a hard time finding a place for my mind to settle in for what was going to be a long, lonely experience. Lots of factors played into my decision to drop out, but the main one is that I just did not want to be there. So, I ran 30K at night, and I finished around 11pm (give or take). I took lots of mental notes and made the decision to try again some other time.
I am trying not to beat myself up about this. I want to cut my losses and learn from the experience, but what scares me is how easy it was to do. I didn’t even try to fight. When I asked the advice of a friend and a much more seasoned runner he said this:
”Nights are definitely odd. They were always my nemesis. I would knock out 50 in 10 or 11 hours in a 24-hour run, then just completely pull the plug around 3 a.m. I never did figure that one out. And I was working nights at the time, so I was used to staying up late. It’s just tricky.
I guess the obvious answer would be specificity of training. Practice running at night, with lights, so that night run feels more normal. Do midnight runs, even if it’s just around the block in the dark, to get used to running tired in the dark.
I suspect the next one already will be a lot easier as you draw on the lessons learned from the last one. Training the brain isn’t so much different than training the body. Just gotta get used to it, but i don’t know. If you hate it, you hate it, and that’s OK. Night runs aren’t for everyone. Don’t think you gotta if you don’t like it.
I guess my advice would be: Just keep opening those doors. If you don’t like what’s behind them, it’s OK to close them, but never stop opening. Sorry, that’s not practical advice. But there isn’t much practical about this game.”
I feel like those words are so poignant. Night races might not be my thing, but the race that I WANT will include running through the night, and so I feel that I have to at least try again and put in a little fight. Now that I know how to prepare my brain I feel like half the battle is won. This morning as I was coating myself in a cloud of “Off” I felt the fire inside. I felt the familiar urge for something more primal than just a run on the road, and 3.5 hours and 20 trail miles later I had come to the conclusion that the DNF was just what I needed to remind myself of the whats and whys of running and running far.
I want it. I am going to get it.
You have been signed up for the:
Mule Shoe – 60K Race Date: July 21, 2012
The second race in the Capt’n Karl’s summer night race series takes place at Mule Shoe Bend Recreation Area near Marble Falls, Texas. Register early as entries received after June 30 will not receive a race tech shirt.
You can check your registration status at http://edsregistration.com/races/165/confirmations/new
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