Why I’m not attempting a 50-miler this year

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Planning to spend the summer enjoying plenty more trail adventures with great friends.

This blog post is titled: “Why I’m not attempting a 50-miler this year.”  For most people, that’s not even something that needs to be addressed – it’s a given.  Actually, for me in any other year, this would be a given.  And then last fall, I had one of those weird nights where my best friend and running partner texted me about an interesting looking race called the North Country Trail Run.  And somehow, in the span of 90 minutes, I went from never having heard of the race, to signing up for the 50-mile option.  On my birthday.  In Michigan.  Our texts the next morning were pretty hilarious, as we realized the enormity of what we had just signed up for.

In November, when I sat down to plan my racing schedule for 2017, I based everything around North Country.  I worked my way backward from that race, choosing to run several random trail races simply because they would be good training for North Country.  My entire focus was on getting myself strong enough to take on 50 miles in the middle of Michigan in late August.  I had a plan.  I was focused.  This was going to happen.

Then life intervened, in the way that I’ve found life usually does when you think you have everything planned out.  In February, I took on a part-time coaching job.  It allowed me to get back into a sport I loved, but with 8 hours of coaching on top of an already packed schedule, I found that I began to get even less sleep than usual.  In an attempt to not stumble through each day as a total zombie, I began to cut a few of my weekly runs a bit shorter, in favor of 15 more minutes of shut-eye.

A few weeks later, I took that hard fall on the trails, which led to a cracked rib.  It was a full six weeks before I had a full range of motion without pain, and while I never stopped running during that time, I did cut back my mileage a bit more in an attempt to heal.

Several weeks after that, I learned that my school was cutting my teaching position for next year due to enrollment challenges.  Now on top of everything else that I was juggling, I began a full-scale job search.  As I sit here at my computer in late-June, life feels pretty relaxed.  I could not say the same for this past spring.  In fact, looking back on it now, I’m still not sure how I got through those few months.  The answer probably comes back to coffee.  I pretty much gave up coffee a couple of years ago because it tends to make me shaky.  This spring, I was back to drinking it on a daily basis, and even then I was barely keeping my head above water.  I was working 1 1/2 jobs, searching for a new one, driving the kids to gymnastics and baseball, and still running about 30 miles a week.  I was sleeping less than 6 hours a night.  It was not a good combination.  Something had to give.

I broached the idea of skipping North Country with my friend Jen in early May.  I was just so stressed, and the thought of preparing for a 50-miler was adding to my stress.  And I realized that it was silly to stress about something I love so much, like running.  We discussed it, then decided we would see how things went at Kettletown, our planned 50k, before making any decisions.  Of course, regular readers might remember that Kettletown did not go as planned.  We severely underestimated the challenging terrain, and after calling it quits at the 30k mark, the thought of 50 miles seemed completely ridiculous.  On the long car ride home, I told Jen that North Country was not going to happen for me this year.

A few weeks later, I had a great racing experience at Ragnar PA.  It was my first strong race of the year, and it gave me a bit of hope that this year might not be a total wash.  That same weekend, two of my friends and training partners crushed the 100k at Worlds End.  I was beyond happy for them, but it sparked a bit of jealousy as well.  Here they were completing a 100k and I was walking away from a 50-mile race without even attempting it.  I began to question my decision.

The following weekend, Jen and I arrived at Big Elk Trail Marathon, a race that we signed up for solely as a training run for North Country.  At the starting line, I shared with her my recent thoughts, and how I was now once again considering the idea of making the 50-mile attempt at North Country.  Jen assured me that she was still undecided herself, but that she knew she didn’t want to run the race alone.  We decided that we would see how Big Elk went and then make a decision.

I plan to write a full race report for Big Elk, but in a nutshell let me say that it was a great course that I fully enjoyed until the temperatures skyrocketed.  By the time I crossed the finish line, temps were in the upper 80s.  I felt strong on the run, but I ran the entire second half on my own, which gave me a lot of time to think.  During that time I realized that I probably could finish a 50-miler, but that I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to.  I shared my thoughts with Jen upon finishing, and was happy to hear that she was in complete agreement with me.  After dealing with the heat at Big Elk, neither of us had any desire to double our distance in a late summer race.

And so that’s how we decided to give up our 50 mile dreams, at least for the moment.  I’m realizing that I don’t need to compare myself with everyone else to feel satisfied with my running.  Yes, my friends completed a 100k.  That is awesome and amazing.  They are awesome runners.  Forty miles is the longest distance I’ve ever run.  I think that’s pretty damn awesome too.  I’m not sure what the future holds.  I may still make an attempt at 50 miles someday.  For now though, I’m going to focus on enjoying my miles without the pressure of a big race hanging over my head.  After such a stressful spring, it feels awesome to take a few steps back and just enjoy running for the sake of running.

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