Why do we like running extremely long distances? Is it so we can look suffering in the face, flip it off, and keep pounding anyways? Is it so we can understand our own physicality and remind ourselves that our “limits” are imagined and really we can push ourselves WAY beyond their confines? Or is it because we are kinda sorta psychopaths?
These were some of the questions running through my head around mile 27 after a long morning of running up a mountain in pouring down rain and 30 degree temperatures. My body was drenched due to shoddy raincoat manufacturing and my hands were borderline-frostbitten. By all rights I should have been absolutely miserable. I should have been questioning every decision that I had made in life that led me to this stupid a$$ mountain in this stupid a$$ race. But I wasn’t, I had a goofy grin on my face. I was in the middle of Linville Gorge in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the midst of December and I was loving it!
Every race will teach you something new. In our lives, we learn the most from the kick-you-in-the-teeth moments, the moments you have to buckle down, face adversity and let resilience shine through you.
Here are some lessons I learned from the Table Rock Ultra (also I was running the “shorter” distance that day, so I can only imagine the craziness the 50 milers had to endure!)
Train for Discomfort
Linville Gorge is this stunningly beautiful wilderness overlooked by a gorgeous rock structure called Table Rock. Some people sign up for the race for the view alone. Unfortunately on this race day the view could not be relied on for inspiration. As I said before, it was rainy, cold, muddy, foggy, and icy; all of the challenges of running outside in December (even in North Carolina!).
This race reinforced something I am a huge supporter of: training in miserable situations.
DO NOT use rain, winter, mud, ice, snow, wind, cold, extreme heat, or anything else “uncomfortable” as an excuse not to check off your training for the day. Get out into it! Train for any situation or scenario, because come race day (or whatever athletic event you are training for…or just life in general) Mother Nature is going to make the ultimate decision on what the weather is going to be like. I would much rather follow the Boy Scout guidelines of “be prepared” than get 5 miles into a race and say “I can’t do this…because I’m uncomfortable.”
Too much comfort will make you weak. The whole reason I knew that I would be fine in the bad weather was because I had trained in worse. I had been wet and cold in training runs and come race day I understood that (shrug) “it could be worse.”
Weirdly enough, I get joy from being completely soaked and covered in filth. I think back to my high school football days, muddy and rainy days made for the most enjoyable practices! Sliding around on the field, getting dirt in every single crevice, and tackling someone into a puddle was loads of fun!
Somewhere along the way this simple pleasure has been lost. For some reason as we get older we fear the rain. This is bizarre to me. Ask someone “when was the last time you danced in the rain?” and they would probably give you a strange look of “why in the world would I play in the rain?” Thinking about this actually bums me out. If it is raining and you decide to go on the treadmill under boring fluorescent lights, you are missing some primal awesome part of life.
Get out in the downpour, see what you are made of, and realize that “miserable” experiences in life can transform into the most enjoyable!
Walking is Ok
An ultramarathon is a race, don’t get me wrong…but it is a LONG race…hence the name otherwise it would be called “miniscule-marathon”, “teeny-tiny-marathon”, or “supershort-marathon”. That being said, it is ok to walk at certain points. The 50k course gained 4,259 feet and the 50 miler gained 8,000 feet. An attempt to run all those STEEP uphills would result in major leg burnout. Your overall pace would probably be slower due to exhausting yourself early on in the race. In fact, the times I tried to run uphill I was traveling at a speed on par with or even slower than the racers who were walking!
That isn’t saying you should walk slow. You shouldn’t zombie-stumble your way up the mountain; you should look more like a confident Bigfoot wandering the woods. Pump your arms, take large strides and speed walk (as opposed to the shorter quick strides when you are running these distances). These moments give you ample opportunities to refuel; eat or drink your way up the mountain. This will increase your speed during the flat, downhill, or not-as-steep uphill parts.
Ramen Noodles are the Bomb
At the turn around point for 50kers (the 50k was an out and back) they had a food that hit the spot, a food so delicious that angels sing at the mere mention of its name. I’m talking about Ramen Noodles.
There are two situations in which Ramen Noodles are acceptable in life: college dorm rooms and cold Ultraruns.
With this bowl of deliciousness providing quick accessible calories and warmth in my stomach, I ran back from whence I came, smiling at every aid station, and made my way to the finish line.
As I approached that glorious finish line, my wife greeted me with a sign that had a word bubble “Yay Dad!” pointing at her belly where my future daughter was chilling! We hugged, ate some pizza, and got dry. It was one of the greatest moments in my life.