Coming into 2018, I had accumulated 5 years of running history with four years at marathon or beyond distances. While I don’t have anywhere near expert level knowledge on running, I think I’ve developed enough proficiency to understand where I am personally pretty well. I know what I can do and what’s not feasible. I have a decent idea of what’s going to go wrong and the best way to fix any issues as they come up or mitigate them if all else fails.
Or rather, that’s what I thought 12 months ago. . .
A Year of surprises
Are you someone who likes to peal the band aid off slow or do you like to rip it off quickly? I definitely fall into the latter category so let’s get the biggest negative surprise out of the way first – my DNF at Bighorn. It’s more than a little ironic that my lowest point of the year came at the highest elevation I visited all year long (8800 ft above sea level); mile 48 of the Bighorn 100. I had eight straight 100 mile finishes leading up to the race and felt confident in finish number 9. I was shocked at how much the altitude seemed to affect my run and this had a large, adverse impact on my mental state. The upside is I learned a bit more about my body (Don’t race at altitude unless I have 8 days to acclimate) and created Rule # 2 for finishing ultras (Don’t think past the next aid station).
My only other negative surprise came a couple days before Bighorn when Eastern States 100 was cancelled. I’ve heard about other races being called off in the past (typically for wildfires), however this was the first time I had heard of it happening for staffing reasons. While I was completely bummed out, I’ll be back in 2019 and was able to fit Burning River into my schedule which is a race I’ve been wanting to do. In order to be successful in ultras, you need to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. This is also a useful tool for life in general and the ES100 cancellation helped teach that to me. . . again. Sigh. Sometimes I feel like half my life is spent relearning the same lessons over and over again.
One of my smallest surprises was that I was able to stay healthy enough to push my running streak to 6 years in August. While I focus on running sustainably each day, week, and training cycle; the truth is I’m no expert and am always half holding my breath when it comes to injuries. Is my hamstring too tight? Is my knee getting more sore? Where the heck did that ache come from?!?!? In the end, I was able to run more miles than any other year (just over 2100) and
figured out remembered a trick to hopefully keep me from getting over trained.
My second biggest surprise came 21.5 hours into my first 24 hour race. I had been so utterly focused on finishing 100 miles, that I hadn’t been tracking the time or my overall pace too closely. I glanced at the clock and realized I could set a new 100 mile PR if I knocked out 2 miles inside 30 minutes. I still had a little oomph left in the legs and made it happen just weeks after deciding I was done chasing PRs. It was nice to fight off Father Time for another year, but I know this is a battle I will lose eventually so will sedately celebrate the accomplishment.
And my biggest surprise? Winning the NJ Ultra Festival 100 miler outright. This is something that I’ve dreamed and fantasized about for years (how else do you get through a 6 hour training run?), yet never thought it would be possible for a mid-packer like myself. It just goes to show what can happen when the stars align (and you pick a really small race with only a dozen starters). I ran a smart race, paced myself well on that unseasonably hot April day, and finished strong. If that’s the pinnacle of my ultra career (and I don’t doubt that it will be), then it’s a very nice peak for myself. Competing in ultra races has never been about winning probably because I’ve never had much chance of it happening. That makes this surprise all the more special for myself.
And now I can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store for me.
Happy New Year!