My last race really highlighted to me how much my approach to racing has changed over the years. I still enjoy racing as much as I ever have. It’s just that the focus has shifted.
When I started out, my goal was to run and complete the race as quickly as possible. I mean, it’s a race after all. They time you for a reason. A very close secondary goal was to put up a “good time”. For the marathon, I had heard that 4 hours was a good time and so that was my target. After my first one, I wanted a better time. Invariably, while I hit my primary goals in both races (4 hours and then “faster”), I was slightly disappointed in that I didn’t hit my dream time.
Everything was really geared towards maximizing my performance on race day. I tried just about every trick in the book. I tapered down my mileage in the weeks leading up. I got extra sleep the week before. I carbo loaded and flushed fluids through me like it was my day job. Heck, I even abstained from alcohol right before race day. I figured I needed whatever edge I could find to go faster longer.
When I moved up to ultras, I just wanted to survive the distance. And for many of the ultra distances, there aren’t many tried and true goal times like there is for the marathon distance. Especially considering how varied the terrain can be between trails and mountains and weather conditions. But I kept performing all my tricks to maximize my race day performance. I thought that I still needed any edge I could find.
So I relaxed a little bit on my time fetish until I moved up to the 100 mile distance. Then finishing a race in 24 hours became the focus for me. I love my round numbers and 1 day is pretty round. Toss in the historical significance going back to Western States and it became a bit of an obsession. Not for every race I did, but all of the flatter ones. And definitely for Old Dominion, which only awards buckles for sub-24 hour finishes.
Things started to change for me at Eastern States in 2017. The prior year was a 35 hour struggle both physically as well as mentally. Sure I finished the race, but I didn’t have any fun doing it. I went back wanting to enjoy the race. I didn’t care what my time was as long as I was an official finisher. I would have been happy to take an extra hour as long as I enjoyed the race. And I did. Sure the last 15-20 miles sucked, but I was in a much better place mentally. I was even able to smile occasionally.
This has led to race day being more a celebration of my fitness now. I’ve come to realize that time is a function of a whole slew of factors, many of which are completely outside my control. So I let go of the pressure of trying for the perfect amount of preparation heading up to a race. I still taper and focus on getting extra rest leading up to a race, but I don’t get overly carried away with the rest at this point. I’ve even been known to have a beer or two the night before a race.
Ultimately, the goal now is to cover the distance, push myself a little bit, but more to just have fun along the way. Obstacles will be encountered. Things will go wrong. Mistakes will be made (and repeated). But as long as I put forth my best effort, then the time doesn’t matter so much to me anymore. An extra five minutes is the same as five hours in my opinion. Though the latter will probably give me a better story to tell.