Glancing over my training log, I noticed that DUC was my 50th official ultra finish. Well, technically the 49th, but I’m counting my DNF at Capital Backyard as a finish and if you’d like to argue, I’d be happy to take it up with you in the comments below.
Those of you familiar with this blog won’t be surprised to see the 100 mile distance as my favorite. I have a career goal to finish a hundred of these (100×100 = chasing 10k). For the first couple years, I would use the shorter distances as training efforts in the lead up to my hundred mile races. I’ve changed my focus a bit over the last 3 or 4 years and these races are now to add a little spice or variety to my annual race schedule. It’s good to have a specialty, however it’s also good to mix things up a bit from time to time.
If you’re sitting there thinking “Wow, I can never image running that many ultras”, trust me when I say that was exactly me about eight years ago. I would show up to the start of these races filled with anxiety and imposter syndrome just knowing that everyone else were these badass ultrarunners. I hoped that one day I would be the crusty, experienced vet that others looked up to. Well, I got the crusty part nailed down pretty quick, but the experienced part took a lot longer than I feared.
The truth is the only way to get that experience is by continuing to sign up for races (duh). I’ve consistently raced about six ultras per year since my second year above marathons. This may sound like a lot (OK, it’s a lot), but your body eventually gets used to this. Probably the key for me is that I treat most of these more as training runs than a races. I’m out to complete rather than compete. I then take a week or two of very low mileage to recover. And then the weeks until my next race are more about maintaining than training. I’m getting in miles, but not really doing workouts. The goal isn’t really to increase my fitness so much as to reduce the risk of physical injury.
Mental engagement is just as important. The want side of the coin is equally vital to the ability side, which gets most of the focus when you start out. Your ultra career can just as easily be derailed by mentally burning out as by getting injured. This leads me to choose races I want to do. It also leads me to cutting back mileage whenever I don’t feel like running the miles. An extra 15 or 20 miles isn’t going to suddenly catapult me to any podiums. A down month won’t offset the years of running base that I’ve developed. Heck, even a down year isn’t the end of the world as anything is better than zero.
Hopefully, I have another 50 ultras left in me. I believe I’ve found a sustainable path for myself, but you never know. Life has a way of happening to us all. Regardless of what happens going forward, I’m thankful to have found this crazy sport. May you get just as much enjoyment out of it as I do.