Endurance sports have always been rife with stories of physical and mental burnout, and because of the nature of the energy and time commitment it’s not something that is going to change. For many, the sport of ultramarathon running is about pushing your limits and challenging yourself, but how far is too far?
Over the years I’m no different than others in that I’ve dealt with injuries of all sorts, mostly minor nags, some more major; sprained ankles, plantar fascitis, Achilles tendinitis, pulled muscles, 2x broken clavicles, weak glutes and knee issues. So far I’ve been methodical enough to work through these issues and mostly correct the underlying causes….except those darn glutes. It was quite a surprise to me that when my knee started to bug me after my last race (Mississippi50) my PT said it was because my glutes weren’t strong enough and my quadriceps and hips were too tight. But wait, hadn’t I been doing all these squats, deadlifts, and exercises to prevent this? So with the Miwok 100km only 7weeks away I was back to square one; limited running, pain management, lots of stretching/foam rolling and an hour of PT each day to retrain my muscles to fire properly, uggg. As I was spending an hour a day on the treadmill running at 10% (uphills didn’t bother my quad/knee), I began to wonder why am I actually doing all this? Do I ‘have to run’ or do I ‘want to run’?
Two weeks before Miwok I finally had a break through in my rehab thanks to Adam Engel at Waldron’s Peak and Ginna Ellis at Boulder Acusport, the pain in my quad/knee had been reduced to a dull ache when I ran and hiked and almost non-existent at other times. So after several weeks of so so training, including a lot hiking I was heading to California to run 100km and had no clue if my body would even hold up for that distance. Race day came and I felt pretty good that I would be able to finish, but how fast would be the question, given my sub-par training (45-50mi/week) and my balky quad. The race started in the foggy dark pre-dawn hours with a nice steep climb up the Dipsea trail to the Deer Creek fire road, the sound of bag pipes filling the early morning fog with an eerie song. I settled into a pretty casual pace for the first 10miles, leap frogging with a friend and just letting my body ease into the miles. After a quick stop through Muir Beach then Tennessee Valley I finally opened up the pace as we circled the Rodeo Valley, even running all the climbs and zipping by dozens of runners. While a little tight, my quad felt alright for the first 20miles, but I could tell that my fitness might catch-up with me at some point.
I hit Muir Beach #2 still feeling good, and in the 22miles since Muir Beach #1 having passed 52 other runners, there was hope for my race yet. Finally I hit the climb up to Cardiac, a 1500ft grind that was a sight for sore legs because it meant I got to power hike instead of run. The climb up toward Cardiac was going well, I picked up another five spots, but then the sun came out and I realized I’d left my second water bottle with my parents, and that was going to be a problem. After Cardiac I started to get a little hot, but the bigger issue was my stomach, around mm38 it turned sour, I felt bloated and nauseous, but I couldn’t throw up to empty it. So I hiked and slow shuffled along the sunny Coastal Trail all the way to the Bolinas AS where I was finally starting to feel a bit better. I drank some more water, had a glass of coke (bad idea) and some pretzels and took off along the runnable Bolinas ridge only to have my stomach turn again, reducing me to a fast walk. Soon my friend Katie caught up to me from behind and her brother Jon (in 6th) was heading inbound from the out and back. It was good to see friends and lifted my spirits, but not my stomach.
My stomach finally started to settle right before the long descent to the Randall AS turn around, so I turned the legs over and pushed the pace a little. After a quick refuel and restock I went charging up the hill, running the 5-10% grade for the first 1/4mile, but finally relented back to a power hike. My mind began to wander to the trees, the flowers, and why I was in this location at all. I realized that I really didn’t want to hammer the last 12miles, that I didn’t care about my time (I would finish) and I didn’t care about my place. I just wanted to stroll along and enjoy the rest of the afternoon, even if my legs were capable of running faster. I danced my way through the redwoods, took pictures of the iris, lupine and poppies, and ate pizza at the Bolinas AS. I ran a little, walked a little, stopped a few times. Those last 12miles were the most enjoyable of the entire race. Next time you are feeling down during a race, take a moment to contemplate your surroundings, your purpose and the experience and rather than DNF, slow it down and enjoy your amazing surroundings and an accomplishment that few others are capable of, even if it’s slower than you’d hoped for.
I ran the final 2-3miles down the Matt Davis trail to the finish line, crossing in 12hours16min, slower than last year, slower than I was capable of, but what my mind and body wanted and needed on that day. My fire to race and compete seems to have disappeared, but not my love of long distance trail running and ultra distance adventures. The 2015 Miwok 100km was a beautiful and very enjoyable run, even if it wasn’t a good ‘race’ for me, and I highly recommend it to all ultra runners. But the question still remains, why am I out there running and hiking? I had originally gotten into the sport as a way to allow me to mountaineer and peak bag at a whole new level, much faster and much further. Lately I’ve been caught up in the whole competitive racing scene, and while fun every once and a while, I’m realizing it’s not what I crave. Some people thrive off running competition and hammering themselves and their peers on a daily basis. Me, I’d rather amble around the mountains for 20-60 miles taking pictures, exploring new places and just having a grand ole time. Most of the time my goal isn’t a time, isn’t a particular pace, it’s just to go out and to explore, adventure and expose myself to new experiences.
I’ve decided to postpone some very ambitious plans I had schedule for June 2015, and instead am looking forward to getting outside to wander and explore some new things, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but hopefully always with a smile on my face. I hope that you too can find what you need each time you head out the door, whether its for a walk around the neighborhood, a jog on trails or up a mountain, or for a climb. So whatever you do just remember it’s not just about the pain and suffering, it’s supposed to be fun. Special thanks to all those who have helped me through this ongoing process of figuring out what ails me; Adam Engel at Waldron’s Peak PT, Ginna Ellis at Boulder Acusport, Meggan Oliver, Cindy Stonesmith at Ultrarunner Training, Vfuel for keeping me energized and my parents and friends Katie and Jon for the fun time playing on the California coast.
Here’s an album with a whole bunch more of my photos from the 2015 Miwok 100k.