Initially I had decided that my new goal would be to run a qualifier at the Hallucination 100 at Woodstock. For several reasons, that would be an optimal qualifier for me. However, I also decided at about the same time to move from MI, initially with the plan of going on the road, which quickly got changed to buying a house in FL. These will be good moves for me running-wise, I believe, in the long run. In the short run, however, they put me three months behind in my training. Now here it is January, and I am not yet even averaging 20 mpw consistently and have not had a long run of over 10 miles in longer than I can remember – not exactly an optimal state for an ultrarunner trying to prepare for a first hundred miler.
This was the condition I found myself in as I sat down to think about goals for the new year. I was in a dilemma: do I push ahead with my goal of qualifying for WS at Woodstock or do I adjust it to reflect my current conditions?
This is a difficult question. We live in a society that rewards the lofty goal and that has a “don’t give up on your dreams” ethos. This is fueled by social media wherein these lofty goals are publicly applauded and where terms like “awesome” and “bad ass” can make a runner feel really good about setting such goals. In addition, these same sites reward completion over performance, If one can drag themselves across the finish line, regardless of how poorly executed, the adulation is forthcoming. There is the push to do more and more, often before people are ready. “You ran a half? You should do a marathon?” “You ran a marathon? You should do an ultra?” The increasing distances and new experiences become things to check off and stickers to put on the back of a car to be part of the crowd.
This is the type of thing that causes many runners to over-reach, to do too much too fast, and which ultimately leads to injury and burnout. Many of the people who get caught in this cycle do not become lifelong runners. On that side of the coin, there is the argument that “Woodstock is still 9 months away. You can be ready by then. Go for it!”
On the other side of the coin there is the knowledge that a 100 mile run is not something to undertake lightly. If I was coaching an athlete in my position, I would probably advise against doing a 100 miler so quickly when the previous year’s running base had been so sketchy. If this were the end of 2012, when I had just completed many 50ks and marathons in the previous year, the situation would be different, but that is not the runner I am today. Today I am a runner with neither the aerobic base nor the strength to tackle a run like that. I am also a full 12 lbs overweight. That is an issue that cannot be ignored. One hundred miles is a long way to carry an extra 12 lb weight. I mean doesn't it make sense that when one is tackling the biggest physical challenge of one's life that one should be in the best physical shape possible?
There is also my desire to not just “do” 100 miles, but to do it well. Yes, I could possibly (not probably) “complete” the 100 miles with the 9 months of training I could put in starting at the place I am now, but it likely would not be pretty. It might make a good story, but it would probably not make a good race. Not only would I suffer more than I need to and put myself at increased risk of injury or failure, but I probably also would not produce a performance I would be proud of or even feel good about. What is the point of doing it if it is a miserable experience that I can’t feel good about later? At least for me the pats on the back from others don’t really mean much if I do not feel inside that I did something that is worthy of the attention.
This leaves me in a position that is pretty uncomfortable. It is hard to admit that one is not ready to pursue a goal, or that the goal may be too lofty at the time. Still, if I want to be sensible about it, that is the truth of the matter for me right now.
Adding to the discomfort is the fact that being in this position is my own fault. I allowed myself get to this position. I am solely responsible for not making the time to train, for not making better choices, both in relation to training and diet. There are all kinds of good reasons why I didn’t, but the fact is that if one is going to set a serious goal like running a 100 miler, one has to accept the other end of the stick – that one’s lifestyle must be committed to supporting that goal. This is not just true with running. It is true with anything – the bigger the goal, the bigger the commitment that must go with it.
This leaves me to figure out a set of new goals that will get me to the goal that I ultimately want to achieve – the Western States qualifier (which will now have to be another 100 mile race). This is a key step for anyone who has a goal that is too ambitious for them at a particular time. One must determine what is needed to get to a position to pursue that primary goal and set goals related to reaching that position.
I am still working on this for myself in relation to the WS, but a good intermediate step appears to be a 6 month base-building period, perhaps culminating in a 50 miler. During that time, I will work to build my mileage back up to a steady 45 mpw and lose at least 6 of the 12 lbs of extra weight I am carrying around. Then, in June I can revisit and re-evaluate. I am not ruling out a fall 100, but I am going to have to see a lot more progress between now and then to consider it.
Because I know I focus best with a race out there on the horizon, I am off to search for a suitable 50 miler to get excited about and a few 50ks for the base building period (not to race, just to have some fun and company while I am training). I don’t like the idea of putting my real dream on hold, but deep in my heart, I know this is a smarter plan that will ultimately get me where I am going in a much better position to succeed.