I really like planning ahead. This is one of the reasons why ultrarunning is a good sport for me. I use a lot of my brain space to hash out what I will be doing weeks or months ahead of the current moment. I consider this aspect of my personality to be crucial to my success and happiness as a runner, business person, and mother. When I’m not in the thick of a busy racing period or it’s low season on the farm, I’m scheming and laying out strategies for how to make the coming months filled with successful running. After a flurry of races in late winter, I had time to reflect on my goals for the upcoming racing season.
What I learned after a strong 50k finish back in February followed by a national snowshoe racing silver medal in March, was that if I didn’t plan my training more thoughtfully, my body would break down. I was racing at speeds that were above my fitness level. My mental will was much stronger than my physical body and I was paying for it after I crossed the finish line. I had a fever, cold sweats, and vomiting after my 3rd place finish at Sean O’Brien 50k and couldn’t walk right for over a week after Snowshoe Nationals. My body was under-trained and filled with small injuries.
Heading into the Ice Age 50 Mile race I decided to amp up my miles, do more cross training, and try to get more sleep. My new plan coincided with the start of our vegetable growing season, our beef marketing period and the arrival of our pigs. Running is very important to me but it is just a sport that I play. If I am smart about managing my time, I can make it all come together. With two running schedules to balance (one of us always stays with the kids), my husband I run whenever we can fit it in – in the dark, in the rain, hot, cold, tired, hungry, whatever – running in adverse conditions only make us stronger. Every day is a test of my physical strength and mental discipline.
While I don’t follow a formal training plan, I try to run several 4-10 mile runs during the week and back to back 10-20 mile runs on the weekend. Yesterday I ran 18 miles – today I ran 10. I have mixed feelings about all the hours I spend on the road. Lately, my brain has been slipping into a trance-like state for several miles at a time. I levitate off the road in a ghost dance of exhaustion. Maybe it’s the boredom of running for so long or maybe it’s the fatigue, but I fall into a lucid dream and wake up miles through my route. Training is not just about preparing my body for racing but bringing my mind to a place where I can find methods of coping with the mental stress of the race.
My next race is 3 weeks out and I feel myself searching for some relief from the hours spent running. This is fine timing because I will start tapering off my miles this week. I will stop trying to achieve more fitness and allow myself to recover and rest. I plan to run most days of the week, just not the longer distances.
After the race I will take a week off of running. I’ll sleep and eat and get a massage. Then what? Back to training for my next race. Running is a game that doesn’t end when the race is over. There is strategy in every decision I make throughout the day, everyday – how much I run, when I run, what I eat, how much I sleep, how far apart my races are. Every athlete is different so there isn’t a formula for success, just observation and dedication to the process.
Sometimes I wonder if I will ever get tired of ultrarunning. It is such an intense sport. Being an individual event, all of the passion comes only from me, not from the energy and accountability of a team. Maybe that is what I love most about it – I can harness all of the power inside me to try to be a leader in the race and not count on anyone else for my success – or failure. As long as I am injury-free and have the support of my family, I can’t imaging loosing my focus in this never ending story.