Endurance running is a game of planning and execution. Much of the strategy comes in the weeks and months leading up to the race event. Once in the game, the runner uses the fitness gained during the training period to get their strongest result. But what if planning isn’t possible? For me, I have been trying to get into a solid training block while balancing a frustrating illness. With a challenging race just a month and a half out, my strategic plan changes every week.
On February 6th I’m racing the Sean O’Brien 100k in Calabasas, CA. This race dwarfs anything I have ever done in distance, vertical gain/loss and depth of the competitive field. We will be climbing and descending 14,000 feet over 62 miles – and by we I mean me and a stacked field of experienced ultrarunners, many of whom live and race in mountains. Last February, shortly after coming off of injury, I raced the Sean O’Brien 50k event and took 3rd place in the female division. But that podium-finishing performance was a bloodbath of a race for me. Doubling that distance on my level of training seems almost impossible.
I am on my 5th month of Epstein Barr virus (EBV) related illness. This virus that causes mono, has turned out to be far more mysterious and complex than I initially thought. I have gone for weeks thinking that I am fully recovered only to be knocked back with a period of aches, fatigue, cold/hot spells, and general hopelessness.
At the end of November, during a recent bout of sickness, my frustration reached fever pitch. Late one gloomy afternoon, Jesse came home from the farm to find me dressed for a run. Are you feeling better? he asked. No, I feel like absolute shit. But I’m running. Fuck it, I’m running. I left the house full of determination to hammer out some miles in the damp wind. When I got home I felt energized, alert, and my body aches were gone. At that moment I decided my new plan was not to back off of running when sick, but to lean into the illness, doing what makes me happy. After months of logging my symptoms, I was convinced that running does not make me worse. That day I decided that my intentions for the race were to show up, learn what it feels like to run 62 miles, and take some lessons from the race. Finishing near the front at Sean O’Brien is out of the question at this point.
Training has been decent considering my unstable health. My mileage volume is almost where it was going into my most recent ultramarathon in July (Dances with Dirt 50 Mile). I really should be logging 25% or 30% more miles a week than I am, and I should be doing much more hill training. With each passing day, I am running out of time to get this built into my training plan. Preparing for an ultramarthon is all about managing the stress on your body by challenging your system at a sustainable rate that allows adaptation instead of over-training. In the middle of January, I will need to stop building training volume, and start tapering off for the race. I am filled with so much doubt for even completing the course. But I have never felt ready for any of my races – and I’ve had good results despite that. The only race I felt confident going into, I ended up dropping out of (Ice Age 50 mile). Maybe self doubt and humility are a practical defense mechanism to protect ourselves against disappointment.
So with that doubt I decided to conjure up some courage. I went on a long trail run this past weekend – the farthest I have gone on the trail since August. I didn’t feel overly thirsty, hungry, or tired in the hours following the run which is a good indicator if I am pushing myself too hard. The next day I barely felt the effects of the miles – also a good way to gauge how the run challenged my body. I still have a little time to put my weekly mileage together with some long runs, and continued hill training to add up to an acceptable level of training for the 100k race.
The weather in southern Wisconsin has been so mild that I have lucked out with good trail conditions. I can get real miles on in between my sicknesses. I now have a finishing time goal for Sean O’Brien 100k – it feels good to go into the event with a focus beyond just completing it. When I registered for this race back in October, it was little more than a feverish dream. Now that the race date is closing in, I am eager to be somewhere deep into the course, lost in the wilderness of my mind. I have 6 weeks to get my body ready for the tough 62 mile race and I am sure my strategy will continue to evolve.