Ultramarathon: Ready or not, here I come

12 Mar
The Mississippi River can be seen in the distance as River Road makes a bend a few miles north of Keokuk, Iowa, on a gray March 2013 day.

The Mississippi River can be seen in the distance as River Road makes a bend a few miles north of Keokuk, Iowa, on a gray March 2013 day.

When do you know you’re ready for a race? Well, not just any race. But a race that is a one giant challenge beyond anything you’ve done before.

That’s a question I wish I could answer definitively.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve run 9 marathons and 8 half-marathons. In that time, the only time I had real doubts was for my first marathon. I worried about finishing within my goal time. I worried about finishing with a minimum level of pain. But I never really doubted my ability to complete the race.

30-mile run from Keokuk, Iowa.

30-mile run from Keokuk, Iowa.

In three weeks, I’ll tackle my first ultramarathon — the Potawatomi Trail 50 in Pekin, Ill. — and I have doubts aplenty.

Today, I finished my last pre-race long run, a 30-miler. I had back-to-back runs planned for Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, I waited out the rains and got in my 10-miler. On Sunday, the rains didn’t stop until late afternoon, so there was no hope of getting in a long run. So Monday, I took a half-day of vacation. It was gray and windy (25-35 mph) and fairly cold (32), particularly considering the wind.

That’s the longest I’ve ever run. It was my lone 30-miler. My hamstrings were tightening, my quads were aching, my feet were hurting, my pace was falling. And I wonder if I have enough long runs in me to complete the ultra.

For marathons, I’ve been able to fuel myself with gels and sports drinks and the like. But I expect to be on the trails three times longer than any marathon I’ve run, and I don’t think I can stomach the processed fuel for that amount of time. I’ve been trying lots of different food and drink in training, but toward the end of my 30-miler, my stomach was queasy and I was reluctant to take in any other fuel. I wonder how I’m going to handle my fueling needs for another 20 miles.

Fish on the road dropped by an eagle

An eagle is missing dinner.

The Potawatomi will be my first trail race. I made a trip to Pekin to see the trail a few weeks ago. Wow. They won’t be growing corn on these trails, which rise and fall like a rollercoaster. I wonder what those hills will do to my quads, and I wonder how my ankles will handle the tricky footing.

These are just a few of my unanswered questions. But if I had all the answers, if everything was a certainty, then it wouldn’t be a challenge, would it?

It’s easy to fall into a rut. An old boss of mine had a favorite phrase: The only difference between a rut and grave is the depth of the hole.

I want to continue to explore the world around me. I want to see new places, try new foods, meet new people. I want to push myself mentally and physically.

As I celebrate a landmark birthday (my 50th) this year, I wanted to push myself beyond my comfort zone. At the time, running a 50 at 50 sounded like a good idea. Now I wonder if I was crazy. I’ll answer that question April 6.

2 Responses to “Ultramarathon: Ready or not, here I come”

  1. B March 12, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    You are a crazy man – but you’re MY crazy man. πŸ™‚


    • msmidt March 12, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

      And you’re my crazy pacer. Get ready to be my cheer squad for the long haul.


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