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.
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.
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.