So, yes, I’ve been away from here for months now. It wasn’t a planned absence, but it was an absence that lingered, which is a statement intentionally full of irony.
I’ve still been running, but running and I have been on the outs for a little while now. My failure in San Diego in June was a difficult one to swallow. I always knew that a DNF was possible – I think it’s always on the table for anyone who attempts 100 miles – but I never expected to flunk out after just 44 miles. (And in reality, I was cooked after only 36.)
After much reflection, I’ve come to blame it on the altitude. We started out at 6500 feet, dipped down for a while, and then climbed right back up again. I train at sea level, and it can take 3 or 4 weeks to properly acclimate to the thin air at altitude. So, nothing I could do about that, right? Right. Nothing, except never sign up in the first place. I should have known better than to attempt such a difficult race, on difficult terrain, and then, oh yeah, make it even that much harder by doing it all at unfamiliar altitude. It still just makes me feel foolish.
So why did I sign up? Well it’s the answer to that question that’s had me struggling with my habit as a long distance runner all summer. I picked the San Diego 100 because it was one of the few 100s in 2010 that I could squeeze into my schedule. And that’s the thing, see? It isn’t the altitude, or the remote locations, or the difficult terrain, or the beyond-most-people’s-imagination distance that constantly hold me back from fully enjoying this hobby – it’s just my work schedule.
I work in the arts, I work long hours, and if I’m not physically present, the work doesn’t happen. I manage to make a modest, decent living, but I just don’t get days off, not even weekends. The running community – especially Ultras – are built around weekend schedules. It impacts not only my availability for races, but also my ability to train. It’s been a while since I ran an Ultra that I felt truly prepared for. Instead it’s always a series of compromises, and then an "I'm just running to try and finish" mission statement.
None of this has stopped me before. I’ve run plenty. I’ve squeezed in runs on any day of the week, at any time of the day or night. I’ve eked out long runs on any day of the week when it looked like I might have a few hours to cross one of the week’s list. I've packed in 60+ mile weeks when I barely had time to go home and sleep in between. I’ve sought out races that I could drive to, run and drive back from, all in a day, so I could be home that night to continue more work.
But San Diego… San Diego was a punch in the gut and a wake up call. I let the schedule deceive me, and I bit off a lot more than I could chew. I had no choice but to sit and consider if I was balancing my life in a good way or not. If I scaled back, things might make more sense. I had plenty enough time to get 4 to 6 miles in on most days of the week. A little more than that once a week. I could aim for a series of half marathons each year and probably knock out some very satisfying fast times. Maybe still do just one marathon or short trail ultra each year for fun.
But then I start to think about some of the Ultras I have finished in the last 4 years and I get hungry all over again. Not all of them make me feel that way, mind you, but most. I think about finishing my first McNaughton 50M in less than 12 hours. I think about running the ridge high along the south side of Lookout Mountain 14 miles into my first 100K finish. I think about flying through the little leafy green trees in an “off-trail” section of the Gnaw Bone 50K in the cool morning air. I think about the surprise age-group award I won at the Rock Cut 50K in ’08. I think about the hours and hours I’ve spent chatting with friendly strangers in a single-file line in the middle of who-knows-where.
I still haven’t completely figured out how I can keep this little habit going. I know there are plenty of ultrarunners out there who are juggling WAY more stuff in their lives than I am, and the are able to get it all in. I guess I’m just not that organized. One thing I am getting better at with age, is accepting all the things that I don’t do very well. But, regardless, I’m going to try. If nothing else, I have to try one more time to finish 100 Miles. I’m 0 for 2, so far, but I just need one…