I like to run. I've learned that it really isn't about where you're going, it's about the getting there - the how, the why, the who with. This blog is just a little repository for my thoughts along the way; the setbacks, the lessons learned, and the occasional triumph.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hello, Stranger.

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…


Paige said...

"But, regardless, I’m going to try. If nothing else, I have to try one more time to finish 100 Miles."

Yes, that's the spirit :)

Chris said...

Damn dude, pick a closer 100 miler and just do it! How about Kettle Moraine 100? McNaughton Park 100?

I'm with you on balancing life, running, and what not. I believe 2011 will be the "year of IL runs" for me. I plan on staying in Illinois for ALL of my races. Well, I might venture out of state ONCE for a special race. Less time away from home, less money, less stress. Still lots of good races and good friends.

Best of luck getting back in the grove of training and running ultras. I still haven't figured it out either...and I've run 70 marathons & ultras. Hope to see you on Illinois trails in the near future.

GTI said...

I looked at both McNaughton and KM for this past spring, but work was so heavy the first quarter of this year that I didn't feel I could get ready for MP (which is why I came out to pace instead), and then KM turned out to be on a weekend when there was just no way to get out there and come back in time because of work committments. I also really wanted to go back to Akron to have another go at Burning River, but a good friend set their wedding date for that same weekend in California so that one got nixed this year. I have friends near Houston and considered going down next year to try out Rocky, but I booked up my February last month, so now that's out.

It's not for lack of trying. Carving out the schedule is tougher than putting in the miles. SOMEthing will work out in '11. It's just tough for me to project too far out, but something. I know what kind of race to look for and I know how to get ready.

Chris said...

You'll find a race and a time that works. No rush, no pressure. It'll happen when it should.

Hey, do you still have a source for the iTUGS stickers that you made a couple of years ago? I'd like to buy 15 of them for the conclusion of this year's iTUGS on October 9.

GTI said...

I do! I ordered them custom made through www.makestickers.com which is actually a little company based in Tinley Park, IL, outside Chicago. The website was easy to use, the cost was pretty low and the shipping didn't take very long, as I recall.

Chris said...

Thanks. I'll check them out. Would you still have your original design with them or do I need to create a new one?

Judy Tolliver said...

"It's not the destination, it's the journey," right? A 100-miler is not a destination. :-)