Whatever “ready to run a 100-miler” feels like, I can’t say I feel it.
As I reached the end of my seven-mile run last week, my last before the 100-miler, that frightening thought crossed my mind.
When I started training back in January, I pictured future-me as something of a tank / truck / beast of a man (or at least as much a beast as my 140-pound frame would allow for). A hundred miles would be nothing for that guy.
I mean, a 26-week training program? Complete with 50K, 50-miler, and many, many runs over 20 miles — often followed the next day by 7 or 10 more miles? How could anyone do all that and not be ready?
And yet, I don’t feel so different from when I started. Sure, seven-milers are easy now. Even 20’s don’t seem like a big deal, just something to knock out in the morning so as not to disrupt the rest of a Saturday (a toddler and newborn have made that necessary).
But 100 miles?
As we drove last night from Asheville to Ohio for the race, several times I took note of just how long 50 miles feels. In a car. And I’ve got to do twice that, on foot.
A part of me feels confident: once you dive into this world of ultras, you find lots of people (relatively speaking, of course) who do 100’s. Some do much more. On vegan diets, on fruitarian diets, on any diet you can imagine. A hundred miler is extreme, but far from uncommon.
But there’s that other part of me that’s straight-up terrified. Because I’m not that superhuman I imagined … future-me is still just me.
The Impostor Syndrome and the Failure to Belong
This phenomenon isn’t unique to me (if it were, I’d find something else to write about).
It’s well-known among the happiness researchers that we think of “future-us” as an entirely different person — one who is mostly immune to pain, or at least in a much better position to handle it — from now-us. This is why we RSVP to weddings we don’t really want to go to, why (I suspect) so many of us have kids, and why we do dumb things like sign up for 100-milers.
But there’s a happy, inspiring side of this coin that I’ve been reflecting on a lot during the countdown to this race: most of what I’d describe as the peak moments and accomplishments in my life have been accompanied, moments or days before, by a sense of the Impostor Syndrome: I’m in over my head, I’m out of my league, I don’t belong here, etc.
I felt this on the high school golf team, when for the first half of the season I was ranked ninth on the team, where only the top six got to play in matches. Then one week the number 6 guy got sick, I had a great week in practice, and just like that, I was in. I’ve never been more nervous than I was when I hit that first tee shot in my first real match, because I didn’t belong there. But each shot got easier, and within a few weeks, I had actually moved up to number four and was winning my share of matches there.
I felt the same thing in the Boston Marathon starting corral. I looked around and, just like during my first marathon and every one after that, saw a bunch of runners. Men and women far more serious, more dedicated, and more fit than I. I didn’t belong. And yet here I was, having earned a spot in that marathon through more than seven years of hard work.
I can think of a lot more. Being featured and mentioned on Copyblogger. Writing a “real” book and planning a book tour to go with it. And having kids: I still don’t feel like “a dad,” at least not the way I thought my dad must have felt when I was a kid.
These things aren’t for me, the thinking goes. They’re for other people — people who are older, more poised, more skilled than I am. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of examples like this of your own that are very different from mine.
And the lesson, I think, is that an event or accomplishment seems exciting precisely because you don’t belong at first.
Nobody belongs. Until they do it.
A Reason to Finish
Given my situation, I’m as ready as I can be for this 100-miler. I did almost every training run that I could have expected to, considering we had a baby right smack in the middle of it. And I learned a ton about running through research, motivated mostly by a mild preference that I not die on this run.
But at the starting line, I’ll look around and perceive (correctly) that most people here have more ultrarunning experience than I do. And that if 30 percent of runners here won’t finish, we first-timers will contribute an even bigger share than that.
I do believe that I will finish this race. The weather should be nice — having to deal with 95 degree heat was a big concern for me, but it’s looking like mid-70’s. Twenty-four hours is my target, but I won’t even call that a goal: my goal is to finish. Breaking twenty-four hours is a distant second, and I won’t let aiming for a time goal be the reason I don’t make it.
But for all that confidence, I also don’t know what it feels like to run much past 50. From what friends tell me, the second half of a 100 brings with it some of the lowest lows a person will experience — depression, crying, guilt for abusing your crew and your pacer, questioning of your reasons for running at all.
Your brain does everything it can do get you to stop, and you need to find a reason to overcome it. Or decide that you can’t.
My biggest worry, at this point, is that I don’t know my reason to finish. Everyone who runs a 100 talks about theirs, and how it got them through. Right now, my reason is that I don’t want to have to do (again) all the work that went into this — the planning; the research about hydration, electrolytes, nutrition, and temperature; the shopping for and testing right gear; the organizing of the food (being vegan complicates things a bit), the written plans and instructions for my crew, and the training. And not just the sacrifice I’ve made, but those that my wife and kids have made to allow me to do this.
Something tells me I’ll need a stronger reason than “so I don’t have to do all this sh*t again.”
Fingers crossed, that reason will present itself when I’m 70 miles in, as the sun sets and I head into the depths of despair … so that I can come out the other side a 100-mile finisher.
Here goes nothin’.
PS — If you’d like to follow my progress tomorrow (Saturday) and send me some good vibes (which I’d appreciate!), you should be able to do so at this link. Or pay attention to the NMA Facebook page, where my wonderful wife and crew chief, Erin, will post a few updates about my progress.