A few days ago, I stepped outside for my run and looked down to start my watch, just like any other day.
It read 24:32. Twenty-four hours, thirty-two minutes. I must have forgotten to press “stop” after my run the day before.
That’s when it hit me just how long a 100-mile race is. Although simply to finish is the main goal, 24 hours would be the number to gun for. Many runners take longer than that to finish, but some races won’t award you a precious belt buckle if you do. And some ultrarunners say you haven’t really “run” a hundred until you’ve done one in 24 hours.
But why, out of the blue, am I talking about a 100-miler?
In case you weren’t reading 18 months ago, I actually signed up for one back then, but never did it. And in a way, I think that particular goal — one that I really wasn’t ready for, one that overwhelmed me, and one that I now realize was only an attempt to keep my flame of motivation burning — is the thing that actually snuffed that flame out for a while.
What went wrong last time
They say the problem with goals is that often when one is achieved, you feel no happier, no more satisfied than before you reached it.
This was not the case after I qualified for Boston — when I got back home from New York and returned to my routine, I was on a cloud. Every time I thought about it, I was happy. And proud. I had worked so hard to get there, and there had been many times during that seven years of trying when I doubted it would ever happen.
Knowing that it did happen was incredible, and to this day it makes me happy when I think about it.
With that goal no longer the focus of my life, it was refreshing be able to strive for something new, too. I decided to run a 50-miler, and thanks to being in the best shape of my life, this goal only took seven months to achieve!
And that’s when the reality started to hit. I signed up for another 50 with a friend, and though I did run the race and finish it, my training was poor and my heart wasn’t in it. Desperate to find a new goal that inspired me, to fill the void that qualifying for Boston left, I signed up for the 100-miler. When in doubt, double the distance! It had worked for the 50, why not now?
Only it didn’t work. Or, better, I didn’t work for it.
In the months that followed, I never felt anything like the fire that had driven me to train to BQ for all those years, or the excitement and fear that the thought of the first 50 had stirred up.
Instead, I just didn’t feel like running. So I didn’t run much, and the 100 happened without me.
And since then, in my life as a runner, something has been missing.
What’s different this time
But now, I have a new goal. It’s the same as it was then — a 100-miler — only I feel 180 degrees different.
Last time I signed up for the race because I thought it would motivate me. Now, I understand that I was grasping. Sure, signing up is a great tool for helping yourself stay motivated, but it can’t be the underlying reason for your motivation.
I haven’t signed up yet this time, but it’s not because I’m scared. It’s because I can’t decide whether I should do the safe thing and wait until next spring, or try to make it happen as soon as September. I realize that’s pushing it, but I’m so motivated right now that I don’t want to give up the sense of urgency that’s helping me make major changes.
And to that point, everything has changed.
With my new habit of running every day, increasing the mileage each week, and working on strengthening not just my body but my mind, I feel that somehow I’m in a better position to do this now than when I was at the peak of my running. (Right now, I’m up to running for 50 minutes per day, and closing in on 30 straight days of running, something I’ve never done before.)
I haven’t yet done a longer run, for fear of upsetting the great thing I have going right now with doing a nice run (either hilly and hard, or meditative and slow) every day. But I’ve found a great route up a small mountain in my neighborhood that takes me 15 minutes of uphill running from my front door to the top of it, and to push my son up it in the jogging stroller is an incredibly tough workout and one that I think will train me to hike better on the hard uphills that are an inevitable part of trail racing.
Along with this, I’m doing some strength training each day — just one set, to failure, of three bodyweight exercises one day, alternating those three exercises with a different set of three the next day.
My diet has changed, seemingly automatically, in the sense that I haven’t noticed a conscious attempt to change it. I just gravitate to better foods, more of the good ones and none of the bad, more mindful eating, more tea, less alcohol, and way better smoothies that are packed full of nutrition and superfoods each morning.
I’ve also begun viewing my daily meditation and mindfulness practice from the perspective of preparing me for this race. I read The Way of the Peaceful Warrior after Scott Jurek mentioned it in his book, and the ideas there have led me to other books, like Body, Mind and Sport (also mentioned by Jurek as one that helped him with his breathing).
In short, the thought of the 100 this time has brought about real, tangible changes. That’s a striking difference from last time, and I know the result will be different too.
The September race I’m looking at is just 14 weeks away. I do have an alternate plan of a 100K in September, and I think that’s the much more likely outcome — but striving for the 100-miler in September is working for me right now, so I’m not giving up yet.
But with all of these changes, reading that 24:32 on my watch was a reality check.
When I saw it, I thought about all that had happened since my run just a day before.
A blog post. Answering a bunch of emails. Eating lunch. Playing with my son. Making dinner, cleaning up dinner, and reading. Drinking a beer. Reading some more. Doing a little more work before calling it a night. Sleeping an entire night. Waking up, making a smoothie, drinking some tea, reading some more, meditating, doing some more work, eating lunch.
It’s impossible for me to imagine how it would feel if, instead of doing all of that stuff, I had simply run. And run. And run.
The most I’ve ever run is ten and a half hours. It totally broke me, leaving me feeling like I could not run another mile. Let alone another 50 of them.
But right now, that unfathomability is exactly what’s making me feel like a runner again. It’s a feeling I had forgotten, and it’s great to have it back.