Back when I had never run more than 26.2 miles, I would try to picture myself as an ultramarathoner. And when I did, I pictured a stronger, fitter, faster athlete. A tough, ripped, running machine.
I figured that I’d run a 50-miler and develop my ability to burn fat for fuel and improve my endurance, and then I’d go ahead and break three hours in a marathon this fall.
After all, once you’ve trained your body to handle 50 miles, a marathon is child’s play. Or so I thought.
Today I’m actually a weaker runner than I was nine months ago, when I qualified for Boston and decided to do what I considered impossible, to run a 50-miler.
I’ve lost muscle. I’ve lost aerobic capacity. Most importantly, I’ve lost the competitive drive to get out there and pound the track/trail/pavement until I feel like crying, puking, or both.
I know exactly what went “wrong.”
Ready? Running trails and hanging out with ultramarathoners is really fun.
When I trained to qualify for Boston, I drank customized, homemade sports drinks before and after every workout. With my ultra friends, I drank beer after runs.
Before I started running ultras, I hated drinking caffeine before races—I just didn’t like how it made me feel. With my ultra friends, long runs became fun (not work), and a cup of coffee and a bagel beforehand were only fitting.
And the worst part of all: I realized that I could succeed at ultrarunning without working hard.
The problem was in how I defined success. In a 50K or 50-miler, all I had to do was finish and I’d be happy. Not so with marathons, where anything short of a PR would have been a disappointment.
And once simply finishing became the goal, the mindset changed. Completely.
Why suffer through a track workout when I can log 10 easy miles instead?
Why run hills when I’m allowed to walk them?
What to Do About It
I don’t mean to downplay the difficulty of the sport of ultrarunning, and especially not the people who do it. It’s a tough sport, and they’re the most hardcore bunch of runners I know, while at the same time being a blast to hang around with. The problem is in my own approach to it.
The answer is not to stop running ultras—and good thing, since I’ve got another 50-miler in Vermont in about 10 weeks. No, the answer is to try harder. To train with the intensity that I’d train if I had a time goal. (Perhaps, to set a time goal at all.) And to understand that even though I might be able to relax and let the ultras come to me, what I need to do is go get them.
I am lucky that at right around the same time I was thinking about this, and pondering whether I had it in me to commit to training hard again after 9 months of really fun, relaxing running, I had the opportunity yesterday to see Brendan Brazier speak. And then I got to meet him, which was really cool since he’s a constant source of inspiration for me.
I also bought a few of his sports nutrition products: Vega Sport Performance Optimizer and Vega Sport Performance Protein (affiliate links, by the way). Both are products I’ve reviewed on this blog, and I truly believe they’re the best plant-based supplements you can buy, but they’re expensive enough that I’ve had trouble justifying the purchases in the past.
The way I’m looking at it now is this: If my spending a few more bucks than I usually do puts some pressure on me to actually get my butt out there and work hard enough that supplements make a difference, then that’s a plus. This type of thinking has worked for me before, and it’s going to work for me again.
Today I plan my training for the next 10 weeks. Tomorrow I start. With a new attitude. Who’s with me?