Friday, December 07, 2012

Pandora's Race - the Danger of Signing Up for a 100-Mile Trail Run - SYNCRO-BLOG

*I invite your unique take/perspective on this post/topic in the comments! Have something to share, comment on or respond to?  I'd love to hear what you think at the end of this post!

PANDORA'S RACE - 100 Miles Closer to My True Self
On a solo run a couple times over the last two weeks, I thought to myself how early December every year since 2005, I've thought about what 100-miler(s) awaited me the following year.  It all started with Western States, as did many an ultra-runner's story. I had heard that people ran 100-miles, straight through, over mountain ranges.  I initially dismissed it as an insane misunderstanding. Then I saw an article in a running magazine (I believe it was Marathon & Beyond) likening the 100-mile run to a 100-year life-cycle, quite metaphorically.  While I was intrigued, I still wondered WHY anyone would knowingly put themselves through such an intentional physical suffering.  It didn't take long until my one major running goal (to qualify for and run the Boston Marathon) was no longer my goal, and it was time to set my sights on something new, and raise the bar on the challenge.
The olden days when Western States "auto entries" due to 2-time loser status still existed...

Pandora's Race, is what I now call it.  The race I can never again close the box on.  There are things I know now that I may have never discovered in quite the way the mountain 100-miler taught them to me.  I'm here to talk to you, both the newbie (who's never before run 100-miles straight) and the veteran (who's run 1, 10 or dozens of these things) about the inherent "danger" of signing up for the hundo...

I'm not even quite sure what position I'm taking in this opinion piece: don't sign up for 100-mile runs OR every runner should experience this?  I have solid reasons to tell you not to jump off this cliff.  I have many reasons why I am glad I did it.  So I guess I will give you the Yin&Yang and at least feel better that I did all I could to ed-u-ma-kate you prior to leading you to certain doom.
"Finished" at the Angeles Crest 100 2012, both literally and figuratively

As with anything deemed cool in the court of public opinion, this type of event has a considerable amount of hype.  No matter how hyped you are, running 5-miles is a long way, running 5-miles 20-times in a row is extreme and excessive.  Isn't running 5-miles 5-times per week for 4-weeks enough?  Most doctors will tell you that many health benefits can be achieved with 25-35 miles per week of running (said in another way: 45-min to an hour of exercise a day with a couple of days off).  Many runners training for any 50-miler to 100-miler soon learn the pain of overuse and muscular imbalances.  It's almost a 50-50 coin-flip that you'll have some major aches & pains in training up to a hundo.  Sure, we all read the blogs of those elite runners and some coaches who seem to never be injured, but as someone who has seen nearly 1,000 first time marathoners cross the line (and has worked on coaching committees and organizing groups for both USATF & Team In Training, injury numbers for most marathon programs is around 1/3rd).  So, if we're doing this to improve our health & fitness, then why do it to such extreme excess?  I spent 2006-2011 trying to talk anyone and everyone who came to me to say, "I want to run 100 miles" out of that silly idea. Call me a hypocrite. I knew I was addicted (and still very much am). Endorphin's and morphine effect the same opiod receptors in the brain.  Try asking a morphine addict how easy that addiction was to kick sometime.  Some other aspects of 100's you better warm up to: boredom, pain unlike any you've experienced, sacrifice including lack of adequate sleep.  Some in your life may turn dismissive, calling you crazy, stupid and the worst-of-all barbs: "supremely selfish". Sounds lovely, right?  It's harder than they say, and all I ever heard was "it was the hardest thing I've ever done."  That last statement undersells it.

Kate Martini Freeman and her merry maids
So, that last statement isn't entirely true.  I have done many things better than running 100-miles in a single shot.  I married my Kate.  I adopted Spirit.  I still value and cherish running alongside my baby sis in her first marathon, my big sis in her favorite half marathon and my bro-in-law Stan in his first ultra and first two hundos MORE than my own personal finishes.  I get a lot more out of helping others achieve than doing it myself.  That said, attempting to run (note: I said attempting to run, NOT "finishing") 100 miles is one of the best things I've ever done.  There are a few things it has deepened and developed in me, things I still certainly lack but qualities I wish to perpetually improve.  I have infinitely more patience (with people, with life situations and myself), I am able to put things in perspective in new ways attempting to maintain some sort of Zen in highly stressful situations, and interestingly enough I am able to take heavy-handed criticism from people close to me without spiraling into self-loathing (a problem from my past).  That's come from the crucible of pain of both training and race day.  I wonder whether I have become a better 100-mile runner as I have applied the principles of my life to racing these distances OR if I've become better at my life by applying the principles of 100-mile racing to my day to day living.  A few things I've picked up...

1. RFM - Relentless Forward Motion means never stop moving forward, until and unless you discover you've made a wrong turn.
2. WCIDRN - What Can I Do Right NOW in order to improve my situation? We often take too big a view on things like "I still have 71-miles to go" when really all we need to do is focus on the present moment to improve the big picture.
3. It ain't about the FINISH line.  Why are we always in a rush to be done?  We're not trying to be dead immediately, right?  So enjoy the journey, each step along the way, the unique views and perspective of the mountain peaks AND valley floors.  And if you enjoy the whole process and the journey itself, the finish line is even sweeter when it comes.

If you find yourself attracted to running (your first) 100 mile trail run, go back and reread my "DON'T EFFEN DO IT" paragraph again, because I've changed my mind.  In the meantime, I've gone and signed up for THREE 100's next year.  I hope to see you on the starting line next to me...
Running myself down, into another valley...

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
-Theodore Roosevelt

Katie DeSplinter -
Jen Benna -
Dominic Grossman -
Amy Sprotson -

Huge thanks to Katie, Jen, Dom and Amy for throwing their awesome ideas, opinions and perspective into the mix!


Michael M said...

Dig that....

Olga King said...

Yeah, um, exactly. I got hooked so long ago, and every year I promise myself never again. We'll see if this year will be the one.

Blake Watts said...

I read this post because you alluded to it on a TRN podcast. I would describe myself as a potential ultra runner in crisis, meaning I've never run longer than 26.2, and yet events in my life leave me feeling an almost tidal pull toward foolishness. So, I've signed up for a mountain marathon (standard 26.2) with the idea that somehow taking that step will bitch-slap me back to my senses.....OR....I move on to a 50K I have my eyes on. So I read your post and think to myself "Ok, I'm not talked out of it, but I'm not yet convinced I won't chicken out when the time comes."
Either way, the test will come. And maybe the test isn't so much the event itself, but the commitment and DAILY decisions that come along with it.
Just like in any extreme physical test (like a mountain trail ultra)life will test your fidelity to an idea that perhaps you CAN do this (run the race, get the girl, get the job, get the deal, pass the Bar, etc.)

So, while I'm not yet talked off the ledge, I appreciate your presentation of yin-yang and what it means both for the actual event and in life.