Before I get into the nitty gritty, I would like to preface with a statement, “I was not prepared at all for the 50 miler and as a result I DNF’d”. Now that we have the raw truth out of the way, let’s get into the details of why I signed up and what I learned along the way.
So, all the way back in December of 2018, I decided I was going to run a 50 mile race. This was not an out of the blue idea, this was an idea I had fantasized about for a couple of years… When I say fantasize, I mean, I did not realistically think I would sign up for a 50 mile race, FIFTY MILES. That’s over 4 times longer than my longest college race. When I signed up, I didn’t really think about the training, I solely thought about the race itself and how cool it would be to say I finished. I’ll simply say, my training was not ideal and definitely not recommended…lesson number one.
As I began my plan for running this ultra, I began to feel a sense of unknowing, a sense that this wasn’t really going to happen. A sense that I would wake up one morning and it would all be some crazy dream that I’d be able to laugh about with you friends over a drink. “Haha yeah, 50 miles of running, yeah I’ll never do that.” As you know by now, my registration for this race was very much so a reality. As the months leading to the start of the race turned into weeks and then days, I was able to buckle down and think seriously about the adventure that was going to unfold.
The very early morning of June 20th, 6 am to be exact, we braced for the start. Like every “first”, I felt a rush of excitement, anxiety, nerves and fear as I thrust right into the job at hand. It sure as heck was not easy, and it sure as heck was not glamorous, but I promise you, I learned a ton about myself as a result. After my attempted 50 miler, I gathered some tips and tricks for anyone planning on running some form of ultra race.
- Don’t Panic
These two words are the best advice for ultra running. As my race was coming up I felt like I had not done enough. I was genuinely scared that it would end in tears or possibly death. I looked around at the start line and saw lots of beaming faces on highly trained runners, all appearing as if this 50 miles was going to seem like nothing. Well let me tell you, first, roughly half of the runners at the start line successfully crossed the finish line and, second, when it comes to running, you can never judge a person based on the outside. Humans are good at that. One thing I would suggest is that you never compare your insides with someone else's outsides. You can’t. It’s impossible. Every person at the start line was, most likely, just as nervous as me.
Instead, take those feelings of fear and apprehension as a sign that you are about to do something pretty significant. Imagine those emotions, in reverse at the finish line of the race. That’s what this is all about, getting yourself into mind blowing, scary situations where you think you are going to die or embarrass yourself, but, somehow, you manage to hold onto yourself just enough to make it to the end intact (however the “end” is defined for you). If you decide to do a 50 miler and you don’t feel even a little bit scared, I suggest you ask for your money back and give it to the Wizard of Oz in return for a heart.
- Manage the Exceptions
How is an ultra different from a marathon? Well obviously it’s the distance innit? A marathon is exactly 26.195 miles and an ultra is anything more than 26.196 miles. As a collegiate runner I’d say I have a decent background of racing; but definitely not ultra racing. So I had an idea of what pace to run to be able to finish in less than 14 hours, but I had less of an idea of what food to eat at all points during the race. The approach of meticulously planning out every detail of when and what to eat, when to change socks and shoes and when to take longer breaks for recovery is useful and mostly advised. If it makes you feel better to plan then go ahead. Bear in mind, one of the key lessons you’ll learn when stepping up to an ultra is the sheer reality of thinking on your feet and acting “not” according to plan. This is hard because your thinking will be fuzzy and your feet will be sore after six plus hours of effort. Don’t be afraid to change something that doesn’t work in addition to remembering you are adding to your education as a runner. No matter how bad it is going, you are learning stuff, hence; making yourself more experienced and resilient for your future endeavors.
- Chill Out
Did you know Zebras are the least stressed animal in the world? This is measured by the level of cortisol in their bodies. They often get chased by a lion (which I imagine is quite stressful) and when the ordeal is over they simply forget about it and carry on eating grass as if nothing happened at all. They don’t think about the next lion attack. They can’t control sudden attacks and to spend time thinking about it would mean a life in therapy. When I am running and something does not quite go right, say someone gets in my way or a gate is sticky or someone has fiendishly placed a large rock right where my foot has landed, I just ask myself W.W.Z.D. You know, “what would a zebra do?”, a zebra would just forget about it and eat grass. That’s what I try to do, forget about it and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Wrapping this up, I would like to think these lessons could be beneficial to anyone else out there just looking to do something crazy and beyond their comfort zone. Someone looking to not only dream about a crazy idea over a beer with their friends but actually going out and doing the crazy. Each adventure, no matter how it is accomplished or even whether it is finished, is an adventure special to you and an experience you’ll always have. In the end, I didn’t even make it half way. I ran 21 miles and I enjoyed about 19 of them. No, scratch that, I enjoyed it all and I don’t regret signing up. It was a good test of who I am and the lessons I still have to learn.
Blog was written by Israel Parsons (Aug 2019)