Running vs. Racing -- This has been something I have been struggling with for quite some time and until you figure it out, the balance is difficult to find. I think you can't find one without the other in the end, however.
Running an ultra is totally possible for most people. What, you say? It's about staying well within your comfort zone, never pushing the boundary or your pain threshold. With good training, this is a very doable feat for a good many people that are willing to put in the effort. Walk a little, run a little and you will find the finish line.
Racing an ultra--this is a different matter entirely. Although I imagine there are bouts of comfortable miles, pushing the red line and learning where the pain threshold exists and how to play on that boundary to keep you moving without blowing up is where the race really comes from. It's a delicate balance to figure out and not something done in just one to two races.
I need to learn how to race. I want to be more competitive and there is no other way to do it than learn to push that red line. While this season has been about increasing my distances and learning what race lengths I really enjoy, I want to push that line next year. I want to understand what it means to push and to race instead of just running. The sense of accomplishment for me is no less one way or another, but I find myself walking away knowing I could have given more and that I find very frustrating.
The idea of a DNF is frustrating for me, but I think it's something that potentially goes hand in hand with learning how to push. You can't find your limit if you don't blow up at some point. It is also very important to understand that the physical is only one part of the race. Just like accepting a DNF in trying out boundaries, there is a HUGE mental aspect to training, running, and racing.
The hardest part of breaking the running vs. racing line is the mental aspect. To keep telling your body to move and push hard when you're in pain in nowhere near easy. You have to be mentally tough to keep pushing. Many people say that running an ultra is 90% mental and the rest is in your head. It makes sense for those racing and pushing. You will hit a point when your body just wants to stop and you have to figure out how to keep it moving. Mental training is just as important as physical, it's just more difficult to figure out. This is a great quote from Pam Smith, the ultimate underdog going into this year's Western States--
"I don’t know what to say about this one, because I am still uncertain how to achieve
that state where you absolutely believe in yourself, but for some reason I believed that
I could win going into this one. Whether you call it confidence, self-delusion, or arrogance,
I think the mental state is important... This principle applies no matter what your goal is, whether
that means a particular finishing time or just finishing at all. You have to believe your goals are achievable."
-From"How the West(ern) Was Won, iRunfar.com
I am excited to gain a better understanding of the mental push. I think that my run at Oil Creek 100 this year will be a great window into what my mind and body have and how they can work together. Yes, I did call it a run and not a race. I am testing the limits in a 100 mile event, but this is not a place to find my red line. This is the place to lay it out and find out what my body and mind have. I will come out with a deep understanding of what my body has and what my mind has. I don't think this is something necessarily learned in the 50k or 50 mile distance.
I am going in with a strategic and well-planned-out binder. I have goal times for aid stations and food/need lists for crew at each station. My plan is to bank some time early on and plan for a rough night. I don't have a pacer lined up yet--mine ended up having work booked and will be unable to make it now. I am hoping for a sub 28 hour finish. OC is a rough course. I have been checking finishing times, race stats, and comparing my previous times to get an idea of where I fit in.
I would be kidding you if I said this wasn't consuming a great deal of my daily thinking. I visualize the hurt, the pain, and the pushing myself to move. I picture the finish line, the feeling of relief mixed in with the heaviness of my legs at night. I just have to make sure to get it to all to come together. In learning how to push through the voices telling me to stop and my legs just wanting to give up--understanding my body and mind better--I believe that I will be able to go into next season prepared to race. I will have an understanding and awareness of my physical and mental strengths and weaknesses.
It is through running the miles, running the races, and challenging what we think is possible that we will ultimately learn how to race. Bring it on.
Go get some miles--and throw a few extra on. It may surprise you to know you can do it.