(This is an updated version of a post originally published Oct. 15, 2013.)
What a difference a year makes.
Last fall, I came back from summertime injury and developed a cocky plan to run the Rio Del Lago 100-mile race—my first 100—on minimal training. I wrote a blog post about it, which is excerpted below, and called it, “Why I’m Running My First 100 Not According to Plan.” It’s sort of funny, sort of painful to re-read it, because the epilogue was a nightmare: a stress fracture attacked my metatarsal, so those race plans went out the window. I spent November through New Year’s hobbling, then slowly rebuilt my base in the spring.
Eleven months later, I’m finally, finally ready to do it! Unless something awful happens between now and the weekend, like I fall down the stairs and break my foot (which I did a few years ago), I will start the Rio Del Lago 100 this Saturday, Nov. 8, at 5 a.m. You can follow the race through the UltraLive Webcast and check my progress; I’m bib #75.
I have spent more than a decade watching others run 100’s and wondering if I could someday, too. Some rookie ultrarunners jump right into 100s. For me, however, the journey to the starting line of a 100 has been circuitous, cautious and marked by setbacks. The time feels right this year, however, because of the shape I’m in physically and mentally six weeks following the Grand to Grand Ultra. And unlike last year, I have my race day logistics planned meticulously.
I hope the race report following this blog post will be a good one! Meanwhile, here’s last year’s pre-Rio Del Lago 100 post, which shows some of the thinking that leads to a 100-miler, and challenges along the way.
One side of me is supremely cautious, always prepared like a Boy Scout. I study forecasts before travel and pack for all possible weather. I carry water in my car and never let the gas tank go below a quarter full in case a natural disaster hits and we have to evacuate. I research, plan and calendar my kids’ summer programs as early as possible, with the professionalism of a project manager.
The other side of me is impulsive, diving into intense experiences. As a teen and young adult, it led to the kind of partying and experimentation that, in the words of a teacher who tried to set me straight, put me on “a path of self-destruction.” If one hit, line or dose felt good, then I wanted all three at once.
But that impulsive side can lead to positive outcomes when the spontaneity comes from a gut feeling that something feels right and I shouldn’t miss an opportunity.
It’s what prompted me to encourage my husband to leave his work, travel nomadically and educate our kids on the road for a year with no “Plan B” (and we actually did it). Months later, somewhere in the Outback east of Melbourne, it made me overcome my fears of jumping into a lake of murky, buggy water where things might bite or sting. With zero experience in open-water swimming and only a borrowed pair of goggles, I plunged in and swam across with a bunch of better-trained athletes so our family could compete as a team in a mini triathlon (our team name: “Gotta Try New Things”).
These two sides have battled within me for the past couple of months as I struggled to decide whether to commit belatedly to a milestone in the development of an ultrarunner: a first 100-miler. In this case, the Rio del Lago 100 in the foothills north of Sacramento.
Ever since close friends started running ultra distances about ten years ago and I did my first 50K in 2007, I’ve studied what it takes to do a 100 by reading the sport’s literature and watching others train for Western States. I’ve developed gradually, debating whether to sacrifice the time and energy required to train for a 100-miler. While scads of younger, less experienced runners took to the trails and graduated from the 50K to the 100-mile distance in scarcely more than a year, I bided my time.
It took me more than fifty marathons and ultras to convince me that yes, I do in fact want to try the ultimate test of a 100-miler. And this would be the year.
So I made a plan to do everything right. I sketched out six months of training, hired a coach and ran intermediate races to work up to the 100-miler in September.
You might guess what happened: It went spectacularly wrong. Summer threw curveballs of unexpected challenges and changes of plans. I overdid it racing shorter distances and got injured. My best-laid plan to run the Pine to Palm 100 in September turned into one big joke. It is pretty funny, now that it’s passed.
Yes, it’s passed, and what a difference two months makes. I did a 50K with about 6000 feet of elevation gain two weeks ago, and I had a 70-mile week of training last week. I’m feeling good, no joke!
About five weeks ago, after my first good long run, motivation surged back and I caught the bug again to fulfill my 100-mile goal. When I looked at the course and date of Rio del Lago, the cautious side of me said that’s crazy, that’s way too soon. Undertrained and underprepared, I could re-injure and DNS or DNF.
But the other part of me saw a great opportunity and a lot of reasons why it actually made sense to try it.
I find it liberating to attempt something so big with only the minimal level of preparation, because it relieves me of my perfectionism. Instead of preparing perfectly to have the best debut possible at this distance, and instead of feeling a self-imposed pressure to fulfill what I think is my potential, I’m heading into it fully embracing the attitude every first-time hundred-mile runner should have: Just finish. Don’t worry about your time. Crossing the finish is victory, period.
I objectively know it’s ill-advised to debut at a 100-miler after only 10 weeks of solid training (which will include a two-week taper, so I’m really only talking about two months of good running post-injury). And my “solid training” is adequate for 50K or 50Ms but far less than optimal for a 100-miler. I’ll get in one nighttime practice run later this week but haven’t done the kind of grinding back-to-back daylong long runs that I should. I know, I know! But this is one of those times I’m going to go with my gut more than my head.
Don’t think I underestimate the challenge of the distance. Karl “100 Miles Is Not That Far” Meltzer is totally wrong; it is that far, and as I climbed up to an insanely steep ridge around mile 25 in the recent 50K, I thought a lot about how I was only a quarter of the way through a 100, and what it would really take to keep moving for 24 or more hours. But I really want to go past my furthest distance of 63 and experience those nighttime miles in the final third of a 100-miler.
Ironically, sometimes I do things better when I meet challenges by the seat of my pants; that is, by responding in the best way possible in the moment and mustering my strength, rather than planning ahead and over-thinking it.
I may ultimately fail miserably. But if—or when—in the midst of the 100 I feel like I’m failing and can’t go further, I’ll try to see the humor in the situation and find a way through.
I’ll recall the moment when I stared down a chute of snow on a mountain run above Juneau, full of fear and dismay because I was cold and tired and realized I didn’t know how to glissade. I felt frozen, unable and unwilling to go further. Then I stopped thinking about it, took a deep breath and plunged down on my butt, hoping for the best. It felt painful and exhilarating all at once, and totally ridiculous. When I reached the end, I was so glad I did it.
Sadly, how I actually spend 2013’s Rio Del Lago: crewing for a friend while wearing a Velcro cast on my injured foot. I’m counting on a better outcome this year!
On the comeback trail at the Miwok 100K last spring: