In just ten days, I will be standing at the starting line of my first 50K race.
The question “Am I prepared?” floats around in my mind frequently, but for the last few days I have been batting it away like a hungry mosquito, with the answer “Doesn’t matter – it’s too late to do anything about it now, anyway.” I’ve completed my last long run now, so for better or worse, I am as ready as I’m ever going to be (insert other applicable cliché phrases here). But has my training been good enough to get me through 31 miles of dirty, hilly trails? I find that as that date gets closer, I’m spending more and more time letting every conflicting opinion I come across seep into my brain and allow me to doubt myself.
I recently downloaded the book Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons (Bryon Powell), and while searching it desperately for tidbits of information that might help me out during the race, I have been sweating bullets whenever I come across an especially intimidating reference or recommendation about training for an ultra. Back-to-back long runs, double-run days, 10-12 mile “short” runs, tempos, intervals, strength training and so on. I have done few of those things and none of them in any sort of dedicated manner. So when I read things like this my openly confident “slacker training” theory begins to feel loose and shaky. There seems to be no way this author would consider my rather lackadaisical training to be good enough. And even though I shouldn’t care what this author would think of my training, I can’t help but attach his imagined opinion to my own feelings about it.
Because I have no reference for understanding how prepared (or not) I am for such a distance, I’ve taken to comparing myself to others…to trainers, authors, friends – a decidedly deleterious habit. My mind fills with negative rationalizations like “but he’s been doing back-to-back long runs, and I haven’t,” and “but she’s already run a marathon and I haven’t.” All things designed to help me believe that I’ll never succeed. Conversely, I’m easily relieved whenever someone admits their own ultra training has been lazy or substandard (and yet they did fine), or assures me in some other way that my current level of training is adequate.
My self-confidence has been hopelessly tied to the beliefs and experiences of other people, and it’s because I quite literally cannot wrap my head around the enormity of what I’m about to undertake. I mean, thirty-one miles? Who can picture that distance? From where I’m standing, a 50K might as well be 100 miles. Or a thousand. It’s all too much for me to understand right now, and so all I have to draw from is the stories of others.
I think this is precisely why a lot of people tend to ask the question “how will I know if I’m ready?” The answer is you can’t possibly know if you don’t know yet. I realize that’s a strange sentence but it makes sense in my brain.
As I have experienced triumphs and failures throughout my training, a few people have told me that they think I’m too hard on myself. I’m not sure I agree. The reality is that I’m both too hard and too easy on myself, depending on which day you’re referring to. In the last four months I have enjoyed moments of pure, intense confidence, and I’ve endured an equal amount of delirious uncertainty. It’s a mixed bag.
My emotions about this race stay with me, like a faithful pacer, with every mile I train. Or, more accurately, there are two pacers – one in white, who congratulates my efforts, and a dark one (perhaps like Dexter Morgan’s dark passenger?) who chides every missed opportunity to further my training.
But now my training is over, and I have no more pacers. I’ll just have my legs, my determination and my friends to keep me going on race day. I just hope none of them asks me how many back-to-back long runs I’ve done.