As it stands, I am no more than a mediocre distance runner.
I am a better than bad distance runner who has made friends with some really good distance runners, and has subsequently been caught up in the exciting culture of the ultra marathon. Ultra marathoners, especially ones of the barefoot variety, are these fascinating, motivating, awe-inspiring and infinitely friendly people – who will tell you without a doubt that you can do what they do. Even if you have inadequate training and you are a mediocre distance runner like me. They are like running salesmen, and they’re really good for your self confidence.
And if you love to run, like I do, the ultra marathon culture is catchy. Every day it seems like a new person signs up for a 50k after having never run, for example, more than the distance of a half marathon. And these guys make it look so darn easy, which is why I signed up for a 50k, in a moment of sheer go-big-or-go-home insanity. Jason tells me that it’ll be easier than I think. Vanessa tells me I can finish it no problem. Pablo tells me that the training for his first 50k was no more strenuous than a few back-to-back 8 mile “long” runs, and he did fine.
I think the problem is that it’s easy to overestimate someone else’s endurance capacity if you’ve never run with them.
Here’s what I mean. Yesterday I ran 10 miles with Heather and Brad. They’re much better than mediocre distance runners. It’s an eye-opener when you’ve always done your long runs alone or with someone who is on your endurance level, and then one day some friends take you out on trails (when you’re primarily a road runner) that beat the shit out of you by mile seven, while they’re still floating uphill like gazelles. And they’re older than you.
Today I am seriously considering dropping down from the Pinelands 50k to the 25k. And not because I don’t think I could do the 50k. I probably could, simply because if I’m signed up to run 50 kilometers that day, I’ll finish if I have to crawl across the line. But I may not enjoy it. Pineland, Heather tells me, is 100% steep, rolling trail hills. Just hearing that makes me think of being totally unprepared last year for the Great Bay Half Marathon, because it had these ridiculous hills – and I’d only ever trained on flat roads. I finished just the same but it was so emotionally defeating that I didn’t run for almost a month afterward.
Despite the fact that I would love to become an ultra runner and be part of this culture, I think perhaps I’m just not ready yet. There are some hard, inevitable facts in my way. The first and biggest one is that I am overweight. The same effort it takes me today to complete 10 miles could probably get me to 16 or 18 miles if I was at the correct weight. Actually, forget anything else – that’s really the only thing holding me back. If it was easier for me to train, then I’d be less afraid of bigger distances and back-to-back long runs. I honestly believe I have the same insane drive as everyone else, which is why I fit in with them so well. I just don’t have the fitness to back it up.
And that’s what it really comes down to. I signed up for the 50k because I want to run it, because I love running that much, and because I’m the same kind of person as all of my crazy ultra running friends. The only difference between me and them is they’re not overweight and I am. And until I’m as fit as them, I’m just not going to be able to effortlessly make the huge jumps in distance that they routinely do.
I hope nobody takes this as me being self-depricating. It’s really not – this is way past a self-esteem issue. This is simply a logical conclusion that I am at a performance roadblock, and I must get past it if i’m ever going to become a better than mediocre distance runner. I am sad about the thought of setting aside my 50k goal, it feels like giving up and I almost never give up on things I want.
But I also don’t ever settle on being mediocre.