Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Afraid, again

In a bit more than a month, I'm supposed to leave for Anchorage to run the Susitna 100. I have a confession to make: I'm scared shitless.

Traditionally, a month before a race is a low point for me. This time, I'm hitting a new low because you know what? I SHOULD be afraid.

I'm afraid for many good, and some not so good, reasons:
  • I'm afraid that my training wasn't sufficient. I got an annoying knee/itb/hamstring injury that has kept me from running much for about a month. I did some long efforts, up to 5 hours, but at a very slow pace. Is that enough? 
  • I'm afraid that I'm biting more than I can chew. Even if physically I'm ready (after all, I still have a solid base), do I have what it takes to keep moving forward for that long, probably somewhere around 40 hours? Is this a good choice for my first 100 miler?
  • I'm afraid because the aid stations are so far apart. In Haliburton, the longuest distance between aid station was about 10k, if that. At Susitna, the first aid station is at mile 22. The next one at mile 41. I'm so happy I got that SPOT.
  • I'm afraid because I don't know if I can get going again if I have to stop to sleep. If I let my body shut down while I get an hour of zzz's, it's going to be hell to get going again.
  • I'm afraid of the pain. You know what I mean. 50 miles hurt. I can't imagine what 100 will feel like.
  • I'm afraid because of all the moving parts. Basically, you are pulling your aid station in your pulk, but you have to make an effort to use it. As I get more and more tired, will I be able to keep making the right decisions?  You know how sometimes, during a race, you get a small rock in your shoe and you can't be bothered to stop to take it out until it's too late and you have a blister? I can't let that happen. If I've got cold feet, I have to do something about it. Same if I get too hot and start sweating. I want to come back home with all my digits.
  • I'm afraid I won't finish. Better men (and women) than me have DNF'd. I've finished all the races I've started. Will this be the one I don't finish? It's not the money. Most of the money was spent on stuff I can use in the future. It's just that a crazy effort like this requires a huge mental investment and from up there, it's a long way down.
  • I'm afraid because of you all. I guess about 5 people read this blog occasionally. I don't want to write about how I didn't finish. Plus, I told my mom.
I think this is it. These are the things I'm most afraid of.

Obviously, this is why I'm doing it. I'm not sure that ultra running has made me a better person. Anyone who has read various bulletin boards where semi-elite and elite runners cut up back of the pack runners, or even question whether they should be allowed to run marathons, know that runners, good ones included, can still be assholes. The one thing that ultra running has done is allow me to experience something few people get to experience (in a positive way): my absolute physical and mental limit. In a 5k race, you briefly encounter it. In a marathon, you dance with it for a while. In an ultra, you have to experience it in totality. You go to the edge, stare down the abyss and hang on for dear life. Drink enough but not too much. Eat enough but not too much. Puke. Cry. Sing. Sleep, maybe. Analyze the color of your piss. Run as much, as fast as you think you should. Repeat until done.

I've flirted with disaster at Haliburton. To this day, I'm not sure what I did wrong. My mood turned dark at 35 miles and I had a hard time shaking it off at around mile 45. It took me by surprize and still today, I go back to that trail and I remember, but I don't understand what happened. It's so vivid. This time, my goal is to not go to the dark place, even during rough patches. This will be my biggest challenge.

So this weekend, I decide. I have a long workout on Sunday, between 5 and 6 hours. This time, I should be running most of it. I will be trying my entire arsenal: running shoes (La Sportiva Crosslites), Microspikes (Kahtoola) and snowshoes (Dions) pulling my trusty Sancho-the-pulk. Play with nutrition. I might test my stove skills for good measure. After that, I'll know.

I'm afraid. So what?


Sara Montgomery said...

Hey JD. Best of luck with your run this sunday. I really hope it gives you a big boost of "let's go get er done"!

All those fears make for the best fuel to get you through. A few things in winter races that are advantages:
- the cold keeps you going; a lot of that mental 'wanting to stop' in races is overriden completely by the much stronger mental wanting to stay alive (ie warm).
- our bodies work better in the cold (at least mine does) as long as you keep it fueled (and to help with that, digestions is a million times easier in the cold. I could eat anything at R&I, which was unusual for me and very welcome and helpful)
- pounding on your body is so much less in the snow. Offset by longer time out there, but I still think it works in your favour
- It's just so damn crazy that you can't help but be mentally 110% "on"

Just some quick thunks. Don't fear a DNF, take it all as it comes, be smart, follow your game plan, and enjoy the experience.

Sank said...

JD, Good luck! it's only human to be afraid, but actually trying is what makes you better than the ones on the couch.

David said...

I'd be Shitting myself too. If you weren't afraid I'd be worried.

Can't wait to see how you do. You have a way bigger pair than I do - no way I'd be heading off to do this.

Best of luck with this Sunday's run.

JD said...

Sara, points well taken, especially the "so damn crazy..." one!

Sank, thanks. The thing is, I like my couch.

David, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Regardless of the outcome, it's going to be something I'll remember at 95, sitting in my rocking chair. I doubt there will be regrets about that one. Usually, I regret NOT doing things. Mostly.

Anonymous said...

The 2 biggest fears in life: not getting something you want, and losing something you already have. I tackled one of the toughest 40 milers ever in Santa Barbara Nov 28th. It's a mountain trail race with major climbs, over 15,000'. (SB Red Rock) I have never been scared proceeding a race like this before. My mind told me all kinds of lies during the race. I took it one step at a time. At mile 22 I knew I was going to be OK and finished in 13 hours. Perhaps one of the proudest moments in my life. Just go for it. Never look back. I can't be in the results business. You will be fine.....

Hone said...

We are having a warm winter. This race will be a piece of cake for you. Just have fun.....make new friends....and enjoy the fact you will be in the middle of no where with tons of wolves all around you!! (jk sort of)

Do you still need a place to stay?

Eliza Ralph-Murphy said...

Hey JD,
I am number 6 to chime in and there is still Derrick so you have more readers and supporters then you think. We are all cheering for you and certainly not here for you to answer to. It seems like there are a bunch of people in the know thinking that you can run the Sunista 100 so when your mind tells you that you can't try listening to those saying you can, then hold on to their words until they become your own. I am thinking how lucky you are to have the advice of such experienced people and that you are as well prepared for the challenge as you possibly could be. Your mind is just reminding you of all that could go wrong so that you will be prepared if the worst case senerio does happen. All of the worrying is just preparing you for the task at hand so think of it as a good thing.