It’s somewhat ironic that when I finally sit down to recap my August adventures at Fort Snelling, it’s about 47F outside compared to the average temperature of 147F (approximately) I suffered through during my race segments. The weather changed on a dime over the weekend, and now I’m huddled in a sweatshirt in my home office, refusing to turn on the heat out of principle, trying to conjure up the misery and fatigue I fought through last month.
My “official” results for my virtual FANS stage race: 100.58 mi in 23 hours, 26 minutes, 50 seconds. I ran all of my segments on the FANS course at Fort Snelling; 100.58 mi translates to 47 2.14 mi loops around Snelling Lake, which I completed in 10 efforts on 9 different days. My friends and family helped raise $1660 for the FANS scholarship fund, part of an overall $27,094.44 raised (as of today) by the race participants. That’s pretty exciting! I’m not sure how it compares to years past, so maybe it’s actually horrible in relative terms.
This race was a HUGE wake-up call for me in terms of my capabilities in a true 24 hour race. At first, I had planned on running one big day and a couple of smaller days; I foolishly thought I could complete this in 3 or 4 days. I mean, I could have, but the results would have looked a lot different. I quickly realized that I could either have a big mileage day or I could get the maximum mileage credit (100 mi), but not both. It was rather humbling to realize just how difficult it would be for me to come close to 100 mi during the actual race. It works out to about 2 loops per hour (bearing in mind that the first FANS loop is longer than 2.14 miles in order to ensure that a runner can reach exactly 100 miles as they’re finishing a loop), and for the first three days, that was about what I was averaging (doing 5-6 loops those first three days).
My 2 loops per hour pace started to break down during the middle of the month, when the weather really started to boil. (Don’t tell me to run in the morning before it gets hot – that’s not going to happen. I’d rather suffer in the heat than get up at 6 AM on a day off.) During my fourth run, everything was going okay until the fourth loop (of six), when it started to get warm. I made it through the fifth loop okay and should have stopped there, because I ended up walking/shuffling my way through most of the sixth loop, and felt pretty yucky when I went home. If that had happened during a race, I’d have been shuffling for hours afterward (just like I did in 2017, although I was also struggling with chaffing and blisters). This happened during a couple other segments – once I quit after four loops, went home to rest, and then returned to do two more; then the next day I did 6 loops and ended up 11 minutes over 3 hours – by far my slowest effort, although at that point I had discovered that I had a small cushion of time, so I wasn’t pushing as hard. Even my final day, I was over that desired pace for the three final loops I needed to reach 100 miles, and I decided not to attempt a fourth loop to get in a bit of extra mileage (for my own purposes only, as I couldn’t get any additional cumulative mileage credit).
Of course there were things that worked against me that wouldn’t be present in a race. I was wearing a 2L hydration pack for most of my efforts, in order to avoid stopping. During a race, I’d be able to refill a water bottle at an aid station and also drink stuff other than water. I’d also have access to more food (beyond the gels I was muling) and I’d have eaten more pre-race (vs. eating a normal amount because I’m trying to shed a few pounds here). There would be a better atmosphere, with other runners to chat with and a big pick-me-up from the lap counters each time I came through. And there would be nice clean biffies to use, instead of… well, just going home. (TMI but the restrooms are closed due to the pandemic, and the existing biffies seemed… shady, and there’s not really a great place to jump off the trail for a minute, especially since there were a lot of other folks on the trail.) And of course in a race, I would be starting in the cooler morning hours, and would be several hours into the race before the heat of the day hit me. I’d have been rested, and I certainly would have put in more training hours.
While that’s all true, so much more would be working against me. The compounding fatigue of hours on the trail. The likely sleepless night beforehand. Mental lows that slow me down. Distractions like crew and aid stations and chairs. Chaffing and blisters and sunburns and upset stomachs. Fear and self-doubt. You know, all the fun stuff. I am telling you, it really sucks to be slow. Everyone deals with all the baggage I just rattled off, but man, it would be like 100000x easier to deal with that if I wasn’t also starting off like 3-4 minutes slower than the average runner.
My friend Jamie posted on her coaching and physical therapy page asking people to consider how their negative thoughts might be impacting them, especially negative thoughts about their own speed. But that’s in relative terms. We all have days when we don’t feel our best, but I wonder what it must feel like to not do your very best and still fall within the middle of the pack. It probably sucks but also it can’t suck as much as not doing your very best and therefore falling off a cliff into the abyss of cutoffs and sag wagons and results that are so many standard deviations from the mean that you’d rather they just didn’t exist.
Trying out a 100 mi/24 hour pace on the actual FANS race course really drove it home how hard it would be for me to actually keep that up during a real live FANS event. And yes, this is ultrarunning, it’s supposed to be hard, and obviously my past results should be evidence that I’m going to struggle mightily to maintain that pace consistently for longer than 3 hours – it still ate away at me. I’m at this point in running where I either need to get serious, like really really serious, or just accept my limitations. It’s probably going to be the latter, because honestly I can’t see myself agonizing over my diet, paying for coaching, and spending even more time running and doing strength workouts, when it’s still likely going to result in marginal gains.
Not training or racing has triggered a descent into nihilism, it appears. I’m at peace with this.
I don’t have anything else on the calendar in 2020, so this plus the Bigger Than The Trail 50K will conclude my racing season, unless another virtual event comes along that promotes a worthy cause and/or is priced appropriately for a virtual event. I know in-person races are starting to crop up again, but I’ll leave those spots for folks who are really hungry to race. I’m not, and I also don’t really feel like it’s worth the risk. These are strange times, and I’ll just let them be strange.