When signing up for October’s ultramarathon, I quickly realized I had no idea how to train for such a thing. To attempt setting the stage for success, I signed myself up for a number of smaller races and challenges to help get me there.
As part of this mini-goal series, this past weekend I participated in the Iroquois Trail Test, a 34k race in one of our local conservation areas.
The morning leading up to the race was a flurry, as they usually are, and I was out of the start gates as fast as I approached it. With the Test being three loops of 11.4 technical kilometers, we were off.
The first loop went by relatively quickly and without significant occurrences. Four kilometers into the second, however, I noticed the knee pain from the Great Range Traverse rising. My spirits suddenly did the opposite.
My speed slowed dramatically. I saw participants that I had been well ahead of pass on either side; my pace buddy was now well ahead. I was defeated, alone on the trail, and at the back of the pack.
The entire loop became one mental struggle but I had options: did I opt out of the third for my first Do No Finish?
D. N. F. Those three letters that every runner dreads.
The internal forces that surrounded the question seemed to be as strong as the ocean’s tide. While one minute I recalled the words of my physiotherapist (‘it’s not worth it’), the next that same rationale was swept away with reasons of why I was there in the first place… Not to race, but to train.
Eventually, I had talked myself out of the full 34k finish and wrapped my head around what a DNF would mean to me. Something? Anything? At the same time, I didn’t see a point in continuing.
Walking back into the start corral, the decision seemed to hang in the humid air around me. I looked around. My partner wasn’t yet at the gate, the time was well before my anticipated finish.
At the neighboring aid station, I debated waiting for him versus putting myself through yet another torturous loop. And then I turned around to head back out on the course.
As soon as I took those first few steps, I knew I had committed to finishing the race. In doing so, the uncertainties and negative thought patterns faded away, freshly replaced by perseverance tactics and positive reinforcement.
We won’t call this a redemption story (I came in sixth to last, after all), but I know the key to finishing was that commitment; the struggle of the second loop a lack thereof.
I compared this experience to endeavors like the recently completed Traverse, where my mental game was strong. The difference being that simply by starting, we needed to finish. On that second loop of the race, I didn’t.
It’s fascinating how one simple concept can change an entire perspective, which of course brings about a spiral of introspective questions.
What is it in commitment that provided the strength required to continue?
How much of that race was physical, and how much of it was mental?
And, more importantly, how many other aspects of my life are affected by being non-commmital?
The purpose of training is to find out one’s strengths and weaknesses for race day.
Weaknesses: Hamstrings. Commitment.
We’ve got some work to do before October 7th.