Tag Archives: 50 miles

Why I’m Not Giving up Goals

Last month at my favorite writers retreat, I was talking with a friend about my running, and that I’d just run my first 50-miler (hey, she asked). She shook her head. “How did you ever do something like that?” she wondered.

I told her about my “year of being 50” activities and the stuff I’d accomplished, including a 50K, and this had been the next challenge. “You are so goal oriented!” she said. And it’s true: I got where I am by setting goals all along the way. And I intend to keep doing so.

Now wait a minute! In your last post, you argued against setting goals!

Now wait a minute! In your last post, you argued why you shouldn’t set goals!

True. Lemme ‘splain.

Have you learned yet, grasshopper?

Have you learned yet, grasshopper?

I’m fine with the idea that you can pursue something for its own sake, and you don’t need a goal to grow and improve. My Aikido instructors have been trying to beat this into my head for eight years – that I should focus on the training, and not on what rank I am. So I didn’t set an arbitrary date for achieving black belt, although I have set goal dates for tests. (But not this year: my injured shoulder has made testing impossible for the time being, so I am forced to focus on the training itself. Karma?)

But with running, setting goals has helped motivate me. It’s how this infrequent runner who did the occasional 5K race became a 1,000+ mile per year runner who can run 50 at a time. I didn’t really get serious as a runner until I signed up for a Running 101 class at a local running store. The instructor handed a questionnaire to all of us, asking what we wanted to get out of the class, and – significantly – to choose a running goal and a timeframe for achieving it. I’d never run more than 5-6 miles at one time, but I committed to a half marathon later that year.

Crossing the finish line at Run Woodstock.

Crossing the 50-mile finish line. Never woulda happened without that first commitment to a distance I’d never run before.

Now, I wasn’t going to “fail” Running 101 if I hadn’t set a goal, and no one would have been disappointed (except me), but putting it in writing, and handing it in, made it real – something I felt obligated to carry out. Every milestone since then has been the result of setting a goal, then putting in the training needed. If I were just running to stay fit, or for the social aspects, then I wouldn’t feel the need to keep setting them. But there are still some personal limits I’d like to test.

And then there’s this quote from Bill Copeland:

“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.”

Is it possible to do well at something without goals? Sure. But will you? Without that first half marathon, would I have run a full one the next year, or my first ultra the year after that? Maybe, but likely not. The simple act of committing to the half was that rare event – a genuine life changer.

NaNoWriMo Web BadgeGoing back to the writers retreat – I’ve been writing stories since I was in grade school, attended many retreats, and even managed to “win” the 2012 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge by writing a novel of 50,000 words in one month. With NaNoWriMo 2013 fast approaching, I’ve had to ask myself why I didn’t finish that novel, revise it, and look to publish it. Yes, I have a rather busy rest of my life. But is the real reason because I didn’t set a goal to finish what I’d started?

I think I’m going to make myself find out. Stay tuned.


P.S. My thanks to the Personal Excellence website for introducing me to the Bill Copeland quote with their article on why you should set goals. Read the article here.

Feeling Positive

“So how are you feeling?” coach Marie asked me yesterday before our Wednesday night run at the new lululemon store. “Feeling good,” I told her, “ready to run.”

Yep, pretty squirrelly.

Yep, pretty squirrelly all right.

Last night’s six-miler with PR Fitness was my first run since completing the 50-miler at Run Woodstock, and I’d been looking forward to it all week. I understand the need to rest and recover after an ultramarathon, but I was starting to get squirrelly. My legs started out a bit sluggish, but after a mile or so I was back in the groove. It helped that it was a beautiful warm evening and that the rest of the group was upbeat too.

I’m convinced that one reason I became a regular runner is the attitude of the people I’ve run with. Whether it’s a group run, a small 5K, or a major marathon, everyone has been so happy to be there, it couldn’t help but rub off on me. Emotions are contagious, and so, I believe is energy. How can you not get fired up to run when everyone else is raring to go?

The Wednesday night group. Can't you tell they're brimming with enthusiasm?

The Wednesday night group. They’re practically bursting with enthusiasm. Trust me.

The attitude toward other runners is equally positive. Runners are incredibly supportive of each other, and are quick with encouragement, especially with newer runners. Training for your first 5K and feeling self-conscious telling that to marathoners? Don’t be. They were all in that place once. My first 5K was just five years ago. Amazing what you can do if you just keep showing up and running.

The ultra at Woodstock was just the most recent example. After the crowd on the trail cleared and my pace picked up, I began to pass other runners. Many of them were 100-milers who’d been out there 18 hours or more, and could easily be forgiven for being a bit cranky at having to move over. But what did I hear in return? “Good job,” “Go get ’em!” “Finish strong!” and the like. Not once did someone grumble or make a crack about bright-eyed, fresh-legged runners of lesser races.

Well, okay, I overheard one crack. But it wasn’t directed at me – it was a 100-mile veteran complaining how the 50K runners messed up the trail and aid stations while the longer runners kept them clean. She had a point – road marathons have large crews at the aid stations, and clearing a road of cups and such is relatively easy. Not so on the trail. So yeah, you short runners, don’t litter. But keep on running! We’re pulling for you.

The Woodstock Sunday morning runners head for the woods. (I heard a few "Oh, my legs!" but no one stopped running.)

The Woodstock Sunday morning runners head for the woods. (I heard a few “Oh, my legs!” but no one stopped running.)

Run Woodstock Recap: The Good, the Bad, and the OFI

I’VE HEARD THAT FOLLOWING AN ULTRAMARATHON, a runner can experience a letdown. No such problem here. I’m enjoying the recovery period after a summer of long mileage and many hours of training. And this was not a “once per lifetime” event for me, as another 50-mile finisher told me it was for him. Assuming I stay fit and healthy, there will be more ultras to come, and more goals to work toward. For now, however, I’ve basked in a week of relaxation and reflected on how the race went and what I learned.

Music to my eyes!

Music to my eyes!

Biggest lesson learned? I really can run a 50 mile race!  And with two trail ultras now under my belt, I know that I like them better than road marathons. They are easier on the body and the aid stations are much better. Plus the other runners are more friendly. Just about every time I passed people on the trail, I got words of encouragement from them. I even had some conversations, like on group runs.

So I said to her, if we're going to keep meeting like this, we should at least have a photo.

So I said to her, if we’re going to keep meeting like this, we should at least have a photo.

One fellow 50-miler named Carolyn both inspired and confounded me all during the race. I met her a couple of miles in, and learned that she’d run a double marathon earlier in the year. I ran ahead, but she caught up at the aid station and went ahead until near the halfway point where, again, we met at the aid station (see photo). At that point I picked up the pace, and figured I’d seen the last of her. And so it proved – until the final aid station at mile 45. As I walked away, finishing my drink, she motored on past me. “Oh, hi!” she said, before disappearing into the woods.

Huh? How’d she do that? However it happened, it just wouldn’t do. I was tired and sore, and walking felt darn good, but I kicked it in again, and caught up and passed her for the final time with about two miles to go. I didn’t see her at the finish, which was too bad – I wanted to thank her for inspiring me to finish strong.

One other trick helped me stay mentally focused during that long, long race. While running 50 miles seems intimidating, the aid stations were just 4.2 miles apart – a distance less than my normal training run. So I divided the race into 12 stages of 4.2 miles each. Instead of saying to myself, “I’m at mile 35 – 15 to go,” I said, “I’m in stage 9 – just 3 and change to go.”

(Click here to see the map of the race courses, if you’re interested.)

"...And she's buying a stairway to Heaven..."

“…And she’s buying a stairway to Heaven…”

This worked wonderfully until those final few miles, which seem to take forever no matter what race I’m in. The campground music I finally heard was like the choir of the angels. Nice that they sing Led Zeppelin up there.

As for the rest of the race plan, here’s a quick summary of how things worked out – or didn’t work so well, which as a QA professional I have labeled Opportunities for Improvement (OFI).

Training plan:  Success. The “bricks” (long runs followed by long bike rides) gave me the cardio function and leg strength to complete the 50 miles.

Compression Sleeves 2Gear: The running backpack was fantastic. I hardly felt it, and it was handy having the camera in a front pocket. The compression sleeves (pictured here) helped with circulation – no leg swelling – and protected my legs against branches and thorns. They may also have prevented more of whatever rash I ended up with on my thighs.

Fueling and “elimination”: Gratifyingly, I had no problems with either end of my digestive tract. The pre-race carbo-loading must have done the trick, because I had plenty of energy throughout. I also made sure to have some salt at each aid station.

Two big OFI:

Lubrication. I applied Vaseline to certain sensitive areas before the race, but during the final loop I had some pretty bad chafing. Next time I’ll be sure to apply more at regular intervals.

Crossing the finish line is not actually the end of the race plan. I needed to keep walking, eating, and drinking for at least a half hour. Failing to do so meant an experience much like after the Ann Arbor Marathon last year – wooziness followed by a seat in the shade with a bag of ice on my head, being watched over by concerned race organizers. Fortunately, some salted potatoes and lemonade brought me round.

Finally, I know some of you are wondering if I was able to complete the Weekend Challenge again this year, including some “natural miles”. First of all, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Second, I skipped it – too sore. Maybe next year.

This was as close as I got to anything "natural" this year. (And I didn't even drink it.)

This was as close as I got to anything “natural” this year. (And I didn’t even drink it.)

Next on my race calendar are my standard fall short events – Halloween races, turkey trots, and the Holiday Hustle. No sense of urgency like I had last year, since I’ve met my goal of a 5K under 20:00. But that’s okay. Next big decision: whether to stick to my regular schedule of races next spring, or try for a spring ultra. Sure, why not?

Run Woodstock: The Big Five-O! (Miles)

I CROSSED THE FINISH LINE AT RUN WOODSTOCK around 4:30 p.m. Saturday (thrilling photo on order). After ten and a half hours on the trails I was tired, sore, and thoroughly sick of looking at trees and dirt. But when I emerged from the woods the campers lining the road cheered me on, and a burst of energy carried me across at a full sprint. My first 50-miler was in the books!

Stylin' it.

Stylin’ it!

Woodstock happens every September at Hell Creek Ranch in Pinckney, where runners take over the campground on Friday and run, hang out, and get their hippie on until Sunday. It’s a fascinating mix of hardcore effort, laid back attitude, live music, camping, and tie-dyed spectators clapping and yelling encouragement for every runner that passes.

At the center of it all, however, is the running – lots of running. While there are fun runs and short events throughout the weekend, the main events are the ultramarathons Friday and Saturday, ranging from 50K to 100 miles on the set of singletrack trails and gravel roads around Hell (MI) and Hell Creek Ranch. Although 50 miles would be 16 miles longer than I’d ever run before (the 50K in 2012), I was ready. More than ready. Nervous? Hell, no. Sound that horn!

Saturday, 6:00 a.m. Hard to complain considering the 100-milers have been out for 14 hours already.

Saturday, 6:00 a.m. Hard to complain considering the 100-milers have been on the trails for 14 hours already.

The horn sounded Saturday morning at 6:00 a.m., after the traditional Hendrix-style national anthem from local rocker Lemon James. As it was still pitch dark, I donned my headlamp. My backpack held a jacket, energy bars, camera, and the mandatory cell phone (on the trails you can “fall and not get up” a long way from help).

At first there was some serious congestion, as several hundred runners squeezed into single file on the narrow trail. But after just a few miles we’d spread out enough that I was able to run my chosen pace the rest of the way. And by the final few miles, with the shorter races done, it got downright lonely out there.

I followed a 16-mile loop on the trails, marked with flags and signs, that all the ultra races used. The 50K runners did two loops, 50-milers three, 100K four, and the 100-milers six. Aid stations were set up every four miles, fully stocked with sugary and salty snacks, sandwiches, drinks, soup, and coffee. 

Rather than go into a lot of narrative on the race itself, here are a few photos with highlights – some good, some less so.

One loop down! Change shirt, ditch headlamp - good to go.

One loop down! Change shirt, ditch headlamp – good to go.

At the halfway mark with my "shadow" Carolyn. (More about that in my next post.)

At the halfway mark with my “shadow”, Carolyn. (More about her in my next post.)

Oh, look, some mountain bikers. Cool! What's that - there's 200 MORE COMING? Oh, @&$@*!

Oh, look, some mountain bikers. Cool! What’s that – there’s 200 MORE COMING? Oh, @&$@*! (Unfortunately true – there was a scheduling conflict that never got fixed.)

At the finish, with medal and age group award. (After 50 miles this was as close as I could get to a smile. Sorry.)

At the finish, with medal and age group award. (After 50 miles this was as close as I could get to a smile. Sorry.)

All good things...(sigh). Helping with takedown on Sunday.

All good things…(sigh). Helping with takedown on Sunday.

Next up: Lessons learned, some tricks I used to stay mentally focused, and what’s next on the agenda.