You know you’ve been a student for too long when you think of September as the start of the year…
The beginning of a new fall semester always prompts me to reflect upon where I’ve been over the last twelve months, and where I see myself in the twelve to follow. While in my ‘real life,’ I’ll be spending this year in a sort of progressive holding pattern, working toward the ever-elusive defensible dissertation and having no idea what will be in store once I get there, in my running and racing life, I can say definitively where I’ve been and where – barring injury – I’m going.
A year ago this weekend, I competed in the Wisconsin Ironman. I was ridiculously undertrained, had an amazing day, and decided quite surely that triathlon-ing isn’t for me. As much as I like the variation that the sport involves, I found the race to be one of the most isolating experiences of my life. Though I was swimming, biking, and running with 2000 other people, I found the majority of them to be so incredibly focused on their own race, that they had little interest in light chatter on the bike, or mild musings on the run. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; for most people, an ironman is the pinnacle of training, something they’ve spent months, or years, preparing for, something that they want to savor, rather than chatter away. For me, though, that degree of solitude took away something from the experience.
I found plenty of other ways to keep myself occupied. I sang the Rocky theme song. I high-fived the 100-mile sign. I counted cornstalks. I smiled and waved at cheering spectators, and thought about the race report I’d write if I made it out alive. And along the way, I was reminded of how much energy I get out of collaboration, how much more I enjoy things when I get to share them with people. The Ironman was amazing – and I firmly believe that I will do another one in the next few years, if only to prove to myself that I can do a helluva lot better – but overall, it wasn’t for me.
This past spring, I decided to try to qualify for Boston. I made a schedule. I labored through intervals, and tempo runs. I obsessed over the clock, over proper fueling, over getting enough sleep. I avoided trail running to protect my ankles, stopped cross-training, and meticulously recorded every mile. The process was exciting. I made new friends; I ran with a purpose; I felt strong and fast. And in the end, it was a flop. On race day, life got in the way and the BQ never came. The mounting pressure gave way to anxiety as soon as something went wrong. Staring at my watch sucked the fun out of the day, and ultimately left a bad taste in my mouth that lingers to this day. I know that I’ll qualify for Boston at some point. But not like that.
And then came June. And the Longest Day
. Brent convinced me to try adventure racing two years ago, and for a long time, I was on the fence about it. I loved the community, the team dynamics, the variation, and the mental strategy. But I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to invest in training, and I couldn’t decide how competitive I wanted to be. I raced in a handful of events, did well enough and enjoyed enough of it to keep me coming back, but I still wasn’t sure what I was looking for. After my first 28-hour race, though, something clicked. The race itself was a bit of a bust. An unfortunate river tubing episode prompted two of our teammates to call it a day. My third teammate and I continued on unofficial, knowing we would be racing for the remaining 18 hours for little more than the honor of having finished, to prove to ourselves (well, mostly just to myself, as my teammate had completed several multi-day races) that we (I) could do it. And maybe it was exactly that lack of pressure that did it, but for whatever reason, I was hooked. I got bit by the AR bug, and spent the rest of the summer lamenting the fact that there weren’t more races on the schedule.
So now, back in town after three months of adventures and ready to return my everyday life, I’m thinking about my goals for the upcoming year, and what I have to do to achieve them.
In the next six months:
(1) I want to run a marathon – just to run a marathon. I’ve stopped recording my miles. I’ve stopped paying attention to time. I’m running with friends, catching up after summers apart, enjoying the early hints of fall and the feelings in my legs that follow a faster-than-expected workout. And five weeks from now, I’ll show up at the starting line of Steamtown, with absolutely no goals beyond enjoying the morning.
(2) I want to complete an ultra. I want to play on the trails. I want to count salamanders. I want to splash in puddles and fly down hills and eat chocolate chip cookies seven hours into the race. I have my eyes set on the Bel Monte Endurance Challenge, a 50-mile race in Virginia next March. In the meantime, I’ll compete in a six-hour orienteering event in December, essentially a trail marathon with a bit of map navigation thrown into the mix. I’ll find new routes in my neighborhood woods, and make weekends of training adventures across the state. I don’t want to win. I just want to prove to myself that I can do it. And come home with a new t-shirt.
(3) I want to commit to adventure racing. I want to capitalize on the continuing energy from the Longest Day and see what I can do come spring after a solid base of training. I know that preparing for the ultra will help. But I need to do more than that. I want to work on running off trail. I want to hone my mad orienteering skills, experience the thrills of sleep deprivation (perhaps by way of a 24-hour orienteering event in mid-November), and figure out proper fueling. And most importantly, I want to conquer the bike. I seem to have some sort of psychological block that prevents me from logging serious time in the saddle. But that’s got to change. I want not only to get comfortable on the trails, but to up my endurance and speed on long road rides as well. As Angela
said a couple months ago, 2010 will be the year of the bike. I’m just going to start 2010 a little bit early.
So, there you have it.
A six month plan.
Ready. Set. Go.