Learning My Lesson (World 100k DNF)

After stepping off the course at the 100km World Championships in Qatar on November 21, I needed some down time.  As much as I needed a physical break, I needed a mental break too.  I finished the season with two disappointing performances (Les Templiers and 100km Worlds), and it became quite obvious that I overdid it with the volume of racing this year.

This is a bit of a common theme in ultras, especially on the elite side of the sport.  Joe Uhan wrote a piece about it for iRunFar (and how it is detrimental and unsustainable—unless, perhaps, your last name is Wardian).  I'm reading Bruce Fordyce's book, Run the Comrades, and the overarching theme is not to push it too hard.  Fordyce staunchly believed you could hit two big ultras a year (often Comrades and London To Brighton for him).  

Yet many of us are drawn into racing essentially every month.  I do believe that ultras can function as great training efforts for focus races to come (and Ian Sharman has written a lot about this), so in theory one could run an ultra every month.  The problem is that when I toe the line, it is very rare that I don't give 100%.  Even if I tell myself going in, this isn't a focus race, if there is competition—and these days in ultras, there almost always is—I end up racing.

Part of the reason we race so much is because it's so fun.  It's an awesome way to travel and explore, and meeting fellow runners from around the country and world is joyful and enriching.  I think it can be easy as a sponsored athlete to feel pressure to race a lot as well.  You feel like companies and people who follow your results are investing in you and counting on you to be out there.  Realistically, I think this pressure is almost always entirely self-imposed (as opposed to any sponsor actually applying external pressure), but it is pressure all the same and probably influences decision making.

For me this year, the big mistake was racing in July and not taking the summer to just focus on recovery and training.  The year began fairly well with great performances at the Boston Marathon and Ice Age 50 Mile, but after a week off in June, I got tempted into summer travel and racing adventures.  I spent 3 weeks in the Northwest, running the Missoula Marathon and the White River 50 Mile, and camping and exploring Glacier National Park and other parts of Montana and Washington in between.  It was a great time, but neither race went particularly well.  I was then stuck in recovery mode for a while before some more racing in August (albeit low-key 5k and 10k races).

If I would have resisted the urge to race and travel this summer, I might have fared a bit better this fall.  That said, I still took some risks by traveling so much internationally late in the year.  In an 8 week span, I spent maybe 8 days at home in Bloomington.  I traveled to Chilean Patagonia, France, Spain, and Qatar, with a stint in the California Redwoods for a Salomon TV film shoot in between.  In addition to racing, I spent weeks exploring countries I'd never been to.  It was overall an incredible two months, but not conducive to racing well.

In Qatar, all of this was compounded a bit by a foot issue I've been dealing with since July or August.  I'm still waiting to get into a podiatrist to see exactly what it is—likely either a neuroma or metatarsalgia.  It has generally been manageable, it just hurts like hell if I step on a rock!  But on the tile racing surface of the contrived 100km circuit in Qatar (20 x 5k loops winding around a sports complex), it flared up badly.  My legs were totally shot anyway and my race had fallen apart, but somewhere around 40 miles in, I started to worry that I would do some damage to my foot.  With the rest of the team faring well, I decided to pull the plug at mile 46, 15 laps in.  It was a disappointing Team USA debut, but hopefully I can learn from it.  On a brighter note, it was truly an honor just to be there and incredibly exciting cheering on my teammates to a men's Team Gold and women's Team Bronze.

This year, in less than 10 months, I raced 8 ultramarathons and 3 marathons (plus a number of shorter races).  Next year, I plan on no more than 4 or 5 ultras and 1 or 2 marathons—essentially half of this year's race volume.  I'll write a post in the next few weeks with a short recap of my year and a look to next year's racing schedule.  I'm pretty excited for what's on tap.  After 16 days completely off, I'm back to easy running and ready for a rockin' 2015!