I'm beginning to wonder if I have any readers anymore--no comments of late....
These past few weeks have been mentally and physically taxing, to say the least. My son, Noah, has been quite the germ factory. He’s had multiple colds and a nasty case of the flu that caused him to vomit multiple times a day for like 5 straight days. Along the way, he’s given Anne the flu (this past weekend) and now I’m fighting off—I think—my eighth cold since July. What ever happened to the good old days when I got one or two colds a year?
On Sunday morning, with Anne quite sick and in bed, I elected to forgo the group run in Solon and hang out with Noah while she rested. We had a nice day together, even spending an hour in the Chagrin Falls village to do some last-minute Christmas shopping and run a few errands. We visited Chagrin Falls Fine Jewelry to pick up my newly repaired watch. Then we went to Geiger’s Ski & Sport Haus to get a few Christmas gifts. The temperature was in the teens and I felt terrible about having Noah outside, but he was bundled up and seemed very happy.
Somehow, on Sunday I managed to get in 9 miles on the treadmill to end the week with a disappointing 65 miles--my third consecutive week of falling short of 70. If I can't even get in 70 miles per week, how the hell am I going to be clicking off 100-mile weeks come early March?
Unfortunately, the front roller in my treadmill is going bad, causing a loud noise when it first starts up, but then the noise dissipates. I bought my treadmill for a little over $3,000 back in November 2005, and overall it’s been a great investment. I remember telling the guy at G&G Fitness the day we bought my treadmill, “What’s most important is that it’s a workhorse and allows me to put in big miles.”
This year I’m going to put in just shy of 4,000 miles and I’d say between 10-20 percent of those miles were on the treadmill (mostly second runs of the day). I don’t even use my treadmill anywhere near as much now as I did in 2006 and 2007, when I was training for the Boston Marathon in the dead of winter in the snow belt. This is for two reasons. First, I found out the hard way at both Bostons that treadmill running doesn't condition the legs for the road, especially downhills. Second, after realizing how much my treadmill costs to work on, I decided I’d run on it only when the weather was so bad (i.e., super icy, massive downpour or winds in excess of 30 mph) that it would be risky to run outdoors. With another roller now bad and the bill likely to exceed $300 or $400, I’m beginning to wonder if my treadmill just isn’t up to the mileage I’m putting on it. Maybe my next treadmill needs to be commercial grade. If so, I'll need to be prepared to hand over at least $5,000.
A few days ago someone, after learning (from someone else) that I’d run two 100-mile races, said a marathon is probably easy to me. I answered that the marathon is not only not easy; it’s brutally hard. They didn’t understand how someone who ran 100 miles could think a marathon is hard. I then explained that the distance of 26.2 miles in and of itself isn’t that daunting. I could roll out of bed tomorrow and run 26.2 miles at 8:00 pace (unless we’re talking major elevations and altitude). But if I’m racing that distance at, say, 6:45 pace, the marathon becomes very hard--both the race itself and the 26.2-mile-specific training I put into it. It takes me a full 3-4 weeks to fully recover from racing a marathon.
That same person was absolutely incredulous that a person could run 100 miles. “How is that even possible?” they asked. “You just put one foot in front of the other, consume lots of calories and don’t stop,” I said. They couldn’t believe 100-mile races even existed. “Until about four years ago, neither did I, and I remember thinking then they sounded impossible,” I responded.
I remember the first time I really thought about running a 100-mile race. It was the spring of 2006 and I decided to begin the process of working my way up to 100 miles by completing 50 miles at Mohican, which I did, though, as a 55-mile-per-week runner at the time, I struggled mightily the last 10 miles.
A few months after Mohican, word of a new 100-mile race in Northeast Ohio—the Burning River—spread and I couldn’t shake the thought of giving this race a shot. So in April of 2007, just after my second Boston and as I was out of work (laid off but not for long, thank you University Hospitals) and had plenty of time on my hands, I set out to complete my first 100-miler--the inaugural Burning River 100. On the heels of several 100-mile training weeks, I finished in 21:08, placing 6th overall in a race that actually measured about 106 miles (the course has since been re-adjusted). The next year I returned to Mohican--this time to cover the 100 miles--and finished 4th overall with a time of 19:22.
Along the way, I realized that I’m hardwired to run 100s. It’s just something I really enjoy. I'm excited about returning to the Mohican 100 in June of 2009.
Few runners are hardwired to run 100s. Frankly, the distance and what you have to endure to get from the start to the finish just isn’t appealing to the vast majority of runners. You have to be willing to put it all on the line--from your training to the actual race itself. Many can fake their way through a marathon. No one can fake their way through a 100-miler. You have to put in your miles to survive it.
I have far to go in really understanding what 100s are all about, and even farther in reaching whatever potential I may have as a 100-mile runner. Maybe this will come when I finally line up at the Western States 100—hopefully in 2010. Just finishing Western States in under 24 hours would be a huge achievement. As a testament to Western States’ difficulty, especially for East Coasters, there are but two guys in the Southeast Running Club who have finished Western States in under 24 hours. And SERC is full of accomplished runners of all distances.
Even in my limited exposure to 100s, I’ve gleaned a few nuggets of wisdom I’m always happy to share with 100-mile aspirants, such as my friend Ted. First, the race itself is but one part of the entire 100-mile experience. Training constitutes the biggest part of the experience—the 5+ hour-long runs, the two-a-days, and all that is required. It is truly a night and day commitment. Second, understand that the 100 is going to change you forever—often in ways you may never fully grasp. Today, I look at world differently than I did before I ran my first 100. The 100 helped me find a better sense of inner peace and move beyond some issues that had held me back for years--maybe because I spent several hours late in the race probing the depths of my soul. Third, you have to be at peace with the fact that the 100 is going to hurt you badly. And so you have to be willing to suffer mightily, and then suffer some more. There is nothing like being 80 miles into a race, hurting badly and not wanting to take another step, and yet knowing you have 20 miles to go. Fourth, there is something quite primal about 100s. You eventually find yourself in survival mode, totally stripped down to your most basic emotions, instincts and desires. I think this is very appealing to a certain group of runners.
I've listened to this speech before each of my last two 100s--it contains many truths that apply to 100s...and at one time it really spoke to me and things going on in my life. You have to take 100s inch by inch and you have to be willing to fight and die for every inch if you're to make it to the finish.
Are you hardwired to run 100s? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments box.