For me, these years were from roughly 2006-2009. My first ultra, though, was in 2005.
Alas, over time, the honeymoon period tapers off. While your loved ones still support you in your hobby (and love you just as much, if not more), the thought of asking those in your life to give up entire weekends to wait for you at aid stations and ensure your bottles are filled with your energy drink of choice starts to make you a bit uncomfortable. While their support seems unending and the love and friendship run deep, you nonetheless come to realize the inherent selfishness of racing ultras and asking others to help you in your quests for whatever it is you seek--glory (yep, been there), self-transcendence (my favorite), competition (been there), fitness, or, for some, recovery. Dare I say running 100 miles starts to seem like a self-absorbed obsession. Praise and amazement from others, once a kind of fuel, start to grate on you.
That’s when it all gets really hard.
That’s when it all gets really hard.
Brett Favre used to say (I’m paraphrasing) that it wasn’t a lack of love for the game of football that made him consider retirement; it was the preparation for the season, the daily grind and the sacrifices that made him decide to finally hang it up. While ultrarunning clearly isn't football, both sports will take a toll on your mind and body. At times, you're going to ask yourself, "Why?"
Just to be clear, I have no plans to leave ultras. But I’m at the stage in my running life where I look at myself and those around me and the thought of asking them to help and/or support me in my hobby is starting to feel uncomfortable. Back in 2007-2009, I can honestly say that any help I asked for in a 100-miler was with the goal of assisting me in truly competing in a race. That seemed to work quite well because I had people lining up to gladly help me compete and the results spoke for themselves. But these days, with an aging body and slowing legs (I especially felt old this past Sunday), requests for pacers and crew support seem more and more tenuous and unreasonable to me—since I’m now really just a pure mid-packer unless you put me in a 5K or half-marathon, where I can still move well enough to perhaps beat a few young guys and podium as a masters runner. That’s one reason why at Bighorn I’ll have one pacer (Scott S.) and pretty minimal support along the way—in some part because the race offers very limited crew access but in large part because, after years of being supported like a Tour de France cyclist up in Leadville, the thought of going rather minimal in the mountains in Wyoming is rather refreshing. It might even help restore my passion for ultras.
Plus, I’m looking at the time I spend training and starting to question if it’s time well spent. I will always exercise and I believe with 6-7 hours of physical activity every week--running, weights, some yoga, etc.--I could remain in excellent shape. But when I look at my training schedule and I see training weeks of 12-15+ hours (which, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t that much compared to the guys and gals putting in well over 100 miles a week), I start to see the tradeoffs I’ve made and I’m not sure it all sits well.
If 6-7 hours a week are reasonable and 12-15 hours aren’t, then that leaves 6-7ish hours I didn’t spend with my family but instead spent running. My family truly supports me in my running, but, when I look in the mirror, I ask myself if 12-15 hours of training a week, in addition to a 40+ hour a week job, leaves enough quality time for my wife and son and other things that matter.
Realizing this, a few years ago I decided that I would limit myself to one 100-miler a year and would keep a pretty thin race schedule. That would mean just a few months a year would be spent in the grind--OK, very doable, I thought at the time. Now I'm wondering if I need to make more adjustments. Not to judge anyone else, but I look at some fellow ultrarunning dads who are knocking off a handful or more of 100-milers every year and I don’t understand how (or why) they do it. If someone is paying them, then I totally get it. But my greatest fear is that one day I’ll wake up and ask myself why I spent so much time training for races when I could have used that time to camp with my family, go for a hike, show my son the mountains as he's never seen them, take my kid to a movie, take him to the museum, stay up late watching movies with my wife, etc.
I am now, to use a term a friend recently shared with me, a “grizzled ultrarunning veteran who has been there and done that" (though there's still a lot I've yet to do, like Western States). The honeymoon ended long ago, leaving me with the daily grind of training for a demanding mountain race in seven weeks, which I'm doing just fine. I’ve been doing that (running, training and racing post-honeymoon) for about six years now. Those who are still new to this sport may claim to understand the grind themselves, but give it a few years—when the honeymoon has worn off—and most of them will drop out of ultras, because their cheering section will have shrunk just a bit too much for them to endure what is truly a crushingly tough (and yet enlivening) exercise in human determination.
Whether or not Bighorn is my last 100—my last ever or my last for a few years—remains uncertain. I am excited about my first race of the year, the Cheyenne Mountain 50K this coming weekend, and I’m quite stoked about getting it on at Bighorn in June. But, in the back of my head and deep in my heart, I’m aware of the fact that this level of training, even as it’s far less than what I used to do, feels unsustainable to me at this point in my life, when the roles of husband, dad and employee are so key to quality daily living.
Which begs the question: With these dilemmas tugging at me, have I finally become a true ultrarunner? Is this what it all means?
Glad to hear from you finally- we were worried about you during the blog silence of the last few weeks. Sounds like you are out of the honeymoon phase and touching Groundhog Day territory.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Stu. On a somewhat related note, "Groundhog Day" is one of my favorite movies!Delete
One of the main reasons I signed up for Leadman. It is the honeymoon all over again with the MTB.ReplyDelete
Good luck, Shad. Life is about embracing new challenges. You'll do great!Delete
Thank you for posting about this topic. You have captured the random thoughts I have had lately as it relates to my own running pursuits. And organized them in a way that finally make sense.ReplyDelete
Thanks for your support, Tim. I tried to keep it real in this post and really write from my heart. Very glad it resonated with you. Thanks!Delete
Good stuff, Wyatt. This is a very tough topic as well all have different life stresses and stories to tell. I can say that I am super happy that WS100 is an early summer race and I have intentionally avoided signing up for anything else after it for a reason. For front range guys, getting up to the hills is a must, but it adds at least an hour to an already long day each weekend.ReplyDelete
Thank you, AJ. I value our friendship and your support. When I signed up for Bighorn, I liked the thought of an early summer 100--and still do. But it's been hard changing my training clock when for the past five years I've been on a Leadville schedule. That said, I'm very excited about Bighorn and having a big chunk of the summer to relax and enjoy family time without the stresses of training.Delete
Great post, Wyatt. The time I spend training and running is something my wife and I go back and forth on quite a bit. While i started running PPM back in 2001 and have run races since, it hasn't been until the past year or so that I really started making goals and training with a purpose. At the age of 43 I'm just now really starting to make measured progress and see better results for myself. It's tough, though, as with a wife and little girl at home who is very active what I seem to sacrifice most on is sleep. I also wonder whether or not it's really worth it in the end. I am the definition of mid-pack runner. I won't ever be anything but that and the only person I've really been competing with is myself... for what?ReplyDelete
Mike: I really value our friendship and appreciate your support. What you're doing is worth it and it's great that you're making gains as a result of your dedication and hard work. I believe I can get back into making gains but I need to tweak my training to be more specific for a guy who's almost 42 and has a deep aerobic base. Also, I really believe that the definition of ultra is what you said--competing with yourself (not against others). This whole thing started when guys like Gordy A. and Ken C. designed challenge events to see who was badass enough to start and finish. Over time they became races.Delete
Well put. As a married 43 year old with twin 4 year old daughters and a full time job, I can certainly relate to the continual conundrum of how to best utilize my time. I feel the need to run, somewhat as training for Pikes and a few other races, but mainly just because I really love it and keeps me balanced in many ways. I feel like I am a better person when I get home if I have had a little time to myself to recharge and refresh. Having come from a pro cycling background and training 20-30 hours per week, getting in 5-10 hours per week of running/hiking seems to be a good balance for me, keeping me fit and well trained enough to still be competetive, yet not rock the boat or miss out on too much at home. Always a constant balancing act though and not without the occasional speedbumps.ReplyDelete
Jeff: Many thanks for your thoughtful, supportive comment. I really respect you as a runner and enjoy your blog quite a bit. As you said, it's a constant balancing act when training affects others in our lives. But the good news is that we love it, so training often comes down to making the right choices and good time management.Delete
I think this a great article Wyatt. You read a lot about training and how much time it takes up, but no one really discusses how people actually fit this into their lives (especially when they have a family). Of course running is great for body and mind. It's great that people show how good it is as a sport and passion, but there doesn't seem to be an easy solution to finding a balance between that passion and the rest of our lives.ReplyDelete
Thanks, RG. I tried to make this post from the heart and genuine. I'm glad it resonated with you. Thanks for the support and good luck in your training!Delete
Anonymous: I chose not to publish your comment because it violated the standards of this blog. I am more than happy to publish critical comments but only if: 1) they're constructive (which yours wasn't), and 2) they come with a name/identity. I do not publish anonymous flaming comments. Please feel free to post again but with your name. Thanks!ReplyDelete