Before I write, let me backtrack a little bit. Summer was amazing!
After Amber and I road tripped from San Diego to San Francisco, I took off to the beach, and then spent the remainder of my summer with my 5 and 7 year old, Brett and Brooklyn, in the Smoky mountains. My goal was to just break away and focus on some serious family time.
My kids, even at such young ages, are both avid hikers. So needless to say, we had some wild adventures!
Cliff side after a stormy hike up Chimney Tops.
6 miles on Bullhead Trail, and 3 close snake encounters.. hence the piggy back ride;).
Views along Alum Cave Bluff up to Mt. LeConte.
The adventuring was unforgettable. Each time we would hit a bump in the road, or get to a tough climb on a trail, I would take a step back and observe how my kids handled the adversity. It was interesting to watch their emotions play out. I found myself relating to them completely on every little issue.
As I watched them battle the lows and celebrate the highs, I reminisced a bit on my own experiences with trail pain, and more specifically, my favorite distance, the 100 miler. I began to share my stories with them as a way to pass the time. I may have embellished some of them just a smidge…maybe…like the whole bear wrestling thing may not have actually happened 40 miles into a race–it was more like 30– but regardless, it felt good to share with my kids. It was fun to remember the pain that I’ve grown to treasure so much.
After a few stories, Brett asked me what he would have to do to finish a 100 mile race. I gave him the obvious answers like “practice and years of hard work”, and then I really started to think about it. …..What does it take?…..
Now let’s sidestep the typical responses here, because y’all know I’m not about to write up a gear checklist. So before you call me out on shoes and hydration, remember I’m borderline emo, and I rarely write that surface stuff. We’re gonna dig a little deeper here.
And no, trust me, I’m not claiming to know it all. I’ve just “been there, done that” a couple times. Sometimes I’ve finished. Sometimes I haven’t. This is what I’ve learned along the way….
What You Need to Finish a 100
Remember last year when I did this “controversial” (why is it always controversial) debate about 100 milers with JDF on Trail Runner Nation? I debated with Jimmy and Don that I felt “a why” is crucial to finishing a 100 mile race. I explained that without a real reason, it becomes nearly impossible to get it done. What is “a why”? Well, frankly it can be anything that propels you to sign up for the thing in the first place.
Are you running 100 miles just to see if you can push yourself to a new limit? To get a faster time? To deal with some emotional issues? To have fun? To prove to yourself or someone else that you can? ... Why the heck are you doing it??!!!
Whatever your reason is, you’ve got to lock into it. Without it, you’re just running aimlessly, and 100 miles is a long freakin way to go without a purpose. Trust me, I’ve tried.
I feel like the reason has to be a really good one, because if your goal is something like “I just want to have fun”, well you might be rethinking that when you’re alone in the woods at night puking and hallucinating 50 miles into a race . (Again, speaking from an embarrassing DNF experience here.) Some people of course are completely different, and are able to push through without a reason, but this is just my experience.
After you figure out why you’re doing something so stupid to your body, make up your mind to do it, and don’t waver on it.
Absolutely everything will hurt 30 miles in. Then probably again at 50. Then it likely won’t stop hurting starting somewhere around 75 miles.
Your feet are going to be completely annihilated.
Your stomach is going to be jacked.
You will be pissed at yourself for setting such a monstrous goal.
But WHEN ...when..not if.. you go through all of that, that’s when the confidence kicks in. You’ve got to believe in yourself and your abilities more than anyone else does. You can’t let a little bit of pain..err a lot of pain…deter you from that “why” that I mentioned that is so important to you. Your confidence has to be strong enough to withstand every single thing that is going to come against it.
These things are a battle of will. A huge mental battle. So don’t come to the start line carrying baggage full of self doubt, because it will weigh you down when you are at your weakest and lowest point. So check those bags at the door.
Bring People That Love You
Real quick, before I go off on people selfishly dragging their families to their races every dang weekend…because that’s so messed up...let me clarify: Don’t be a douche. Talk over your decision to run this thing with your family, and make sure they are okay with it. Then, be sure that you’re not skipping your grandmother’s open casket ceremony or your sister’s wedding, and ask them if they’d like to help you finish your race.
But back to the point, you need people there with you that actually genuinely love you. Because I can guarantee you that you’re gonna turn into a little crying [w]itch in approximately 15 hours or less.
At the start, it’s gonna be all fun and games, like, “Oh this is so great! Omg! Such a nice day today for a run!! Whoo!!!”
Then somewhere over the course of a few rolling hills, you’re gonna Jekyll and Hyde into this: “HEY YOU, OLD GUY. CAN YOU PLEASE SHUT THE FRICK UP. I HATE YOUR FACE. Oh, by the way, Spouse, TWO scoops in my water bottle! TWO!!!!! And you forgot my effing fresh socks. What’s wrong with you?!!”
Ha!!!!! just kidding! JUST KIDDING! I’ve never done that.
EVER. Ha….right, Daniel? …..Right???!! *crickets* (Just don’t look here for similar examples of me being mean… http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashleyringowalsh/5731836827/ or here… http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashleyringowalsh/5731893003/in/photostream/ –the least incriminating evidence I could find.)
Seriously though, I hope I’ve never been that much of a diva, but crap does happen. You’ll accidentally snap at nice people when you’re 80 miles in. You’ll get pissed at nothing and everything all at once. Having people with you that have seen you go through hell before helps tremendously. They can differentiate your “ugh” from your “ughhhhh!!”‘s. And they won’t stop talking to you afterwards for being a piece of human garbage. That’s important.
Caleb somehow always ends up being my go-to friend at 90 miles. And somehow always ends up staying friends with me?
Understand Grit and Stupidity
There’s Grit and there’s Stupidity. They are brothers, and they look a lot a like. I know both of them pretty well and after a few years, can finally tell the difference.
Grit is temporary. Stupidity has staying power. Let me explain…
So let’s meet Stupidity: Say you’re doing something like, I dunno, running some random race in Florida. It’s hot and “humid” is an understatement. You start getting all dizzy at the 30 mile mark. You keep pushing, thinking that it will go away and you just need to gut it out. Then you start peeing dark. Then you start feeling like you’re having a heart attack…But, you know, you’re still gonna finish, cuz you’re all tough N stuff.… So you keep running. And keep running. Annnnd then you kinda just start screaming and pass out, and then get transported off the course unconscious via ambulance. Pshhh…NOT SURE WHAT KIND OF IDIOT WOULD DO THAT!!! … (Yes… Me…. I did that.)
But yeah, anyway… That kind of crazy stuff–pushing to dangerous levels– is straight up stupid, people. It’s not hardcore. It’s not “whoa you’re a hero!” It’s just, “Man, what the frick is wrong with you?” And these long races make that line between grit and stupidity pretty blurry.
(After a 100mi finish, and slight amputation on my left big toe. Grit or stupidity?)
But I’ve found that if you get to a point in the race where you realize that you might still be dealing with your problem for another month or so.. then just cut the rope. Drop. It’s no big deal. It’s just a race. In my opinion, letting a hobby negatively disrupt your life sucks the joy out of doing it.
Grit is different, though… Grit is gonna show up when you’re just being a pansy. When your stomach hurts, or when it’s raining, or when you have an insane amount of blisters, or when your fatigue is setting in, …when it’s not stupid to keep going, just uncomfortable.
Grit is running up a mountain after you’ve already been moving for 90 miles. Grit is getting up off the ground after you’ve been knocked down one too many times. Grit is feeling completely hopeless, but pushing anyways. Grit gets you to the finish line.
Grit is Lane Vogel’s feet at Badwater 135 last month!!! Lane finished with a nasty case of bronchitis and these beauties on his feet…prepare yourselves for the epitome of grit…
Ughhhhhh. Man!!!!! That was bad. Geeez. Sorry.
Let’s be real..You gotta put in your time. Don’t take that the wrong way and go off on some heroic training sabbatical, but train smart and give yourself time to reach your goal.
I started training for my first 100 when I was 23, maybe a year and a half after I started running. Too quick? Maybe so… I mean, I trained for it. I ran early and long alone in the woods on the weekends before my kids woke up. I took advice and help from experienced runners every chance I could get. And I actually did finish on my very first try. Yet, in hindsight, I feel that maybe I rushed into things. I was young, and still immature and fairly new to the sport when I signed up. And though I finished, I didn’t really know what kind of pain and intensity I was getting myself into.
In other words, I wish I would’ve spaced it out a little, maybe trained harder, and had some experience under my belt. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so painful?
It’s kind of like my life…Do I regret getting pregnant in high school and married at 18? Heck no. I’m happy! I love my life! But it’s been a struggle…
Might it have been a lot easier if I planned it out, went to college, married Dan, saved up some money, bought a house and THEN had my kids??? Probably.
Everything is easier to tackle when you’re prepared. But you’re not birthing a kid here, you’re just running. So give your story some time to develop. Get strong before you tackle the big boys. Lock and load it. You’ll be happy you did.
Perhaps the single most important thing you can do is this: have no fear.
Because you aren’t getting to a finish line with fear holding you back. You can’t be scared to feel pain. You can’t be scared to go into the woods alone. You can’t be scared of what might happen to your body in the long term.
It’s easier said than done. But it’s gotta get done.
It takes guts to pull the trigger and sign up for a long race. It take balls to wake up every morning and train. But it takes a raw dose of straight fearlessness to put all feelings aside, to go through the pain, to leave it all out there, and get the job done.
Slow. Fast. First. Last. Injured. Wounded. Fit. Fabulous. Crawling… However you finish, you can only do it if you ain’t skurred.
So if you wanna kick this thing in the friggin teeth, then go at it with all you got. Don’t tip toe into it! Buck up and own it. NO FEAR.
Tie it All Together
This is the tricky part for me. I’m 50/50 here. Pulling all of this together seems to be the magic formula for finishing a long race like a 100. If I’m lacking any of the above components, I’ll likely stop running, curl up in a ball on a bathroom floor, and cry like a 4 year old in Kmart. But if you can keep it all together, chances are, you’ll finish your “inspirational 100 mile migration”….That was for you, Jen.… and all of this will be worth it! But hey, if you don’t finish, it’s no big deal! Every single thing we do in life can be used as a learning experience. Just smile and Keep Moving Forward.
(Like my bracelet? I do too! Good ultrarunning mantra, right? An awesome gift from my friend. Support him, and get your own here!)
Thanks for reading my blog! Sorry for my two month silence. I didn’t think anyone noticed, until one day when I got an angry DM on Twitter from someone getting crunk on me for not posting…that was awkward..but hey, I wrote! If you stopped by, leave your feedback! Even if you haven’t done a 100, what is your magic mental formula for finishing a race? I’m always learning…Always..