Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Tuscobia and Bandera: Opposite Sides of the Same Coin

Instead of writing a post about my winter events, it turns out that I'm going to be writing about my winter non-events.  Minor detail, right...?

Tuscobia 150:  The race I really shouldn't have started but tried anyway  

I had a great autumn of marathon training.  I was getting faster, my legs were starting to feel speedy for the first time in years, and most of all I was enjoying the training.  Not only was I getting to do plenty of track workouts and tempo runs (both of which I love), I was also fitting in lots of long runs on the trails.  Everything was fitting together perfectly.

Tuscobia (December 28th) was the rude interruption to all of this.  I had signed up partly because I didn't want to "miss out" on a winter ultra and partly because I wanted a shot at winning the ITI entry that was up for grabs.  As it got closer, though, I started to resent more and more the fact that I was going to have to give up so much training time to get ready for snow walking/jogging/sled dragging.  I really don't enjoy running on the snow, and I don't like races that involve a lot of walking (ITI is an exception because for me the scenery is the big draw there).  You can sort of see why Tuscobia was not the ideal race for me...!

I couldn't manage to get excited for the race even as race week came.  When I talked to my friend Nick on Christmas, he made a comment about how he'd never heard me sound so unenthusiastic about a race and asked something like "How are you going to run 150 miles with no motivation?"  I didn't have an answer.  After thinking about that conversation some more, I decided I wouldn't do the race after all.  Of course, I didn't tell anyone about my decision, so that I'd be able to change my mind the next day.  Which I did:  the lure of a potential ITI entry was too hard to resist.

So I started the race, knowing full well I shouldn't be there.  I told myself to just drop out at the first aid station (mile 30) and then I'd be able to get back to normal training within the week.  But admittedly, I did start to briefly enjoy myself.  It was a beautiful day, the trail was nice and hard-packed, so I could run more than usual for these types of races, and my legs felt strong.  I couldn't convince myself to drop out at the first aid station.

By mile 32 or so, though, the nausea that I get so frequently in these races had started.  It wasn't a big deal in and of itself, because I had kept enough food down early in the race that my legs still felt strong and because the race route is never far from civilization in the event things went horribly wrong.  But I knew this meant that I hadn't solved my stomach problems, and without a reliable stomach, it would be irresponsible to even try the ITI.  Being unable to stop shivering because you've been throwing up for hours is one thing when you're by the side of a road in Wisconsin; it's another thing when you're 50 miles from the nearest checkpoint in the middle of Alaska.  I decided that even if I happened to win the ITI entry, I wouldn't take it.

Without the ITI entry as a carrot, I was suddenly stuck without my small glimmer of a reason for wanting to do the race.  And winter ultras are so difficult even when you really *want* to do them that they're practically impossible if you don't.  Frustrated with myself for putting 63 miles of unnecessary wear and tear on my legs, I dropped out at the next checkpoint in the hope of salvaging at least a bit more winter training time.
Juneau and Cooper enjoying themselves a lot more than I did at Tuscobia.  Photo stolen from Helen!

Bandera 100k:  The race I really wanted to do but won't start

After Tuscobia, my friend Tracy pointed out that there were still spots open in the Bandera 100k, which was two weeks later.  It so happens that I've been wanting to do Bandera for the past 3 years:  it's hilly, technical, and 100k; in other words, perfect!  I've never been able to do it, though, because it always falls so close to Arrowhead.  Since I'm not doing Arrowhead this year, it sounded like the perfect chance.  I signed up.

A week and a half later, I am not exactly in racing shape.  I have inflammation in both knees from Tuscobia.  One of my hip flexors is pretty sore.  I haven't actually managed to run more than 25 minutes at a time since Tuscobia.  I've also got a nasty cold that is making me struggle to even jog.  

So, as much as I love racing and as much as I want to do this race in particular, I'm going to stop myself from doing it.  I shouldn't have started Tuscobia, because it truly wasn't what I wanted to be doing at that point.  I do want to do Bandera, very much, but that alone isn't enough to make it a good idea to do the race.  I'd be risking weeks of injury time for a race result that would be somewhere between very bad and mediocre.

From my two non-events, then, I'm learning a little more about what elements need to be in place for a good race (or even a race at all!).  You have to really want to be there, enough to make the pain and bodily destruction worth it, but yet you can't want it unreasonably:  blindly going for it because you want to or because you're afraid of missing out is just as counterproductive as going for it when you don't want to.   

Not that I have any illusions about being completely reformed.  Since I've already got my plane tickets and I want to spend time with Tracy and Rasmus, I'll be going to Bandera anyway this weekend, meaning that Tracy is under strict instructions to restrain me if I try to pick up my race number...