In six weeks I embark on my toughest race season yet. 3 big ultras in 4 months. Which is a strange feeling because it means that right now are really my final weeks of training for… well, for the year. That’s such a weird thing to wrap my brain around. From June-October it’s race, recover/taper, race, recover/taper, race.
As such, I’ve been peaking out the training. I was really proud to run a 75 mile / 21,000′ vert week last week (Sunday morning – through – Sunday morning cycle). I always try to push myself hard, but that’s definitely new training territory for me. I am toast. And I get to do it again next week before finally recovering and tapering into Manitou’s Revenge in June.
A training week like that sounds like a lot. But the reality is it’s only 3/4 of what I’ll face at Cloudsplitter 100 in October. So, really it’ll be just enough to get me by.
I tell the runners I coach that ultra running is all about familiarity with suffering. It’s not that it ever gets easier. Certainly, training and conditioning help, but I really think it’s more that we get increasingly comfortable with how hard it is. More familiar with the fatigue and the mind games and the math and the logistics. A 7 hour 50k somehow transitions from a terrifying prospect of a goal race one year into “just a training run” several years later. It’s no less hard. It’s that our capacity for hard things increases.
(Above: BHT Repeats at High Tor.)
So, last week was all about pushing my capacity. Especially only 6 weeks removed from my 100K FKT (the same gap of time between Twisted Branch 100k and Cloudsplitter 100 this race season). I was very curious how far and how hard I could push, and how my mind and body would respond. A couple of miscellaneous takeaways, for what they’re worth.
– The Human Body is Amazing. I usually finish peak training weeks and am utterly trashed. Those last couple hours of training are usually physical torture. A funny thing happened this time… my body kept going. Didn’t hurt. Didn’t feel like death. Definitely felt tired. Definitely got slower. Sure, I was fatigued, but my body wanted to just keep going. That was a very welcome experience. One that I didn’t anticipate. I’ll take that as a positive development.
– The Mental and Emotional Toll. My body didn’t feel trashed last week, but the rest of me did. I purposely didn’t get a lot of sleep prior to Thursday (5 hours sleep), Saturday (3 hours sleep), or Sunday’s (3 hours sleep) training as I wanted to mimic the effects of being deep into a hard mountain hundred on little to no sleep… since that’s exactly where I’ll find myself this fall. The results were mostly what I thought they’d be. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. My body recovered slower. My faculties for sound reasoning were… compromised a bit. I started developing gastrointestinal issues (which I never have in training or races). All temporary, to be sure, but very real to me as I slogged up and down Bristol Mountain in the pre-dawn darkness, alone, in the thick fog and rain multiple times over the weekend. It was just after sunrise Saturday I realized how tired I actually was as I pointed out many landmarks on the horizon. To myself. Apparently. “Oh, look! There’s the drop off at Ontario County Park over to the South, so beautiful!” while descending Bristol, talking out loud, but very much all alone. “And, straight ahead we have Stid Hill, so beautiful in the sunrise… Wait, who the f*** am I talking too?!? Holy crap, I must be tired.” This was shortly after seeing a hiker descend into the fog from the top of the mountain. Someone I was absolutely positive at the time wasn’t actually real. If all goes well this is how I’ll feel around mile 80 of my hundred. I can expect things to get a bit more strange from there.
– The Utter Beauty of it All. I had a moment while climbing Bristol in the dark in the fog very early Sunday morning where time stood still. It was too dark to see without a headlamp. But the fog was too thick to make a headlamp worth anything. It was just blinding white, and all I could see was my feet. As long as there was dirt and rock under my shoes, I knew I was on the trail. I turned off my headlamp and noticed that there was just enough pre-dawn light leaking through that I could make out shapes. Trees were big shadows. The dark areas were the ground. The white area above me was where the trail cut through the trees. And so I kept my headlamp off and just kept climbing through this netherworld of only shapes and sounds for about 20 minutes. The sound of rain pouring almost sideways, and of the owls and birds welcoming the coming of dawn. It was mesmerizing to be in such a space. Words can’t do it justice.
I’m super excited for this season. I squeezed over 500 miles and 115,000′ of climbing into the first four months of 2016. Three more weeks of training and then we taper and then we race. I’m ready!