Three years ago I set a goal for myself that would alter every aspect of my life: Run a 5k by the end of the year (this was 2012). This goal eventually grew to the bigger goal of completing a triathlon, which morphed into the completion of enough events to be officially ranked. Unlike previous failed weight loss and fitness attempts I put in place smaller goals and a solid plan of action to achieve those goals. I set terms for success and I began the adventure leading me to who I am now: a strong willed, positive goal setter who sets challenging yet achievable goals and then implements realistic plans to achieve those goals. That has made all the difference in my life and had changed the way I view all aspects of my life.
As I finished my first 5k in the fall of 2012 I began the process of preparing for my first triathlon and further a season of triathlons. As I neared my first triathlon I realized that I needed to plan my goals for the later part of the year. While I was still new to running at the time, I had been working on building my mileage and while slow, I grew stronger mentally and physically as a runner. In the early days of 2013 I came across the Atlanta Half Marathon which was ran on Thanksgiving. I had no clue if I could run thirteen miles then but I set it as a silent goal, one I told nobody but set myself in the direction to possible complete. By October I had gotten my long runs into the double digits and the week before the Atlanta Half I ran my first eleven mile run. I was uncertain about this race, but I knew I was as ready as I was going to be. I ran my first half marathon in 3:15 and loved every emotional minute of it. I finished 2013 with a total of 3-7 miles of running, three successful triathlons and numerous 5ks, 10ks and a few 15k running road races. Thus 2013 was a success in multiple facets of my life.
When I started this year I was uncertain what the big goal for the year was. I set myself a goal of completing at least three Olympic distance triathlons, but running wise I did not know if I was ready for the next level of race. I figured early on that I would focus on the half marathon distance race and continue to work to improve as a runner. I started to work to increase my weekly running into the twenties and I focused on pushing my weekly long run into the mid teens. Goal wise I figured I would start to prepare myself for a 2015 marathon and I would focus on running 800 to 860 miles for the year, a large jump from 307 miles the previous year). In the first couple of months of 2014 I ran three half marathons (two were ran 6 days apart), seeing my time decrease from 3:15 to 3:07 finish times. Additionally I ran my first trail race at my brothers insistence and found I loved trail running.
As a cold spring gave way to summer I had ran at least one 20 mile run and I had ran a few more trail races. My weekly running routine often mixed trail and road running. I felt stronger as an athlete and I could push myself to limits I was unable the year before. I had grown smarter in listening and interpreting my body’s signals, allowing me to push myself to new levels and avoid timely injuries. While I had not dropped weight, I lost inches from my waist and gained inches in my legs. I knew running wise that I was slow, but I could push myself on long distances for long periods of time, given enough time I could endure any distance. At this point I realized that I wanted to push for a marathon by the end of the year.
I looked at a few marathons in surrounding states and decided I would have little available vacation time to go too far from home, which left Atlanta. But Atlanta is hilly and I was unsure if I wanted to run in the city and its hills. This led me to consider a trail marathon, but trail running rarely ends nicely with a 26.2 mile distance. At this point I reflected back on a race postcard I had in one of my earlier half marathon packets. At the time it drew my attention but the distance just seemed too much… it was a 50k hilly (some would argue semi-mountainous) trail run in North Georgia. I needed a big challenge and maybe that would be a good way to finish the year.
With the 50k race goal fresh in my mind I started to figure what training I would need to prepare me for the race. I also continued to research marathons, as I was uncertain skipping to a 50k was a great idea. Early in the summer I began to push my weekly running mileage into the thirties and I began taking a series of fastpacking rips on the Appalachian Trail (basically multiple days of running and camping with everything needed in a minimal weight pack with the goal of going far and stacking multiple long runs back to back). The biggest issue I ran into was finding a practical 50k training plan. Some places recommended distance, others time. One expert sweared by back to back long runs while others said they were unnecessary, some experts pushed for a maximum distance of twenty five to twenty six miles while others said it was pointless to go above twenty. Unlike marathons there were no clear cut paths or answers that seemed to really give a step by step guide. I read everything I could and discovered that experienced marathon runners attempting the 50k distance found the extra couple of miles and rugged trails changed everything they knew about distance running, often most said a 50k shared little resemblance to the marathon distance. I realized that most marathon runners hit a wall around mile twenty, which they must push past to complete six more miles. This race would involve a mile twenty wall with a half marathon of miles remaining. Last month I finally decided that if I was going to do this it was time commit and prepare… time to take the plunge.
I had just one small hurdle to pass… one last bail out possibility, the wife. My wife is supportive, but she gets worried about how much I push myself. She was the last possible push back point, a beacon of reason, as to why I should not take this challenge. Last month when we discussed my fall race schedule November came up and I told her about the race. She asked the distance and I told her 50k, at this point she has learned to convert metric and she looked at me and basically looked floored. The rest of the conversation went like this:
Wife: You know that is 30 miles right?
Me: 31.1 actually and sometimes a bit more depending on the trails.
Wife: I don’t think you will be ready for that, you will need to train.
Me: I have been training with this as a goal since the beginning of the year (NOTE: this was a mistake, never indicate that you have been planning something big for a while without letting the significant other know), I mean I have been fastpacking and I am running thirty miles a week.
Wife: Are you certain you want to try this?
(This is where things go unexpected, I figured she would talk me out of it and consider it stupid and dangerous to my health, my last chance to back out due to wife’s insistence)
Wife: Well you have insurance and your work covers you with a good life insurance policy, so if anything happens at least I am taken care of….. have fun.
So on November 15th I will be attempting my first race longer than a half marathon , and it will be longer than a marathon by six miles, running on trails up and down the foot hills of the Appalachian Mountains. The format of the race is unique though and is based on the concept of the Tortoise and Hare. This race is setup so every runner enters a predicted time limit for finishing the race by three in the afternoon, starting as early as six in the morning. Each hour a series of runners will start the race with the first couple of hours being the tortoises and the later starters being the hares. Unlike other races where being slow means the festivities are over by the time you finish, this race will have slow and fast runners all finishing approximately at the same time. The race directors setup their blog where they interview participants of the half marathon in September and the 50k in November with the goal of familiarizing all runners. I love this as it gives me a chance to share and get to know others I will be sharing nine hours of my day with. ( Mine can be found here).
I know at this point this will be difficult and now that I am committed I am super excited and scared and nervous. Luckily I found a good book on distance running that has a solid plan for me to follow that is open in format, which I work well with . I had planned four Olympic distance triathlons for this year but I have decided to cancel August’s to allow an extra weekend of long runs. As I did last year, I have a plan now. For the next couple of months I will be on very new and uncertain territory as I prepare for this monstrous challenge. Unlike the marathon, experiences from ultra runners and first time 50k runners leave no consistency to what to expect on race day, so I have to prepare for everything and truly find what works for me. I am excited and eager to share this next big adventure in future posts and see how I grow and change with this monstrous challenge. Til next time.