It was last October when I decided to run my first ultra marathon. I was in Ontario when I got a text from my favorite running buddy, Shandies. She informed me that our running group (a group of friends from all over the US), just signed up for the Mississippi 50 ultra. An ultra marathon is any distance above a typical marathon of 26.2 miles, and this particular ultra was a 50 miles trail run. I was infatuated with the idea of not just running 50 miles, but running 50 miles on trail. This was a personal challenge that I hadn’t given much thought to before. So, without thinking I hit the purchase button, and just like that I sealed my fate for the next 6 months. Now, this is something that I do all the time. I often commit to challenges before I have a chance to think of why it may be a horrible idea, that way I don’t have an opportunity to talk myself out of anything. I always say this to myself, “If I knew before how hard this was going to be, I never in a million years would have done it.” But that’s the beauty of committing, once you say you’re going to do it, it is as good as done…well almost.
Anyway, I was living in New York during my first ultra training. The winter was brutal. Now I acknowledge that there are far worst weather conditions to be training in, but I admit I am a true baby when it comes to being cold. Growing up in Las Vegas and then the Central Valley of CA, I never really experienced really cold weather until moving to the East Coast. All this to say that when I signed up for the M50, I seem to have forgotten the climate conditions, or rather, I chose not to acknowledge them knowing that if I did, the realistic part of me would have talked myself out of it. But it was done, I was committed, and now it was time to figure out how I was going to physically and mentally prepare for this 50 mile trail run.
Right away I knew that I would need to get a gym membership, and that a significant portion of my training would be on the treadmill or more specifically the DREADMILL. Now this is something for a runner that can be a little nerve racking. We all know a person misses quite a few elements running indoors. You don’t get the natural climate, unexpected change of terrain and incline, dodging potholes and yellow lights, and just the natural resistance you get from outdoor running. HOWEVER, if you have ever run long distances on a treadmill, one thing that you definitely do get is mental stamina. For my long outdoor runs I typically run out and then back, trying my best to avoid circles, where I could convince myself to stop. If you run out, you know you have to come back, but on a treadmill, you don’t have that. You can stop at anytime and know you are right where you started, and just a short walk from home. On a treadmill you are constantly battling with yourself to not quit. You don’t get the beautiful scenery, the unexpected breeze, and exciting landmarks, instead you get to watch yourself in a mirror, and the people next to you as they get off and new people come on..over and over and over again. PAINFUL.
So with all of this, there a few things I have learned during my treadmill training:
1. NEVER watch the miles or the clock. This is absolute torture. I always put my jacket over the front of the treadmill which shows the time and the speed so I’m not tempted to peek. I also don’t look at my trusted Garmin for the time. Instead, I count songs and make deals with myself. If I’m doing a long run, I know about every 7 songs is roughly 3 miles. So I’ll tell myself, “Samantha DeWitt, you can’t look at the miles until you’ve listened to 21 songs.” One time I actually made it to 42 songs without looking. It becomes a game (not the most fun game I have ever played but a game nonetheless) and helps the time go by. Or I will tell myself, “after this song you can get a drink of water or take a bite of the peanut butter sandwich.. yum!”
2. When I’m treadmill training, I never stop, because I know I won’t start up again. So I drink and eat on the run.
3. Commit for the long haul. The longest I’ve ever run on a treadmill is 26 miles. I mentally prepared myself the night before; it had been snowing for a few days and I knew I wouldn’t run outside. So I mentally committed to the long morning. I boiled my eggs (my fav running snack), downloaded a bunch of new music, and decided on a plan of when I would look at the miles before starting. It was a long morning…but I made it.
This actually is a good segue into knowing your weaknesses and plotting against them. Without too much thought anymore, I strategically program my music for tough times. I know that the first mile of any run I always want to turn around, so I make sure that I have some good no quitting music…then once endorphins kick in and things are a bit more relaxed I can listen to whatever. But somewhere around mile 10 the quitting thoughts cycle back in and all I do is dream of my bed and eating an entire pizza, so I make sure my no quitting music is next on the playlist. I have to do this–I have to this this because I know me, I don’t like to quit, but I want to all the time.
A few months into my training, my sunday morning run was 30 miles. Sundays at the gym were super busy, so I knew, despite the snow, I would need to run outside. My plan was simple, I will run 15 out and come back. I will run out, that way I have to come back and can’t quit early, and I’ll take my ID but no money so I can’t convince myself to hop in a cab. I woke up at 4, was out the door by 430, and bundled up for the 10 degree weather. Running in snow is not fun, and as I’m running, I’m thinking, “I am never running again.” After 15 miles, when it was time to turn around, I was pissed that I planned for my weakness because all I wanted to do was hop on the subway and buy that damn pizza. I was freezing, could barely feel my hands, my lips were chapped from the wind, and my contacts were dry, but I knew the only way home was to run. A few hours later I see my apartment, I ran upstairs, grabbed my wallet, and bought 3 New York slices. As I’m sitting on my floor devouring the pizza and watching Arrested Development, all I thought was not “thank God I didn’t quit” but “thank God I
Finish Line of the M50
I have really learned that throughout life, it’s not about who wants to quit, but who has the means to quit. Personally, 9 times out of 10 if I want to quit, I will quit if given the opportunity. So I have learned, and am still learning, how to outsmart my weaknesses. I know they are coming, and I know that when I am mentally and physically tired, I am not in a position to beat them…I have to plan against them and outsmart them when I am strong. I will be so pissed in the moment, but in the end I will thank myself for having only one way out.