Ed. note—Amy VT returns with the second installment of her Ultraman preparation. What's Ultraman? It's three days of racing, requiring athletes to swim 10k and ride 90 miles on day one, ride 170 miles on day two, and then run a double marathon on day three. Missed part one? You can check it out here.
Start line, Greyrock 50k Trail Run in Yakima, WA. Everyone's stretching, slamming gels, and surreptitiously sizing up the competition, jazzed about their biggest race of the season. They had trained, focused on this event for months, and tapered effectively, whereas I was so thrashed from last week's training that I winced descending stairs. So what was I doing lining up for a gnarly ultra running race among legitimate trail runners? Ultraman training, that's what.
I've performed below my wants and expectations in four races over the past three months, but even though those performances stung, I went into them knowing that I wouldn't be at my best. Ultraman training is a lot like Ironman training, except there's a whole lot more of it. As the initial enthusiasm of the season waned, I opted for organized events to get my training done, and checked my ego at the door knowing my muscles and engine were too blown and under-recovered for a good result by my typical standards. After a relatively slow half-iron distance, my friend Rachel (ever heard of the Purple Tiger?) snorted "Well, yeah, you ran 30 miles last weekend and after two back-to-back centuries!"
Races are visible, official, time-chipped, and often considered an accurate measure of what an athlete can do. I don't know many peeps who will step up to a line unless they're really ready. We're impelled by the pressure (perceived or actual) of sponsors, teams, and—let's face it, the bittersweet beast that is social media—to either race at our best or not race at all. But this year I've come to terms with racing at my not-so-best. Not A Races. Not even B Races. I'm talkin' lining up for races limping, with tearfully painful quads. That "tearfully" is not metaphorical. I have cried at a start line this spring.
Has your coach ever urged you to not worry about your result? Maybe it's an early season shakeout, or maybe injury impeded your preparation. Maybe you're racing a different genre or shorter distance in prep for a bigger race. Have you ever thought to yourself, "Uh...no way dude...I'm still gonna obsess about competition and care about what people think." It's a rare athlete who can truly see her season as a whole, immune to worrying about how her results look at B or, in my case, C Races. I don't know if I'm there yet, but I'm getting there—I only recently warmed to the benefits of C Races. Chiefly, I've been exploiting organized events to get my training done for Ultraman, dodging 5-hour solo runs or 10-hour sessions in the country around Portland. With plentiful aid stations and mapped-out routes, I can basically spare myself all the logistical planning of long training rides and runs. With distractions and non-negotiable start times, the time flies by at warp speed compared with solo training. Moreover, C Races provide opportunities to practice race intensity, nutrition, and mindset in a much more real setting.
Perhaps most significantly, more races means more time with buddies. I've made rad new friends in dreadlocked trail runners, seen besties I would've missed if I stayed at home, and gotten to know race directors who are making remarkable strides in their communities. I'm totally thrashed these days, but I'm relishing my recent discovery that there's a time and place for C Races, which have distracted me right up to the precipice of my A Race.
VT, always smiling, even after 215 miles between Seattle and Portland.