Road to my first ultra

It's been 2 months since I ran the Kodiak 50 miler. An incredible experience. I'm pretty sure I already said it there, but I will say it again. For me, a race is not "just" the race in itself. It's the training which goes with it. And I need to be equally excited and motivated by the training. I need to enjoy it as much as the race. So, I couldn't tell you all about the race without telling you about the training. Let's start with it.

As I said, at first, I didn't take "this idea" of aiming for a 50 miler seriously. I knew I needed to focus my running on something but racing didn't appeal to me. When I'm aimless (in general), I feel useless and sad and cranky. So, well, I thought that even if I may not make it to actually race a 50 miler, focusing on how to train for one excited me. At least, that would be something. I truly thought the training would be too much especially since I was still into a weird stage with running. So I just went with the flow with one rule or one promise to myself: "as long as you enjoy it, you keep going, but if, at ANY TIME (a month, a week, a day before the race), you don't want to do it anymore or it's a constraint and no more a pleasure, it's over". Also, I have to add, I never envisioned the 50 miler as a race but as an organized very long run.

So, first step first. "You want to train for a 50 miler? OK. Let's find out what it takes to do so." I read advice online. I checked training plans. I saw the high mileage. I saw the back to back long runs ("25-25... how is it even possible?"). I made my mind about how I wanted to do it. And I went for it.

No more than 5 days of running per week. That's how I roll. I like having some mornings where I wake up and don't go for a run. 3 runs on the road (some kind of speed or tempo, hill training, EZ). 2 runs on the trails for the long runs. Building the mileage over the weeks. That was the plan.

I started training in May. It was nice to run with a purpose. I immediately faced my first issue: running alone on the trails. I'm used to run alone. I don't mind. I was used to run on trails during the weekends, with the playboy. Even when I went running with him, we didn't actually run side by side but we did wait for each other. Anyway, going alone is another story. I have to plan my route and make sure I don't get lost. Not a big concern but still a bit stressful at first. My main concern was: the wildlife. I hadn't thought about that at all beforehand. We already had run on trails in California. We knew there were rattlesnakes around but we never encountered one. First run alone: 2 snakes. These creatures scare the hell out of me. Big time. The next week, other trails but familiar ones: my first rattlesnake. Let's be honest, I could have cried. And I sincerely thought I wouldn't be able to train because of that. I would have to go for miles, on remote trails, with very high chances to meet these guys again and again... It seemed impossible. (The "wet" winter brought lots of high and wild greenery on the Californian trails which is great but didn't help me on this one.)

So I thought about it and found a solution: as much as I love running on narrow trails, I decided to primary plan my routes on the fire roads. They are usually wider meaning it's easier to spot snakes from afar. I prefer that than having a snake passing between my feet... (*goosebumps*).

(Warning, warning)

(Safe enough)

So, I carried on. I was very tensed at first. Not lying, I can say I spotted an average of one snake per run. My heart was racing and I was scanning the trail ahead of me like crazy more times than I would have liked but it went better and better. I can't say I'm now a big fan of snakes but I got used to these little guys. They are part of the game!

Also part of the game: spiders and scorpions... spiders... (*goosebumps* again). But I'm pretty sure you figured that out already. One enormous spider spotted but dead. 2 scorpions: 1 dead, 1 alive. So not really a big concern.

I encountered other bumps on the road in my training. First, I strained one head of my left hamstrings early June. I was on the trails, at the end of a 17-mile run (I could literally see my car from where I was), and just like that I felt pain in my hamstrings while going up a hill. I rested it but it didn't work so I went to see a PT. Luckily, it wasn't that bad and I was back on the trails a week after.

Then, 2 weeks later, I fell quite badly on the trails and hurt both my knees and right side. I guess I wanted to add to my right knee scar from last year and take the left one for a spin too. Hopefully, nothing was broken and it wasn't that deep. I was at the end of a 24-mile run... 0.5 mile from my car (see how my body plans pretty well its breakdowns?). It's only after a few hours that I felt pain on the right side of my chest. I first thought it was only a contusion but I later realized it was actually about my ribs. I had to stop running for a week letting my wounds on the knees heal first, and my rib to be less painful. It took a fair amount of time for my rib to be totally painless though.

These things happen. The thing is, I was quite surprised by how I dealt with that this time around. No craziness. No bad temper. No drama queen like moments. I'm not happy to report that it's usually how I react to trouble planners. I think the trick is I managed to not think ahead all the time how I always do. I put that on the fact I took this one step at a time and never thought about the whole picture (too scary). "If I can make it to race a 50 miler, great. If not, at least I would have tried." (Is it maturity, age or something? Will it last? No idea. But I enjoyed it!)

Also, I started my Pilates teacher training program (which consists of 2 parts) in May. It's held on multiple weekends (each weekend, full day Saturday and full day Sunday). I originally planned to only take the first part of it this summer and take the other half later (too many information at once). But I changed my mind knowing it would be easier to get all the classes done at once to keep the momentum going. The second part was in August. Peak training for the 50 miler.

That would mean disturbing my perfect little plan... which I would have normally freaked out about. Not this time. Because, you know, I wasn't actually gonna make it to the end of it... or would I? Anyway, I found myself being flexible... I repeat that: FLEXIBLE... me... LOL.

Speaking about being flexible, I changed my plan during peak training. Quite intense Pilates practice and 70 miles running week (which is nothing for some people but was my highest mileage weeks of all time)... my body was tired. So, if I didn't feel like doing speedwork or hill training, I just didn't do it AND I was OK with it. (What is happening to me??!!)

Now, let's talk about the back to back long runs... these babies are SO freaking scary! When I originally planned my training, I was so sure I would not make it so far as 25-20 or 25-25 or 30 miles training runs. I could definitely not put my mind around this. And, well, you just train, week after week. You increase your mileage. And you actually have to do them.

The first time you go out to run 26 miles and have to persuade yourself it's nothing because you know you'll have to go run 16 miles the next day... I mean, it's a marathon! It's not nothing. But it actually is just the beginning...

Because a few weeks later you go for 25 miles knowing you'll have to do it again the next day. Like the same distance... 25 miles... the next day. I remember this one pretty well. After the first day, I had no idea how my body would manage to run 25 miles again the next day. I went to my favorite trails. I ran. I walked when needed. And I did the distance. I was so amazed at what my body could do!

Also, I want to let you know that 7 miles may seem easy BUT it's all relative. This 7-mile run I did with the playboy the day after my longest run ever (30 miles) was one of the worst runs of my life. Not helping: a fresh playboy running like a mountain goat ahead of me.

Even if I was way more relaxed and not stressing about all the little details, I still wanted to train properly... just in case, you know, I may end up racing this race after all. So, we went running on the course twice. We went for the long weekend of the 4th of July. And we came back for a training run organized by the race director. Everytime we drove up to Big Bear Lake, I got nervous because things were getting real. But once back home, my mind carried on blocking the information.

All in all, what I kept from this training is that I am proud of all these miles I've done alone on the trails, of not letting my fear of snakes drive everything, of being flexible and more relaxed - which made me question multiple times my real motivation because I was not scared and that was weird! - I still don't really know how I did these grueling (for me) back to back long runs, but I did them. And whatever would happen, race or no race, on race day, finish line or no finish line... my biggest fear was to be disappointed in myself. And I didn't want that. Because, yes, even without completing a 50 miler, this training was an accomplishment in itself for me.

That's why I kept reminding me all the things I told you in here. When we drove to Big Bear Lake at the end of August, that's what was in my mind. When I went to pick up my bib on the Friday, that's what was in my mind. I very well noticed I was more impatient and excited than scared. But I didn't say a thing (I didn't want to relive the disappointment I had for Boston). And when my alarm clock went on at 2.30am Saturday August 26th, I allowed myself to finally realize what I was about to do. I was about to take a try at a 50 miler and I was ready for it.

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Next races

  • NONE

Miles / km

  • 1 mile = 1.6 km / 1 km = 0.6 mile
  • 5K = 3.1 miles
  • 10K = 6.2 miles
  • half marathon = 13.1 miles = 21.1 km
  • marathon = 26.2 miles = 42.2 km