There was a discussion on an ultra running Facebook group recently that sparked my attention.
With the Surf Coast Century 100k trail run coming up in a little under two weeks, virgins to the distance are starting to freak out. Nothing new here, I’ve been a freaking out virgin on numerous occasions myself, it’s part and parcel of the pre-race crazies bought on by this dreaded thing called a taper.
The more you run and the more you race, the more aware you are of your tapering quirks. Whether that be, your pre-race meal (guilty), your drop bags (guilty) or the fact that you can’t locate your favourite race socks (also guilty), we all have them.
Race gear laid out for Tarawera 102, 2017
But something that has never crossed my mind in my pre-race planning, is the point at which I’m going to drop out. So when I saw “how do I know when I should pull out?” as one of the rookie questions on the forum, I had to do everything I could not to loose my shit at the poor little virgin.
I just didn’t understand the mentality of it. What do you mean, when you are going to pull out? You aren’t. You signed up for 100km, you are going to run/walk/crawl until your Garmin says you travelled 100km or thereabouts on foot, by your own steam. You have set a goal, you have told your friends and work colleagues about it. They have said the obvious “oh you are so hard core and crazy” and you smiled and let your little ego glow in the idea that you’re a little a special because you are going to run 100km, so you bloody run it! No excuses!
Is all this talk of the DNF because all the “elites” these days seem to pull out at the drop of a hat? Gone out too hard and too fast, trying to show the world what a legend they are (sorry but it’s mostly blokes!) and pulling the pin before they even get a chance to experience the roller coaster of ultra running?
When I “ran” Tarawera 102km in February 2017, I walked the last 10km. Well most of it, there was a few little jogs when I saw people coming, but generally speaking I walked the last 10 km. Truth, I thought I was dying. Literally.
It sounds dumb in retrospect, but I’d never ran 100km before and I didn’t know what to expect. I’d had the whole don’t drink too much and don’t drink too little rammed down my throat at the race briefing so when I realised that I had stopped sweating at about the 92ish km mark, I thought for sure I was cooking my brain and my kidney’s and that running this race would be the last thing I ever did.
Between the aid station with the lovely volunteer who told me I had stopped sweating and the finish line there was a disco style aid station, serving pizza and ginger beer and having way too much fun. As I approached the aid station, around the 95km mark, I did everything I could to appear “normal”. I thought for sure if they noticed anything untoward they would pull me out of the race, and I would have made it 95 out of 102km. Not acceptable, I thought, be normal. At least if I was going to die, I was going to complete the thing!
(For the record, turns out, stopping sweating is totally normal, I made it to the finish line, was weighed and told I was completely fine! The course has been reversed now so I’ll never be able to erase that horrid time where I walked the last 10km, on the flat!)
After all the blokes pulled out of UTMB on the weekend, I saw an Instagram story from Cat Bradley, who was the first American female to finish and finished in 8th place. She joked about having such a good doctor that he would message her back when she thought she was dying due to spewing up black bile.
Whilst not exactly on par with my sweating situation, it did get me thinking? Why do some call it quits whilst others do not?
I saw my fair dose of it crewing at Tarawera this year. In fairness, the conditions were hideous but people were coming into the aid stations, crying hysterically about how they were pulling out and were so disappointed but couldn’t actually explain why they were pulling the pin. A list of 10 different excuses came pouring out, none of them solid enough to justify walking in a training run never mind a super expensive, ultra marathon that you have spent the best part of a year training for and no doubt saving your hard earned dollars for.
“Oh my leg hurts”.
“Is it broken?”
“Are you causing permanent damage?”
“I don’t know”
“Ok sunshine, off you go, I’ll see you at the next aid station”.
Crewing on crutches at Tarawera 2018
Maybe I’m a little harsh, but 90% of the people that sign up for an ultra marathon are not professional athletes. It doesn’t really matter if they are a little cold and sore the next day or the next week for that matter because they don’t have to run another race in order to put food on the table.
Most of us run for the love of it, for the adventure. Did you think it was going to be easy? If it was, wouldn’t everyone do it? Unless you are going to do immediate permanent damage (not the old “running is bad for your knees!” crap) or already have (hmm not sure that leg is meant to bend that way!), soldier on my friend.
So here are my 5 tips for those about to attempt their big event, whether it be 20k, 50k, 100k or if you are really bat shit crazy ( and I don’t mean that as a compliment) 100 miles.
- Plan what you can and then throw the plan out the window.
You can’t plan everything, you just can’t and if you are planning or sticking to the plan you are going to be disappointed. Running is a crazy beast and there are so many different things than can and do go “wrong”. Having a plan is great, knowing when you would like to arrive at aid stations in order to beat the cut off or your 3rd tier time goal and knowing that you have your favourite sweets in your drop bag can be comforting and is encouraged. But try and go with the flow and enjoy it, you might only get to run this race once so don’t spend it all freaking out about something silly on your plan.
- It will get bad and then worse before it gets better, but it will get better
If it was easy, everyone would do it. You’ll hear people who have never run on trails say things like “but you walk”, umm yeah, you try running up that mountain and then still have the mojo in your legs to finish the next 50k. Accept from the gun that there are going to be times that you have to walk, crawl and cry. It happens. Let it happen, feel sorry for yourself, don’t stop and move on. It’s strange but you will come good and you will be able to run again. Don’t sit at an aid station and feel sorry for yourself, keep moving, hike it out and eat a lolly.
- Don’t listen to everyone else
The bloke ahead of you is on pace to qualify for Western States (there is always one!), the chick next to you gives you unsolicited advice about water intake, the smiling assassin at the aid station says “its only 5 km til the next one”, all probably bull shit. Run your own race, don’t stress about other people running up a hill or going nuts with gels or looking like they have every piece of gear every labelled “running gear”. You set out with a goal so you do what is best for you to achieve it. Stuff everyone else and their stupid gear and diet.
- Don’t try anything new on race day
This gets said all the time, but you know what works for you. Don’t get sucked it at the expo. For sure go nuts and buy heaps of shit to test out the you get home but don’t use it in the race. Oh and I’m pretty sure it’s bad juju to wear a race t-shirt before you actually finish the race, just saying.
- Call someone who cares
Worse case scenario, it really does turn to shit and you think you want to pull out. Have a trusty training partner or side kick who you can call who will be the voice of reason for you and rationally remind you why you are running in the first place. Do not remove that race bib until you have spoken to that person, no reception, keep moving until you get reception.
Good luck to everyone having a crack at Surf Coast Century, I’ll see you out there (not running, just supporting) and to everyone who has signed up for Tarawera this week, you won’t regret it!