Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Lesson Learned for Every Year

(photo courtesy of Aaron Schwartzbard)

If you aren't learning, you aren't living. I truly believe we learn from our mistakes, so long as we don't keep making them. I also believe humility is as much gained in our shortcomings as it is in our successes. The ability to not allow one, or the other to have a disproportionate amount of this humility is what I think establishes our maturity.

Thus far, 2013 has been a pretty rough year in terms of running. It's been the school of hard knocks, and it's only June. However, not for one second will I pout and harp on the would have, could have, should haves of the year. In a very real sense, this year has been perhaps the most mentally and physically demanding year of running because of the fact I was basically starting from scratch. I battled back from months of random, weird, and ill timed injuries to run a lot of not so stellar races. Normally, when fully healthy, my race results would have had me feeling fairly disapointed. I'd be lying if they didn't urk me at some point, but I learned to let them go in realization that I needed to set my personal expectations much lower when running with a body still on the mend.

In 2013, I learned that it is incredibly difficult to build up the training volume needed to just finish 100 mile races, while simultaneously trying to recover from other injuries. To be fair, it did come with some trial and error. Okay, so it was more error than trial. I accrued a nasty deep tissue bruise on my metatarsel that knocked me out of the Graveyard 100, I slogged through an 8 hour trail race, sprained an ankle 8 miles into a 50k, and proceeded to fizzle out on two other 50k trail runs. All that lead up to my back injury debaucle at Massanutten. Sounds pretty ridiculously not fun, right?

The answer? Half true. Of course in the moment, it really sucked. Feeling crappy always sucks in the moment, but being present with what is happening is the very reason I do these crazy ass races. I could easily try to wander off to some "happy place", and sometimes I've tried, but these incredibly physical and mental low points are the exact places you find out what you are truly made of. These are the places you don't get venture into every day, and sometimes, it takes running some insane 100 mile race to get there. I think humans have built in a wide margin of safe zones throughout their everyday lives. You know, kind of like the bumper guards they put up at bowling alleys so that even if you roll a shot that couldn't knock over a town drunk, you still never end up in the gutter. The gutter, my friends, if where the learning happens.

The Mohican 100 was a special race, regardless of the fact I got e coli sickness from drinking from a stream when I had run out of water. It was a calculated risk, and one that I ended up on the losing end of. But, here's a question for you. How many runners know what it feels like to spend over 4 hours at an aid station laying down sick after already spending an hour laying on the side of the trail? How many runners know what it feels like to be in the top 10 for 81 miles before a nasty virus strips them of their strength, and in an instant threatens to end their race? Most people, no less runners, would argue that having never experienced something like this is probably a good thing. How could anything like this be fun? Fun? No it was never fun, but a part of me relished the fact that I was getting to partake in an experience, albeit bad, that most people may never get to. This time around I knew that overcoming this bad experience would lead me to a place of greater fortitude than if I have never been there. It was a concept that I had not yet grasped during the onset of my struggles at Massanutten, but became so much more evident as I neared the finish.

Massanutten and Mohican were not pretty races. 203.7 total miles and 61 hours and 33 minutes of elapsed time. Slow as all get out, but I think I learned more in those two races than a lot of my other events combined. A 50k can't take you where a 100 will. A 50 miler can't take you there either. Sometimes you have to go beyond the conventionally accepted distance to reach those fascinatingly uncharted waters.

2003- The year I learned I actually like running
2004- The year I learned I can actually run really far
2005- The year I learned I can actually train to run really far and still be able to walk the next day
2006- The year I learned about proper nutrition
2007- The year I learned I can run 100 miles
2008- The year I learned I can run faster if I work hard
2009- The year I started running faster at ultras and it showed, but got humbled by races like MMT
2010- The year I set PR's at all distances and still got faster, but got humbled by races like Leadville
2011- The year I barely ran because of bad relationships, but learned to press on and finish my dream race, Western States
2012- The year I learned I still had mojo to run fast, but also learned the hard way to stop running when your body tells you to stop
2013- The year I lost a lot my fitness and somehow soldiered through five ultras, two of which were challenging 100's.

What will I learn next?


Helen said...

HOLY CRAP. I didn't know you ran WS!!!!!!! You're something else, my friend.

Helen said...

HOLY CRAP, MIKE! I DIDN'T KNOW YOU RAN WS!!!!!!!! Crikey, you're something else!

Matthew Prineas said...


Just sort of stumbled across your blog & thought, hey, I know that guy. Sorry to hear about your rough year of running. But you'll be back...maybe you are already? Maybe see you again at the February 8-hour or Graveyard?