When I went to Desert Solstice this past December, I knew I was injured. But I wasn’t sure it mattered. I mean, how often have I been NOT injured going into a race? And this was a sprained ankle at a track race. I was thinking the chances of this injury not mattering were high, so I wrapped my ankle with KT tape and decided to give this 24 hour race a go.
But before 5 hours in, I knew I was wrong. The ball of my left foot was on fire. A sharp, needle-like pain that I had never felt before. I was maxing out the Naproxen and Acetaminophen, alternating with each to no avail. Before 10 hours in, I knew there wasn’t a chance of me finishing this race. A Canadian running friend of mine had her nurses look at my foot. They explained to me that the ankle sprain I had was, indeed, why the ball of my foot was on fire. My ankle wasn’t able to transfer weight from the foot up to the calve, as it should. If I kept running, I would have a stress fracture if I didn’t have one already. Part of me wanted to cry. I had worked hard, been NOT injured (finally!!!! For 7 weeks before I rolled my ankle during a trail 50k…) and now this. But part of me was relieved.
Before this race, I had decided this was my last attempt at getting on the 2017 USATF 24 hour team for Worlds. Currently I sit in the 7th spot. Only 6 go to Ireland to compete for the USA this June. I knew I was now out, and while it was a sad thing, I was also relieved. Any racer knows that racing is extremely uncomfortable, even painful. When I was a young runner I couldn’t wait to be fast. I worked hard and speed came. But I quickly learned, the fitter I am, the faster I can run and the More It Hurts. Racing is a game of pain. For me, 5k races might hurt the most. I literately just run into the pain, as hard as I can, until it’s over. Before 2 minutes in, my legs are burning. By 3 minutes in my chest burns and aches. Before I reach the halfway point, I’m having to seriously convince myself that not only is feeling all this pain ok, but I can take more and push harder too. I mentally remind myself of the painful things in life where there is no out and plunge on, hurting more.
Racing an ultra is very different. Ultras are a patience game at the top and a pain game before the end. When I race shorter ultras (up to a 100k), I tend to start comfortable/hard and then try to press into the pain once discomfort comes. Normally, the first 30 miles or so feel good. In fact, I negative split a trail 50 miler once using the comfortable/hard start, then press strategy. It was thrilling to have fun the first 3 or so hours and then race myself into tired pain the next 3 or so hours. I like running in the comfortable/hard zone and I enjoy the mental game of pressing hard later on in a race.
Racing 24 hours is different though. I had a solid plan to start slow, stay there for as long as I could and then slow down. The math was easy. If I actually averaged 9 minute miles for 24 hours I’d be at 160 miles- way over the American Record and just over the world record. If I averaged 10 min miles, I’d hit 144. So I planed to start at 9 minute miles and fall off, hopefully still getting over 145 miles when 24 hours was up. The trouble is, I do not like running that slow on purpose. It feels yucky and isn’t fun- like my gait is off and my legs turn jello. My brain is bored and even mad at the feeling of not running yet running. And WAY before half way things STILL get hard. Odd muscles cramp and most everything hurts. It’s almost like getting cheated out of the best part of racing, because the pain comes before any sort of push. I mean, I enjoy racing with my brain (patience and strategy) and I like the pain game of testing the limits the body might have over the mind with hard physical efforts, but I must not be cut out for the 24 hour race. I have a hard time running when it isn’t fun AND there is no push…I need push or fun, and I wasn’t having either one. By hour 10 at this race, I was thinking I’d rather fight Ronda Rousey then travel to a foreign country and race another 24 hours.
I know having to deal with the pain and disappointment of injury factored into how much I disliked running this race, but my dislike was strong. Even now, almost 2 months later, I remember how much this race sucked that I feel relieved to be done with this. I am not saying I have given up on 24 hour racing for good, only for now. Now I’m running and playing on the roads and trails. I won’t even go so far as to say I’m training, because I haven’t picked a big goal race to train for yet. But I’m running! I’m going to race, too. Though I’m taking a mental break from high strategy racing. I want to do some dumb things, that will tick my brain off. I want to run balls to the wall for 50 miles. Let my self bonk, hurt, cuss at my dumbness and push on to finish. I want to race a 10k, and pretend like its a 5k until I hit the 5k and then race on, regardless of how that looks and feels. Maybe I’ll even race a road marathon again. One thing is for sure, I won’t be running overly slow on purpose for awhile. 😉