September 03, 2010

Crazy? It's all relative

In the last couple of days since telling friends, via Facebook, that I signed up for a 100km road race I have had a few reactions. Those responding all are good friends so I know that support lies at the heart of their comments. Even so, "Crazy" was the word that came up a few times too.

I have to admit that last night I woke up with a brick in my stomach and panicked, just like the previous night, as my thoughts turned to the fact that I have put my money down and announced that I am going to run a 100km and would like to do so in nine hours, or less. Have I done the right thing?

I've always said I wanted to focus on getting faster at the marathon distance, where my goal is to shave at least 7 minutes and 11 seconds off my best time for a 2:59:59 finish - lofty goal for sure. And now I am committed to doing my second ultra in four months? And this one is on the road? With a time goal?

Why, I wondered again last night as I worried whether the pounding of 100km on the road with an ambitious time in mind is more than my body wants to handle. But then I think about the women I have met since May.

One is 70, though you'd be very hard-pressed to guess that by looking at her, and ran the Comrades Marathon two years ago, the oldest woman to do so. She has run more than 100 marathons since she began running from scratch at the age of 37. She has also completed the Western States Endurance Run (100 miles) and competed five times at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. She won her age group there too.

Another who has run most of her life, though never more than a half marathon until she began training for a 50-mile ultra at the age of 51. She now runs five hours on hilly trails without batting an eyelid. In the process, she has found her attitude change from can-not-do, to yes-I-can, and not only with regards to her running.

A third began running 20 years ago to cope with stress. In fact she started by walking, and then slowly introduced short stretches of running. She raced a 10km, because her brother suggested she should, loved it and did another, then a half marathon, then a marathon, then an ultra. She this year found the courage and commitment to train for her first 100-mile race.

A fourth, in her early 30s, found an amazing joy in the first 7km run she did three years ago. A year ago, she saw an ad in a running magazine for a five-day stage race in Costa Rica. While she had yet to run a marathon, and didn't know how she was going to afford the $2000 entry fee, let alone the other costs such as travel, training, gear and so on, she desperately wanted to. And she did, selling her flat-screen TV and car to do so.

A fifth is still in her 20s. She's only recently taken up running but was immediately attracted to the endurance part of it. With a philosophy of "What's the worst that could possibly happen?", she has run the North Face 100(km) and last month, the 125km aptly-named Canadian Death Race.

And one, admittedly a pro adventure racer, who has done so many amazing races including the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley, U.S. I'd first read and heard about this race when I ran the Death Valley Trail Marathon there in 1999. While it was my second marathon, a sandstorm cut about 3km off the route, so I do not count this race among my marathon finishes. This, incidentally, is a spectacular run that follows the gorgeous Titus Canyon.

Ultra races have intrigued me for more than a decade, though I have not seriously considered running any of the 100 mile classics such as Western States, or Leadville or Hardrock. That might have changed since I ran STORMY last month and interviewed all (except one) of the above women for my next book.

The philosophies of, Let's see how far I can go, and, What's the worst that could possibly happen, and, One step at a time gets you a long way, I (try to) subscribe to, both in running and in life, and while part of me - especially at night - is scared, a larger part of my is curious and excited about trying to run 100km on the road.

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