For those looking for the short version of my World’s End Ultramarathon 100K race report: Did Not Start
For those wanting a little insight how one could extrapolate a race report from something I didn’t start, please read on:
When is a loss, a victory? Normally, it is usually hard to extract the positive from the negative. Especially for me. However, my experience this weekend at World’s End exists as one of those moments where I can clearly gleam how I won.
(Let the record show that Jonathan Lantz actually won the 100K in an absolutely stunning time going sub 12 hours!)
Following my performance at Hyner, I felt really good about my conditioning and mental confidence. My objective was to continue that trend into WEU with a few smaller speed session races and managing my miles wisely. You might even say I had a plan. Preliminarily, the plan was to again run using my Nathan Peak waist pack filled with Tailwind and Shot Blocs. At designated aid stations I would swap out the empty bottle for a fresh one while also grabbing a reload of Blocs. Easy enough plan. Until….
The calendar flipped to May. Not sure the reason but almost from the get-go May put a kink into my preparations. I blame some aligning of the stars considering May was pretty rough on me last year with three DNF’s and a DNS all while being in the thick of buying a house. Keep that in mind. This year, May started with my annual call of jury duty in Philadelphia. For the first time, I had to report on a Thursday instead of the usual Monday or Tuesday. And in the only can happen to me, despite the room being half empty and a light load, I was the first name called all day for a jury panel. Every other year I have been sent home without being selected for a trial. Not this time. I was Juror #1 for a trial that according to the judge would consume the next week. Fine. Sure, I was two weeks out from Worlds End but I would have a full week before the race to go back to normal. Normalcy is key here. My personality is wired to not like change, particularly when it comes to impacting my training/preparation structure. (Ok, so I really did not like the initial jump from Office 2003 to Office 2007 either. My boss still doesn’t let me live that down.) While the time I could devote to tightening race parameters was narrowed, I still felt a good grasp of things. Until….
Trial moved into a second week. Not just for one day but three additional days. I was bugging out. Despite having all my physical gear ready, I started forgetting things like the 5am start time!!! And I still needed to sit down with Peg and go over what I needed from her as my crew. (More or less that talk was don’t let me quit in the middle of the race and swap out bottles at specific aid stations.) You could say I was having a tough time focusing. Now I was two days out!
Thursday, I was finally back in the office at work. I was looking forward to the environment. Just putting my head down and getting stuff done. Alas, car issues on the day created the possibility of needing to get a last minute car rental for the trip. In the end, we managed to get the car patched to drive to the race but for another chunk of time, my head was really anywhere but the race.
Sadly, Friday started out with more of the same. My original plan was to work remotely for half a day before driving up to World’s End. It is the same exact plan that I used for Hyner and really worked well. This time, however, work had a few big issues that were time sensitive. Not a typical Friday in my department. Ugh.
Basically, what I am saying here is that for the two weeks leading into World’s End, my head was anywhere but World’s End. At one point Friday morning, I gave serious thought to not driving up. I really knew I was behind the eight-ball when it comes to being 100% on my mental game. Still, Peg and I drove up because you never know if that switch can flip. Driving was pleasant. Our cabin was cute too. Things seemed to be looking like a go. We even went to bed before expected.
If only that meant a good night of sleep….it didn’t. After a few rock solid hours, I began to stir. And not in the ‘get up let’s go’ way but more of the ‘why is my neck feeling pinched, let me adjust the pillow, damn that is not working’ way. So my mind was alert and alive while it should have been shut down more than our government. To me this was the writing on the wall. Any trace of the hunger to start the race was gone. I viewed the moment as a final sign I wasn’t prepared. Since Peg and I were both up at 3:30am when we would have awoke anyways, we had a discussion about my decision. It went something like this:
Me: ‘Are you awake?’
Me: ‘Not racing’
Peg: ‘Why? Is this where I should tell you to suck it up and do it?’
Me: ‘No, it’s not that case. I’m not ready for the race and starting to likely end up with a DNF would be bad for my confidence and against the progress I’ve been making since bottoming out at Steamtown.’
A bit more discussion happens but this is the general portion that gets to the point of probably this whole non-race race report.
My decision was not made in the vacuum of this one race and this particular point in time. It included the context of the past year that did a fair amount of damage to my confidence. And when I say confidence, I mean that feeling that I can go to the starting line and give it my all. For me, it also contains that thought I have a shot to win or at least achieve my goals no matter what gets through my way during the race. It’s the difference between a personal best and a personal worst. Going with the decision to race from where I was at most certainly would lead to the latter. Now you could say, how would I know if I elected to not start the race. It is probably the hardest part to explain because the answer from a measurable aspect was not attempted. You might say it was a gut feeling.
There’s no denying last year, I broke myself. It’s still too fresh and I’m still too fragile to think I’m completely hardened back up with the success I’ve had since the DNS at Steamtown. Because of that, I knew really the primary goal this year was to get myself back in order mentally as a runner. And I’ve made huge strides in doing so but I’m not willing to undo all the progress I’ve made at this point in time. (Even if it meant that I was to lose out on my shot at the PA Triple Crown.) It’s probably the greatest lesson I’ve learned as a runner and person.
One way, I can sit here and type this with a level of certainty is due to how I handled the day after I made the decision not to start the 100K. It can be summed up this way: I stayed. In the past, when I’ve had some less than desirable outcome, I wanted to be nowhere near the related race. Steamtown, I left before the race started. With Cayuga, I hoping the car and drove home. I couldn’t bear to be in those environments. This past weekend, not only did I stay but Peg and I ended up hiking 9 miles of trails in Worlds End State Park. 4 miles of which were included in the races. I wasn’t bothered by being on trails with flagging. What I experienced was being at one with the beauty of the natural surroundings I was in. Not only did I spend time hiking, at a few points in the evening, I ventured over to the finish line to watch finishers and talk to people I knew. I got to see John Johnson and congratulate him on his 50K win. Not to mention congratulate Jonathan on his 100K performance along with seeing Adam Russell gut out feeling sick to a tough as nails 3rd place finish. Got to talk to Ryan Cooper about his Cruel Jewel run while waiting for his wife Lori to finish an outstanding 2nd for the women. Sadly, I didn’t see all my friends finish their races but they were all in my mind.
Due to being able to be present, it reaffirmed an enormous comfort in my decision to not start. I’d be lying if it wasn’t shocking that I felt that way because it was surprising. It feels like a sign of growth that maybe I’ll only understand. It certainly puts me in a position to look-ahead and consider other possibilities with my year.
(Sorry Eastern States but I think you might be skipped for something more enjoyable. Maybe the Call of the Wilds. Right now, I’m thinking I might go up to Cayuga for the marathon distance. I have options, options that will hopefully continue to lead me on a forward path.)
Thanks to everyone for taking the time to read this report of a race that didn’t go as planned for me but showed me something more.
You could say the growth was the best part of my weekend because when we came home we discovered the refrigerator had decided it was finished. (Plus, today, we found out our car had been rifled through. Thankfully, nothing was taken.)