Life after the first ultra will never be the same.
Actually, that’s not true at all, like so many experiences posing as life changing events, I am basically the exact same as I was three days ago. But maybe have a little more perspective. No puking, no pooping my pants. Just a little fall that left me with some scraped knees.
Though, before the race I certainly felt and acted as though it was going to cause the world to end. Coming home and going back to work were not really things I had necessarily thought through.
I had thought through everything leading up to the race, frittered away plenty of time worrying about what if my stomach hurt? What if I couldn’t do it? What if it was just plain miserable? What if I hated running afterward?
Life afterward, was just too far away and too unimportant to even think about. But now I am back to normal life again, albeit a little gimpy, and I do actually have to finish that project for work that’s due next week.
Oh hai, reality.
This is not to say that it wasn’t an experience. I am surprised to find that not just after, but actually during the race, I recognized that I was actually having fun. Like lots of fun. And I caught myself smiling. Also pointing at pretty things in the landscape. Which is surprising considering how many days and hours I wasted anxiously awaiting and dreading the race. And it actually didn’t feel as bad as Quad Rock a few weeks ago, which left me feeling like a complete train wreck. More elevation gain, 7 more miles, and 2.5 hours longer than I ran that day and… felt…. better? What? Yes. I have no idea how.
Very possibly it went so well because I had company for this run. Supportive company. The kind who moons you somewhere along a vacant and dusty mile 23 after you mention that your knee hurts and you feel like barfing.
The perspective I gained, I think, is that so long as you follow the very good advice I was given and only think about what you have to do in order to get to the next aid station and don’t allow yourself to get frustrated, there is really nothing to worry about. Talking yourself into 5 miles, 3 miles, 7 miles involves so much less mental trauma than thinking about how far you’ve come or how far you have to go. Things come up and you deal with them as such to the best of your ability. How you felt at the beginning or the middle is irrelevant to how you feel now or how you will feel 15 minutes from now.
When you can do that, even in small stretches, the reward is simply, satisfaction. Satisfaction that you are enjoying the movement and feeling of yourself running. Enjoying the feeling of covering ground and moving with purpose without having to yet posses that purpose in order to appreciate it.
Which may or may not make sense. After four hours, my brain basically turns into a big floppy pancake. Simple things like filling a water bottle requires a lot of attention. But the trade-off is that I don’t think about stopping. I don’t allow myself to emotionally react to pain as much. I don’t think about the finish as much, I try to focus on finding ways to be comfortable in the moment. What is working, not what isn’t working or hurting.
So even with a somewhat intimidating time cut-off for Leadville in 2 months, I’m pretty excited for that race. There will be a lot to focus on to get to the next aid station as efficiently as possible. Did I get here in time? Have I eaten the calories I intended to by this point? Am I drinking enough? How many electrolyte tabs do I need considering the heat? What at this aid table looks good? (Hint: It’s always coke and watermelon.)
I am still amazed by how much there is to learn and do and think about in running. It’s such a simple thing- one foot in front of the other. But it can be complicated to do it efficiently and as comfortably as possible. Everything matters. Nothing matters.
Each stop or delay piles up on top of other wasted moments. Every time your mind wanders when you should be thinking about the best place to put your foot as you trudge uphill adds precious time. But also the nausea you feel or the ache in your knee isn’t important, slowing down won’t make it stop. And even if you’ve screwed up something important, it doesn’t matter. You just keep moving.
Jemez was at best a baby ultra. We’ll see how much of my own advice I can take with me to Leadville to help me keep my shit together for 50 miles.