Reflections While Training

I'm running a 50-miler on September 9th and I have been training pretty diligently this spring, after taking a short break because I was sick (bronchitis) after the Derby Marathon at the end of April.

During this last portion of training, I've been thinking about my goals for the 50-miler. I think about my first ultra - Land Between the Lakes (LBL) in March 2017 - and I want this experience to be different. I want to be a better runner and I want to have more mental strength. I had trained on very hilly trails for LBL and found myself unprepared for all the plain old running! So I've been focusing on trails with less elevation change this time, and am trying to add in some runs with more intensity, like speedwork and hill work. I also did all of my long runs with friends, in preparation for LBL. Then I ran the race primarily alone, and when I was with friends, I couldn't find my voice to make conversation. Some of that was the shoulder pain consuming me and me not wanting to bring anyone down by complaining. Trail conditions were a bit tough too, with the snow and then mud. It required concentration! But I had not spent enough time alone in my training. I need to have tools for when I'm alone on the trail, especially because I will be running the 50-miler alone.

So during this last training cycle I am doing more reading about ultras, talking to friends, looking at data. I downloaded previous years' results for the Superior Fall Trails 50-miler into excel and then analyzed finish times. I had a goal forming in my mind and I wanted to know if it was even a possibility for me, based on where I am right now, that specific course, and how I've placed in previous races. I looked at overall times for each year, women's times, and times of women my age. I compared my finish time from last year's marathon (same course - the second half of the 50-miler) and extrapolated where I would be for a 50-miler, and then considered additional factors. The 50-miler is harder, more elevation change, especially that first half. I will get tired, so my time calculation is not just taking my marathon time (7:01) and multiplying it by two. I was in great shape last year, had really trained well. But I'm in better shape this year. Running more miles, doing more strength training, doing some cross training too. I definitely have more endurance. I could have given more in the way of speed last year at the marathon too, but played it conservatively. I can do a marathon at Jefferson Memorial Forest (similar elevation change) in 6:40 now.

All of this pondering and strategizing helps me to set goals for the big day, develop tools for reaching those goals especially when the race feels impossible, and dial in my training to be less about miles/time on my feet, and more about meeting specific targets.

There's a 16.5 hour time limit for this race, which equates to a maximum 19+ minute mile average. That seems like a generous cutoff, but when you factor in the toughness of the trail, weather conditions possibilities, bee stings, potential falls, elevation change (some of the steep climbs end up being 25-30 minute miles!), and the potential that it is just a bad long run day -- 19 minute miles requires planning and diligence in pacing from the beginning.

I will revisit my race goals after every week's training runs. And as race day approaches and we can see the weather forecast and learn about trail conditions, I will make final adjustments.

I liked this goal setting strategy I learned about while researching timed endurance races (future blog post about the one I did last week): set 4 goals as follows:
1. Finish the race
2. Minimum goal
3. Achievable and primary goal
4. Stretch goal - one that is almost impossible to reach but if everything goes right on race day, could be a possibility.

So here's what I'm thinking:
1. Do the whole 52.1 miles of the race (but it's OK to stop if injured!)
2. Finish under the time limit of 16.5 miles
3. Finish in under 15 hours (extrapolating from the marathon finish time)
4. Finish in under 14 hours

I do not have another big race scheduled after the 50-miler. I plan to cut back on training time and mileage for the fall, though I am doing the Bourbon Chase. I'd like to see how the next 8 weeks go, recover from the big race, and then start to set goals for the Next Big Thing. During recovery time, I look forward to more family time and of course, making it to the soccer/dance/other commitments with the kids!

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