Flashback: November, 2011…
I can distinctly remember finding out about this thing called “ultramarathon”.
I had just finished the Coastal Trail Runs’ Chabot Half Marathon, my first trail race. I had been dueling it out with this guy in an orange shirt for the last few miles on that awesome singletrack under the eucalyptus trees- every time I threw in a little surge he’d match me, staying just a few meters ahead of me the entire time.
He finished just a few seconds ahead of me and we high-fived.
“Dude, you were pushing me hard the whole last five miles, that was awesome!” he says to me.
“Man… I could not catch you… nice work!” I replied. “I just… didn’t want to get passed by the guy behind me… in the red shirt…”
Then that guy in the red shirt comes into view now, by-passes the finish chute, goes over to a bag, grabs a water bottle and some gels and heads back out on the loop we just finished.
“Oh yeah, that’s so-and-so, he’s leading the 50k race…” says orange shirt.
“What’s a 50k? That’s like kilometers? Fifty!?!?” I had not yet learned to convert metric to imperial because before I was a runner I never had a need to.
Long story short: Joe (orange shirt) tells me about ultras, 50k is 31.1 miles- today those folks are doing two half marathon loops and then a five mile loop to get to 31 miles, then you graduate up to 50-milers and 100 kilometers and then the grandaddy of them all, 100 milers (200 milers were not a thing yet, this was all the way back in 2011 after all).
He then told me about this race called Western States 100, from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California- from deep in the heart of the Sierra up and over 9000-foot mountains and through these hot-ass canyons down into the gold country and ending on the track at Placer High in Auburn.
“I’m going to do this race one day…” I thought to myself.
Flashback: December, 2017…
I am now a six-time Western States lottery loser. Six fucking times I put tickets into this damn basket and six times I got nothing. I am beyond disappointed. I start scrambling to figure out my race plans for the entire twelve months of 2018 now, because that’s what you have to do now if you’re an ultrarunner.
One more year of holding my family hostage so we can plan a vacation around which 100-miler I’m going to do. One more year of being gone all day Saturday on training runs and one more year of being tired, hungry and sore all the time. One more year of “well, maybe next year…” which isn’t that big a deal since I’m a Philadelphia Phillies fan and have said that every October since I was old enough to remember until 2008. I can wait for things for a long time apparently.
Oh, and I also had two tickets in Hardrock from a Bighorn finish in 2016 and that was going to run out, so I had to pick a race that was a qualifier for both, in the slim chance that I get picked for that before 2030.
So on January 1st I sat down and wrote down my plans for the year: okay, Boston Marathon in April. Manitou’s in June. Maybe a 100k in August? And Grindstone 100 in October. Okay, cool- I am an ultrarunner.
Then I had the crazy idea to go and finally finish my degree. I dropped out of school with 96 credits. Who does that? This asshole, that’s who. So I took a remedial math class (Intermediate Algebra) at the local community college and applied to transfer into Southern Connecticut State University. Yes, I got in. They like money and I need to give them some so I can get this degree, so it works out for everyone!
Then our wonderful, energetic two-year old got into the pre-school of our dreams, starting in September. That’s also going to cost money.
Looks like things after September this year will be busy, maybe I should switch that 100-miler to August?
Then my wife comes to me with this crazy idea: let’s see if we can buy a house! So, I won’t bore you with the details, but we just bought a house, and we move into it in less than two weeks.
This means I cut the lawn now. This means I fix all the things. I dig the garden and plant the vegetables we always wanted. This means I have to actually be around the house to do things to the house. So, in summation: I have more adulting to do than I have ever done before. Like actual adulting, not “going out to get an oil change” adulting.
Suddenly life asserted itself and made running a 100-miler not so important.
In fact, it made the idea sound silly and really selfish.
I also haven’t felt the excitement about running long like I used to. Eastern States 100 last August was a lot of fun (I’ll be back crewing and pacing this year) but afterwards I didn’t bask in the glow that I had from previous post-hundreds.
I had ambivalence, and I’ve learned that for me, ambivalence is a jumping off point.
Do I want to keep running these things and chasing this goal of Western States?
Do I even want to run Western States anymore?
Maybe it was living in the ultra-bubble of the Bay Area that magnified the intensity.
Statesmas, bro! DUDE, STATES! It’s Western time! I feel like all the cool kids were sitting at the cool table, with their cool fucking sweatpants and here I am, running Canyons 100k just to see what Cal Street was all about (it was okay). I wanted to run down Cal Street with wrecked quads while projectile vomiting, that’s what all the cool kids are doing!
Present day: April, 2018
I e-mailed the race director for Manitou’s Revenge and told him I couldn’t make it this year. Maybe I’ll be back in ’19, maybe ’20, maybe never? I didn’t rush to sign up for Grindstone on April 1st at 7 am like I had planned.
I had a blast training through an absolute shitty winter here in New England, getting ready for the Boston Marathon, which I’d say was a huge success.
I really like that my longest run was less than three hours.
My wife really liked that when I said I was going to be back at 2 pm, I was actually back at like 2:05 pm.
I really like coaching, too. I’ve been steadily building a clientele since September of 2016, and without sounding too corny I really cherish these relationships- watching my athletes progress and really jump into this sport has been super affirming. Whether it’s putting together a plan for a half marathon, or tracking a runner at his first marathon, it’s been a lot of fun. Here I thought it was going to be all “do this workout and pay me on this date” and it’s been the exact opposite- it’s actually been a partnership. Getting a text from a one of my runners saying “did my first double digit run!” or “just ran a new 5k PR” is pretty rad. I love you guys!
So, for now I am *just* a marathoner. And an occasional 5ker. With a half marathon or two thrown in. Don’t worry, I won’t call them “half Marys”, I’m not that ridiculous. And I’ll probably run a 10k soon. Maybe I’ll join a USATF-sanctioned club. And possibly do a few shorter trail races…
…and some track events.
Because I am absolutely terrified of running an all-out 800-meter race or a mile on the track. Or a 3k steeplechase? That’s scary. What if I fall over a barrier? What if I get lapped by some high school kid? Holy shit, this is actually what keeps me awake at night.
Because that’s where the real FOMO has been lately- the fear of continuing to miss out on the things I’ve already missed out on. I didn’t run a step until I was 33 years old, so I never ran high school track, never ran XC, any of that.
They have open track meets! I can enter them and compete, and actually race against other people- that’s pretty freaking scary.
I still have a healthy fear of 100-milers, and probably always will; but I don’t get the nervous butterflies anymore when thinking about doing a tough race like Wasatch or Cascade Crest.
It feels like a chore, something I think have to do (get a qualifier) so I can do this other thing I think I have to do (run WS100). I don’t actually have to do any of those things and I can come back to it when I start to miss it. If I start to miss it.
I’m also officially over lotteries. Just done with them.
I got into this sport because of the freedom it provided, but I haven’t felt very free in a few years. That thing I’ve been chasing? I don’t think I want that anymore.
So this summer I still get to be a runner. I get to be a present and loving husband and father, I get to be a homeowner, I get to watch my kid go to his first day of school, I get to go back to school myself, I get to jump into the local 5k and get my ass kicked by a fast college kid; I get to do so much by not getting to do an ultra this year.