Lessons Learned from *Not* Running an Ultramarathon

I was supposed to attempt my second 50k this past weekend, but due to high winds and a ridiculous number of downed (or almost-downed) trees, the race was cancelled at 4am the morning of.

To be perfectly honest, a small part of me was relieved; I'd been nervous about running under half-fallen trees (I watched a tree fall on the course during North Face last year, and it was no joke), and of all the possible weather conditions to run in, wind is hands-down my least favorite. I'll take snow, I'll take rain, I'll take heat. I hate the wind.

But once the realization that I would not be running my goal race this month set in, I was disappointed. I was angry. I was frustrated. I was wallowing in that when I got a text from another friend who was supposed to run that race: 9am. Local trails. Be there.

So I gave myself an hour to wallow, an hour to read The Pursuit of Endurance (if I wasn't chasing my own endurance, I could at least read about others' attempts), and then an hour to eat and change and get myself to the park. And then I ran for six hours, over hill, over tree--and over tree, and around tree, and through tree, and over tree, and over tree again.

It wasn't a 50k. There were no bibs, no aid stations, and no finish line. I didn't make it the full 32 miles. But it was a solid effort on muddy, tree-strewn trails, surrounded by good friends and fueled by excellent salt potatoes, and it gave me time to think.


I've struggled to put into words why I'm drawn to this sport, something I never thought I'd enjoy. I wrote about the books that have helped me understand my own interest in endurance runs in Shelf Awareness last week, talking about Mirna Valerio and Scott Jurek and Catriona Menzies-Pike and their myriad reasons for running:

Every one of these runners runs for different reasons. What makes their stories so compelling, though, is not the clarity they offer in answer to the question why. It is the fact that each and every one of them recognizes the ways that pushing the boundaries of their physical endurance, whatever that may be, is tied to pushing through the boundaries of their individual mental limitations.

For North Face last year, I trained all winter for a spring race. I was prepared for rain or sleet or wind. I was not prepared to run in 92 degree temperatures and rain storms in April. But that was the one freakishly hot weekend we had that spring, and I managed to adjust my expectations and run through heat and humidity (even though the following week I started a race with two long-sleeve tops and gloves).

That race was about pushing through mental limitations, pushing my body as hard and as far as it could go just to know where that limit was.

Here's what I'm learning, though, in the wake of a cancelled race: it is as much about pushing through those boundaries as it is about relinquishing control and accepting whatever the trail throws at you--even if what it's throwing is a big ol' CLOSED FOR BUSINESS sign. I can't control the fact that the race was cancelled. I can't even truly be mad about it; it was objectively the right decision for the race director, as he put the safety of volunteers and runners before anything else. I can just pick myself up, dust off my muddy shoes, and keep on running, waiting to see what the trails will throw up next.

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