Ultra running, strange sport

Ultra running is surely bipolar.  We all experience at some time (sometimes more in some of us than others) the realization that we have gone as far as we can with our (limited) skills and that we will now enjoy the 4 miler and a good golf game.  Absolutely; non-negotiable; we have learned our lesson and will now justifiably move on with our lives.  We will be grateful for what we have been able to in this sport and realize an honorable end.  Yes!  The revelation usually comes somewhere between half to three fourths of the way through (another) unsuccessful (DNF) ultra.  Yes!  How long can the DNF’s go on?  When will the inevitable be recognized and accepted?  When will it be OK to accept our limitations?

Beats me!  I’m now 68 and in the best of times, my ultra finishes were the result of very hard work and still finishing in the very back of the pack.  My last “official” finishes were at age 60 with WS and Wasatch.  The next year I finished WS, but 9 minutes over the 30-hour limit.  The next year I got to 97 miles at Massanutten and recognized, for the first time, the impact of a collapsing scoliotic spine.  No more (official) 100 mile finishes.  None for the past 8 years.  Three years ago my knee kicked back requiring surgery and the recognition of “arthritis.”  I have been able to complete some 50 K’s and even 50 miles, but slowly.  But no 100 milers.

And so it was yesterday that I DNF’d for the third time, our local Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run.  The conditions were as good as it gets for Cleveland in the mid-summer.  But the really severe cramping in my legs and thigh eventually brought me to a stop at mile 46.5.  Funny thing, that is exactly what happened to me last year and is the only race where I have had trouble with cramping; none with Promise Land and none with Laurel Highlands.  Funny!  Strange!  And yes, I took enough salt and fluids (and not too much aka: Tim Noakes).  But I FINALLY realized my limits and realized that I was thankful for the time I have had with ultras and now I will be happy with regular runs of 4 and 5 miles and maybe the occasional 50 K.  Yep.  I finally came to grips with time and age and the “stuff” that accompanies both.  That is actually a “freeing” epiphany.  Time to move on; no conflicts with job and home; time to finally work on my golf game.  Freeing!  I slept well.

But then came the day after.  Ah, the “day after” and ultra DNF.  Disappointing, but now comes (again), hope.  Hope and the “recognition” that I think I have figured out the reason for my last two DNF’s; the leg cramps.  I really don’t enjoy extended running.  I enjoy the physicality of the variable running and walking dictated by the hills and variable terrain of trail ultras.  I actually enjoyed the push up Apple Orchard Falls at Promise Land.  Yep.  But I hate the long flat stretches of JFK and the long runs on our own Tow Path that parallels the Ohio Canal.  And so, my long “runs” are really run/walk “runs” within our hilly Metro Park system.  But the Burning River 100 has lots of extended running.  In fact the first 20 + miles are all about “running.”  So now I know the “why” of my DNF’s.  I understand.  Just maybe if I train differently (and work on CORE strengthening); just maybe I can still do it.  Actually, not just “maybe,” but I really know with the proper preparation (and a little ultra luck with the weather and with injury), I can do it!  And as for my golf game; well that’s always an option, should I ever truly realize that it is time to “move on.”

Ultra running, strange sport.

Jack Andrish
July 29, 2012