On October 31, 2019, I signed up for my 1st ultramarathon, the Dam Yeti 50-mile trail race in Damascus, Virginia. 7 months to train until the race on June 6, 2020. Having started to run again on August 31, after a 2-month recovery from plantar fasciitis, I had my work cut out for me.
Starting with a modest 2-mile run on the last day of August, I progressively increased my weekly mileage and my long runs, and continued to focus on stretching, core and strength workouts to ensure I would manage the increased training load without injuries. By early November, my weekly mileage increased to the mid-30’s (6 days running, Monday off), and I incorporated 12-mile long runs.
In December, my weekly mileage reached 40 miles (again on 6 days running, 1 day off), and I completed 13-mile long runs. There were a couple of weeks where business commitments interfered with my running, and my mileage and days of running decreased, but I was able to maintain my long runs. Although I thought I was ready – both mentally and physically – to run longer than 13 miles, it never happened.
Looking at my running log and realizing it’s the last week not only of 2019, but of the last year of the decade, I decided that I did not want to look in the rearview mirror and have regrets. I was gonna leave it all out there on the trails, and exit 2019 with a bang. For the week of December 23, I ran several 5 mile runs. Nothing special. Then on Saturday, December 28, I drove to Waveny Park with the intention of breaking the 13-mile “barrier” and attempting to run 15 miles. It still didn’t happen.
Yep. Another failed attempt. I had some personal issues that were consuming me, and I was processing these on the Saturday run, and got to a bad place in my head. I called it a day after 8 miles at a slow pace (see Strava summary below). As I pulled out of the Waveny parking lot to drive home, I realized that I needed to love myself first, take care of myself first, and pursue my dreams and goals and passions. For me. The June 6 ultramarathon race date was now 5 months away. Time to get going.
A New Day
Sunday, December 29, 2019. Staring a new decade in the face. 2020 was 2 days away. I realized I needed a change of scenery. Switch it up. I drove about 45 minutes, to Larkin State Park in Southbury, CT, to run on a beautiful rail-to-trail segment that I discovered on July 4 last year. From the Route 188 parking lot to slightly past Towantic Pond and back to the parking lot was about 8 miles, and running this out-and-back route twice would be 16 miles. It was uncharted territory for me.
My goal was distance and time on my feet (running at least 2 hours), both important to train for an ultramarathon. Pace was not relevant, especially given the muddy and wet conditions of the trail, and the estimated approximately 600 feet elevation gain (Strava data is incorrect).
I ran easy and controlled, putting one foot in front of the other, and enjoyed the change of scenery from Waveny Park. At the mid-point, after completing the first 8-mile out-and-back segment, I felt comfortable and confident, and it was hard not to push the pace. Other than mile 12, where I ran on ice and mud, the remaining miles were all below 9-minute pace. With a couple of miles to go, and darkness settling in, my legs started to feel heavy, and my mind had to tell my legs what to do. To complete 16 miles, I ran past the parking lot and extended a little along Route 188.
I did it. Stripping off my wet, sweaty shirt and fleece jacket, and changing into dry clothes for the drive home, I realized that I reached my goal. Not only did I run 16 miles, but combined with Saturday’s 8-mile run, I just completed a 24-mile weekend. That’s almost one-half of the 50-mile ultra race distance. Physically I was banged up. Mentally I was on a high, and able to visualize my 50-mile ultramarathon goal 5 months away. Barring injuries, it was doable. I was satisfied.
I savored the drive home, and stopped at Dunkin Donuts and treated myself to a large ice coffee, and a Boston cream donut. Yep, I know, not exactly healthy food. I do eat healthy 99% of the time, so I was going to treat myself this once. 24 miles in 2 days!