Y’all… my friend Whitney is amazing. I say that about most of friends, but Whitney actually does something that (to me) is uh-mazing; that’s several steps above amazing. For not only is Whitney a runner, but she is what they call an “ultra” runner. Whitney is the only person I’ve ever met who has run for 100 miles… in one go. I get tired after driving 100 miles. She was sweet enough to talk to us about what it takes (physically and mentally) to do this. Don’t let her laid-back tone fool you… this is hard-core stuff that very few people can actually do. Not only that, but she’s really good at it… like in the top-ten of all female runners nationally good. She is an inspiration and such a good sport! Enjoy! ~Leigh
When my friend Leigh asked me to write a guest post about running for Fun Things To Do While You’re Waiting, I was a bit perplexed. While running is one of my favorite fun things to do, waiting is certainly not. I’ve been told I’m a patient person, but I really dislike waiting for things like appointments, items in the mail, and my coffee to brew. I often think of time spent physically waiting around as wasted time that I could be working, getting stuff done, or running. And I certainly cannot physically run while I’m waiting at the doctor’s office, unless I am doing the “Running Man”, that is.
Then I started thinking about the concept of “waiting” and realized that while physically running is truly the opposite of physically waiting, I actively wait when I run, and sometimes for quite a while. Let me explain: I enjoy running ultra marathons. These are races of any distance over a marathon, which is 26.2 miles. The most popular ultra distances are 50k, 50 miles, and 100 miles. I’m pretty fond of the 50 to 100 mile races, and I’ve discovered that I’m pretty good at maintaining a consistent pace as the race gets longer. I also quite enjoy enduring the discomfort and pain. I’m weird, I know. A large part of my limited ultra success is actually due to my ability to mentally wait. First of all, one doesn’t just wake up one morning and go run a 100 mile race. There are weeks, months, or even years of training and waiting to participate in such an event.
I officially decided I would run my first 100 mile race about 6 months beforehand, but I had run at least 25 marathons and ultras before the ultimate goal of a 100 mile race. That’s a lot of waiting for one or possibly two days of racing! Over the next 6 months, I put in 80-100 miles a week of running, a few marathons, two 8-hour races, one 50-mile race, one 50k race, numerous back to back days of 20 and 30 mile runs, and countless hours waiting in the sauna and steam room (for a January race in Florida since I live in Chicago). I dreamed about crossing the finish line and visualized it daily. Then came the taper phase of training. If you’re unfamiliar with endurance events, the taper is the period of time, usually 2-3 weeks, of reduced training before the goal event. Typically, the longer the race is, then the bigger reduction in training. As the race neared, the less training I did and the antsier I became just waiting for race day to arrive.
The week before the goal race, I spent most of my previous training time obsessing about the race and driving my husband crazy. I packed (you can’t imagine the amount of supplies and gear one needs), read previous race reports, researched about the course and the previous year’s results to determine possible goals, and tried to remain positive about achieving my goals. But when race day finally came the waiting was over! Oh wait, no it wasn’t. This wasn’t a 5k (3.1 miles) where you go balls to the wall and hold on for dear life. If you don’t wait or hold back in the first half an ultra, you’ll most likely crash and burn. Many people who go out too fast end up taking a DNF (Did Not Finish or some say Did Nothing Fatal) or are reduced to a walk and stagger into the finish puking their guts out and looking like a zombie from The Walking Dead. This will sound strange, but I spent the first 70 miles of my 100 mile race waiting to run. What I mean is that while I physically ran the first 70 miles of the race, I held my pace back and kept my effort level low-medium, like a 5 or 6 on a scale of 1-10 (10 being highest). I waited about 12 hours into the race around mile 70 to actually “race”. This doesn’t mean I suddenly started sprinting along like a gazelle. Far from it, I’m sure! But, there was no more waiting for this girl. I progressed my effort to a level 10 over the last 30 miles, so by mile 95.5 I was running balls-to-the-wall pace towards the finish line. I crossed the finish line and all the waiting was finally over. While I relished in my first 100 mile finish, I was thrilled to surpass my goals and satisfied that all my waiting paid off. Turns out I’m actually pretty good at this waiting thing.
In the days following the race I was understandably in a lot of pain. My feet were so swollen, sore, and blistered that all I could wear were flip-flops, I was walking like a cowboy after riding a horse, and I was constantly nauseous. I was experiencing a whole new kind of waiting game. It was called “wait until you don’t feel like you’ve been hit by a truck and you can actually put on your shoes again without crying”. Despite all the discomfort, I couldn’t wait to do the next race.