Sunday, June 26, 2011

Adios Ultras

Back in the Day - me at the 2009 Bandera 100k
This weekend saw the 38th running of the Western States 100 mile race - the Boston marathon of the ultra world - and it prompted me to write a post I've been meaning to do for a while but never actually got around to doing.  Last year I seriously considered entering the lottery to run it, yet this year I had no desire to do so.  For everything there is a season, and I think it's time to bring down the curtain on this chapter of my life and retire from running ultra marathons.  50 and 100 milers require a considerable time commitment to a largely selfish pursuit, and with a young family and a new job, that's no longer a commitment I'm willing to give.  It also requires a certain amount of intensity and passion to fight through the low points, and for me that passion is gone.

To be honest, it's been gone for a while.

I got into the ultra scene several years ago almost by accident, and what attracted me was the challenge of the unknown - exploring the question of how far I could push myself.  But after running and completing 17 ultra marathons (including 2 one hundred milers), I've lost the sense of challenge.

When I ran the Rocky 100 earlier this year, I had come off the best race of my life two months earlier at the White Rock marathon, and had exhausted much of the passion and determination I usually tap into.  I had also picked up a nasty hip injury in the weeks beforehand, to the point that I could barely walk the week of the race.  I debated about whether or not to even show up, and several runner friends a lot wiser than me had advised me not to.

And at some point between mile 30 and 40, I just gave up.  I was limping along and realized the idea of hobbling around all night just to say I finished a race I'd already completed once was not enough motivation to continue.  I had never DNFed before, and always thought it would be something I would never give up without a fight.  But I found it really didn't matter to me any more.

And that's when I realized that doing these bizarre races just wasn't that much fun anymore, and I wondered why I'd even signed up in the first place.

And I knew my ultra days were over.

I don't regret anything about my time in the trail running community - I had some wonderful experiences, met some great people I am proud to call friends, and contorted my ankle into many interesting positions.  I pushed myself to levels I didn't know I could reach, and discovered a lot about myself on many a moonlit trail.  It taught me that I am a gutsy and resourceful little fighter, and it gave me a level of self belief and inner confidence that has translated to much success in my professional life.

And while I will probably still run trail from time to time (oddly enough I'm meeting a few buddies for a trail run tomorrow night - my first time back on the trails in months), I'm checking out of the long races.  Maybe I'll still do a few 50ks here and there, but I'm done with 50 and 100 milers.

Maybe a few years down the line when my boys are older, perhaps they'll enjoy running in the woods with daddy and relight the flame.  But for now, I'm going to concentrate on road running.  I can fit a lot more training into a much shorter time span than I ever could with trails, and I do enjoy the sheer exhilaration of pushing the pace, feeling the wind in my hair, the road flying past my feet, and not having to keep an eye out for snakes!!!  I also have the advantage of regular training buddies to keep me honest, and time goals I can aim for.

However unlikely those goals may be :-)


Jeff Farrell said...

Mark, You are such a great athlete that was almost like an Ultra Obit. All our Ultra careers come to an end. Mine will come with age. Yours came from following your true calling. I'll always be a sprinter at heart but I knew as young teen that my thing would be endurance in the end. So, I'm going to continue to "start slow and ease up". You'll be with me Mark, out there among the rocks and dirt.

K said...

Hey Mark! Being true to yourself is the only way to enjoy what we do. I am so inspired by you and your journey.

I know that my journey will have several twists along the path as well. There is nothing wrong with this because it is all part of the process and it helps us to get to that point in which we become the best versions of ourselves that we can be.
This may not be the season for the ultras for you right now. Family should always come before anything else.
When I see the number of unhappy and/or failed marriages in our world today, I see a long line of selfishness leading to the discord. Putting anything before our relationships with those who mean the most to us is not the right thing.
I applaud you for knowing your heart, following your heart, and being willing to be open to whatever He may be calling you to next.
I will continue to follow your running, your life, because in my mind, you are a true and honest man.

Mark said...

When you stand at the start line of an ultra and realize you don't want to be there, and would rather be home playing with your boys, you know your heart is no longer in it.

Thanks for the kind words.