Ultrarunning Cover April 2008
he guy in the blue hat is me. You know, the one wearing the wool turtleneck, long pants, and dark sunglasses. I'm "not like the others" because of my wardrobe choice, but more importantly because I am undertrained, rebounding from a heinous bout of flu, and I'm suffering from a total lack of humility. In the end, I ran, undoubtably, the worst and most painful race of my life, but the take-away was more than any other race I have run.
I would love to tell you that this dismal race performance was a direct result of the three days I spent in bed, vacillating between bouts of convulsive shivering and profuse sweating, just five days prior to the contest, but that would be a lie. I certainly blame the gas station microwave sausage and egg burrito, clearly a bad pre-race meal, as a contributing factor to my 50k suffer-fest. Bad luck was to blame for the untimely arrival of my ailment, and bad choice of cuisine undermined my efforts in Moab that crisp February morning, but there was a far greater bad working against me. Bad training will yield a bad race every time, as was the case that fateful day. I had spend the majority of the winter nordic skiing four to five days a week, while running the remaining two or three. I could skate ski from the Aspen to Snowmass golf couses with relative ease, and my cardio fitness was excellent. However, I completely ignored a basic tenet of the training philosophy that I learned as a youthful harrier under the tutelage of Mark Wetmore...SPECIFICITY! For me to run fast, I have to run. Cross training gets me Crossfit, but running gets me Fit! Similarly, to run far I have to do long runs, something I neglected to do in the build-up to the Red Hot 50k. The importance of the long run in my training cannot be overstated. It has been the cornerstone of my training, whether I am prepping for 1600 meters or 160,000 meters. So when I lay in the fetal position, begging for pain killers to assuage the pain, during the hour that followed the race, the Jimmy Buffet refrain, "I know it's my own damm fault!" was all too fitting.
Bad luck, bad choices, bad training and an ugly uniform left me weakened, unprepared and looking like a rookie out for a jog while I attempted to chase the country's best ultra-marathoners during the Red Hot 50k. However, an ugly lack of humility, another Wetmorian principle, was the biggest culprit in my putrid performance. How many times had I heard, "run your own race", "relax,", "be cool Zeke!" Yet, when I toed the line for this race I arrogantly said to myself, "none of these guys has run a sub-thirty minute 10k." With this in mind I hammered from the gun, ignoring my body's sensory signals that were screaming, "slow down!" I ran too fast, couldn't hydrate or fuel and disregarded my lack of training and weakened body. I desperately hung on to the leaders, none other than Hardrock record holder, Kyle Skaggs, and two time Leadville champ, Anton Krupicka, for the first five miles, running far faster than I should have. Soon other runners passed, and by mile 17 things were ugly! Lacking calories and liquid, I slowed to a snail's pace, walking huge chunks of the course. Instead of being humble regarding my competition, the race course and the distance, I had cockily tried to beat the best, running their race instead of mine. The last miles were beyond ugly, and the only reason I finished was that it would have taken far longer to have been evacuated from the remote desert course than it was to crawl my way to my waiting girlfriend (soon to be wife) at the finish. The ugly affair was punctuated by some a-hole hitting our car, causing $2,000 worth of damage.
While I pledge never to return to the Red Hot 50k, a good lesson was learned that day; stick to my principles. One principle is, "good training". For me, proper training means specificity, or running training runs that emulate the target race. It also means don't cheat the long run; it's the most important run. Another principle is "good eating". I need healthy breakfast and proper fuel during the race. But, the most important principle is "good humility". My status quo, when it comes to running and life, is either arrogance or self-deprecation. I either do what I did in Moab, assume that I am way fitter and faster than anyone in the race, or I think that everyone will beat me. Since this race I have worked hard at just being Zeke and running my own race, trying not to compare myself to my competitors. When I am able to be, "right sized", achieving some measure of humility, I have good races. My bad preparation and ugly arrogance led to a terrible race, but they crystallized some good lessons.