Lately I’ve been rolling around in my head a lot, as one tends to do on long-ass runs.
I feel at times that I have chosen to throw myself into a hobby at which I suck. If I let this continue to rattle around in my head, it will continue to eat at me and I will continue to feel that I suck. So I thought I’d throw together a long-ass whiney blog post to talk about it to the world.
(And so, the exorcism begins).
Ways in which I perceive suckitude
If I am being completely, nakedly honest, I am not great at this ultrarunning gig. I have gathered lots of evidence to support this point.
I often take much more time on training runs than my fast friends (who, let’s face it, is pretty much everyone). My patient friends chase me and wait for me at varying intervals. For this, I am very grateful – but ever aware that I am not as fast as they are.
For some of the races that I do, the timing is maintained by an outfit called ultrasignup.com. The ultrasignup.com page does the wonderful thing of providing weighted rankings for you for each race that you do in their realm. This is both a blessing and a curse. Blessing because now there is a quantitative number that they’ve already calculated (so I don’t have to) to tell me how I really did. Curse because it’s usually not a great number. I’m currently ranked somewhere in the 50’s. I have some races that I’ve done great at, and I’ve had a number of average, and a number of not so great races.
The last race I did was supposed to be 45K, I’m pretty sure I did 50K, and I was one of the last 5 finishers. Last of 5. So I finished before the lady who took a wrong turn and did an extra 10K.
My feet hurt when I go long. Everybody’s feet hurt when they go long, but my foot pain is worse, dammit. I’d stamp my foot for emphasis, but it hurts!
I am concerned that I have set goals that are too big, that I have decided to bite off more than I can possibly chew, and that I look pretty dumb doing it. This ultra thing is much bigger than an Ironman, there is a very definite possibility of failure. I can smell the failure much more pungently than I ever could in a triathlon, because it lives near the back of the pack (where lately I have lingered).
On some of my races, I average a 3mi/hr pace. That’s on a good day in a fast race (and I’m not talking about the Barkleys). On harder courses, I’m averaging 2 to 2.5 mi/hr. This means that yes, your granny probably could outrun me.
I have found myself sobbing at the end of races. Not because I’m glad to be done (which, sometimes I am, because these puppies are long), but because I wanted to do better and could not pull it off, and I’m not always sure why.
I train pretty hard and I still find myself at or near the bottom of the heap. It’s not as if I sign up for races and just show up hoping for the best — no, I put in many dedicated miles before I get to the start line. For me, the difference between being undertrained and being prepared is measured by how long it takes me before I regain use of my legs after the race. When I’m undertrained, I will be broken for days, whereas if I’m well prepared, I usually feel pretty good within a day or two.
In the end however, I always conclude that I am not awesome at this athletic thing, in general. I have no natural talent at ultradistance running. I show no promise at making this a paying career. The only days on which I am competitive are the days on which all the fast kids had other places to be. Lately, I am at the back of the pack. Sometimes I find myself at the front of the back of the pack, which is great, until I fall to the back due to a certain lack of awesome.
WTF – why choose to do something you think you suck at?
I find myself so low at times that I really feel like I need to re-examine my idea of fun, and re-frame the suck.
This is my hobby. This is what I do for personal fulfillment and pleasure. This is something that I do for fun, that I don’t get paid for. I don’t win. I sometimes get a t-shirt for doing it, which I pay for. I spend many committed hours during the week and at the weekend, marinating in my suckishness. I spend as much time preparing for races and racing as some people would spend on a part time job. And for what? Why would I make my feet hurt, my legs ache, and get utterly filthy for fun? To buy a t-shirt?
I admit that some of my perceived suckitude has a lot to do with the races that I pick. I go for the hard ones – I don’t seem to enjoy flat, paved, or sea level. I don’t like running with 20,000 other people. I am continually throwing myself at big rocky stuff, with altitude profiles that are so jaggy and pointy they looks like the business end of a box of number 2 pencils. I gravitate to places where the altitude starts in the 5 digit range and goes up from there. I admit that maybe that’s a little nuts, and quite possibly a setup for feeling like a failure.
What else would I do?
From a larger perspective, escaping from suckitude has two immediate alternatives.
2) try to get better
I could quit. I could hang up my shoes and say, ‘you know, that ultra thing is for other people. I’m clearly not good at it, and I find myself hating life at times. This can’t be good for me.’
There’s a high risk factor and very low reward, especially since it’s something I have no natural ability at. I have a lot of reasons to give it up and take up something else — like, I dunno, knitting. At least with knitting, you get sweaters and scarves out of the deal. If I quit, would have a lot of time to do other stuff, and I’d probably gain weight and not be as fit. So there’s that.
If I were to quit and do something else, I’m not sure I could find something that were as challenging – and I’m starting to believe that I am one of those people who likes to be challenged.
Try to get better
It’s possible that the ‘try to get better’ thing has a much broader range of possibility than I’ve considered. Like maybe I possibly haven’t tapped out how far I can go, how fast I can be. I am merely scoping out the range of what’s down there, but haven’t really investigated the other end of the spectrum — so what *is* possible?
It’s possible that even people who qualify for Boston show no promise of making a paid career out of their chosen hobby. That there are millions of runners out there who do it just because they like it.
It’s possible that people who do this stuff better than I do might have been doing it longer than me.
It’s possible that even the fast people have slow days. OK, their slow days are faster than my fast days, but they have slow days. It’s possible too that the crazy races that I sign up for attract a faster class of people.
It’s possible that in the world of running, that the ultrarunners account for 1 in maybe 10 runners — which is to say, it’s a very small crowd.
It’s possible that my personal self worth is not measured by how I rank in a race, since this is a side project. Also, nobody I know makes actual cash money at their hobby, they just do it because it’s fun. Except for my boyfriend who once won actual $$ at a race, and has gotten paid real money to take pictures…I digress.
It’s also possible that getting bored of what’s in my head may have a lot to do with needing an update on the iPod selection.
At this point I ask myself, what is the point anyway? This is a hobby — usually people take on hobbies because they love doing a thing but can’t find a way to get paid for it. Are there other things that I can achieve in my chosen route of “fun” that would make me feel satisfied and make this sustainable?
Goals for the coming race year
It’s possible too that one of the reasons I’m stuck is because I’m not paying attention — I’m trapped in the doing, and not taking a step back to see the big picture. I’ll put some stated goals out, and make an effort to pay attention as I go.
1) Continue to see a progression of improvement. The definition of “improvement” could be many things — feeling better, getting faster, doing harder stuff. I want to see “get faster/better” at the end of my progression of improvement at some point. I need to find where I’m improving and hang on for dear life sometimes.
2) I would like to not feel bad if I don’t improve, and to keep doing it anyway. This one is harder. I put a lot of work and energy and time into this. With Ironman training, I used to believe that if you check box A (consistent training) you get result B (finish a race), but I’m not convinced that this equation is so simple with ultradistance running. Maybe I need to set very small goals first so I can see the progress.
3) Have fun. If it’s not fun, it won’t be sustainable at all. “Fun” is a little harder to squeeze out of a longity-long-ass ultradistance run, but I think it’s still in there. In my case, the Fun is most easily had with other whackos recounting the crazy shit we did at the end of the day. It’s true that I love to run. I love feeling the tired that comes after a run, and eating the food that I can eat after a run.
4) Find a way to tune out the feet and the head. When they start to hurt, I can no longer think. I am currently not good at kicking my own ass, I need to find a way to improve that. I get down and I stay down — that’s not a good place to be if I’ve already been out on my feet forever. I need to find a way to get out of my comfort zone.
5) Sign up for Javelina Jundred, complete at least 100K. That’s gonna be a serious test…
6) Find out if other people think they suck, and how they got over it. Blog about it, get it out of the head and let it go out into the world (*tap tap tap* is this thing on?).
7) Meditate more, worry less. Do it because I like it, and that’s all.