racing · triathlon · ultramarathon

On my first ultra, taking a break and then doing something that really scares me.

So. 2 weeks ago today this happened! My first ultra. I  had committed to this race with my friend SuperSal (my running buddy who I introduced to endurance running and who has since confidently beaten me in every race) some time ago and had – in all honesty – kind of pushed it to the back of my mind.  After the Kent Roadrunner marathon had I carried on running but I had not seen this race as a goal race and so had not been nervous or excited about doing it.  I was curious to see how it would go but I was entirely openminded as to how we would get on.

Given my last post I've decided to be happy with this photo.  That's it.  I've just made a decision about how I feel.
Given my last post I’ve decided to be happy with this photo. That’s it. I’ve just made a decision about how I am going to feel about myself.

Which proved to be right attitude.  It was hot.  Unbelievably hot, for the UK.  Well over 30C at times.  It was a hilly trail course.  Very hilly.  Very steep.  Lots of climbing and ascending.  Oh, and you had to navigate your own way around using your compass and a map.  Given that I hadn’t trained for heat, hills, trails or navigation my happy smile above (early on in the race) can only be blamed on happy fatalism – whatever would happen, would happen and I was just quite confident we would handle it (do you like the compass I was wearing around my neck?  Trust me, it proved purely decorative).  The heat and the hills slowed us down.  Way down.  Navigation was not a big issue initially when the field was still pretty close together but things started to fall apart a bit in the last 10 miles.  There was an awful lot of stopping and starting, looking at the map, following others (the wrong way, sometimes).  When we ended up clambering up a fairly sheer rockface to follow two frenchmen (who, by their own admission had already gone 6 miles in the wrong direction) I thought that we might have bitten off more than we could chew and was briefly tempted to phone for a rescue.  Eventually, eventually, we found our way back and we only ran 3 miles further than we needed to.  9 hours and 30 mins.  Unbelievably slow you say?  You’d be right.  We stopped for a good half an hour at the main aid station for food, we got lost and stopped an awful lot to get our bearings (only to lose them again) and the last 10 miles were basically a walk.
I feel a bit odd about it, looking back.  My first ultra should have been a big thing.  But coming off the back of 2 marathons this season (it was my third big race in 12 weeks) I had run myself completely flat mentally.  The ultra was a day out for me in a beautiful part of the country – a day’s running with no goal in mind.  As such, it was incredibly freeing and enjoyable.  The focus I had for London and Kent was wonderful – it led me to achieve my goal – but I struggle to maintain that focus the whole time.  I needed a break and strangely I got it, doing 33 slow miles on a hot day in Derbyshire.

See – I was just happy! Walking up the hills, basically, but happy.

And all I thought when I was done was “I’m done”.  I have decided this was the last of my major commitments, running-wise, this year.  I am so ready for my schedule to be over.  For the pressure to be gone.  I’ve never needed a break more than I needed this one.

So the next 4 weeks are my holiday.  I’m going on holiday (to Canada and the US) and Adam is training for his first marathon so it’s my turn to support him and do the childcare while he takes the opportunity to go for a run. If I want to run I will, but I have no goals at all.  I am determined to be okay with it even if I don’t run at all.  10 years of running and training have taught me to respect the ebb as much as the flow.  And that one will not come without the other.  And you see, I’m going to really, really need the flow.

Because next July I am going to toe the starting line of Ironman Zurich.  Yes – I have committed to the biggest, hairiest-assed goal I’ve ever committed to.  The time has arrived where “it feels right”.  Not easy, mind.  But right.

I’ve had a bit of a revelation, you see. I have come to realise that I tend to look at life, and the opportunities in life, as those that are “for me” and those that are “not for me”. Now, if I put things in the “not for me” category because I don’t want to do them (Formula 1, flower arranging) that’s fine.  But I put a great deal of things in the “not for me” category that I am afraid of doing, or afraid of failing at.  And at 41 I see this is a dumb approach to life.  Life is not big house where I can’t enter certain rooms because they are not for “a person like me”. Whatever “a person like me” is.  I have been limiting my ambition and my experience by thinking I can’t go through into those rooms (for example the one that says Ironman) and secretly, I have been waiting to be invited in.  That would make it more legitimate.  But I now see that that might never happen.  And that I need to just do what I want to do.  And I want to do an Ironman.

I think training for and completing an Ironman will change my life.  And will change me.  And I am ready to be changed.  The past 10 years have revealed the extraordinary truth to me that physical activity is my single most meaningful trigger for personal change. That is an amazing revelation for me. Physical activity was never something I valued very highly, I spent many years avoiding it, and yet it is the tool by which I understand more about myself and what I am capable of than any other (including the 100s of novels I still read every year).  This may not be true for everyone, it may only be true for me.  But this truth encourages me to try different things because I know that every itme I try a new thing or set myself a new challenge I discover something about myself that I did not know before.  And the overall experience is one that always helps me both understand myself a bit more and like myself a bit more.  Accept myself a bit more.

So, following my break this August, the base building will begin.

Keep running my friends – and stick with me!

6 thoughts on “On my first ultra, taking a break and then doing something that really scares me.

  1. Your ultra was the hottest day on record… or nearly, Wow sounds gruesome. I’m afraid that room really does not appeal to me, but I like your analogy. Good luck to Adam on his training and a big gulp on the Ironman decision!

  2. Ahh, Petra, can I tell you how much I loved reading this?! I couldn’t agree more with everything you said about thinking certain things are “not for you” or for “people like you”. I have lost out on many opportunities in life because I thought those very same things… But then I was reading about someone’s Ironman training just the other day and she was talking about how it had changed her as a person. And I thought to myself (although I didn’t dare say it out loud to anyone) that I want to do an Ironman some day. Never mind the fact that I have never done even a sprint triathlon!! I just know the physical, mental and emotional challenge of attempting such a race is something that I want to do. Of course, as any of us who have ever trained for a marathon knows, the challenge isn’t in the race but in the months and months of training!! My youngest two kids are still too little for me to think about committing to that type of training schedule but in a few more years, they will all be in school.

    I hope you enjoy your mini-break and I can’t wait to follow along in your training!!

    Oh, and have so much fun on your vacation to the US and Canada — wish we could meet up but that will have to wait for another day. 🙂 xoxo

  3. I was so excited to read about your Ironman that I forgot to say congrats on your first ultra!! I think being relaxed, having fun and smiling sounds like the best way to run an ultra. 🙂 That is another thing on my bucket list — one that I will likely tackle in the next year. I’m just copying everything you do, Petra! Ha!

  4. Petra,
    Congrats on your first ultra and Adam on training for his first marathon.

    That’s awesome on your 2014 goal and it’s good you don’t have to think about that right now. Since I will be there over the Summer, maybe I can go to Zurich to cheer you on during the Ironman.

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