Mental fitness or physical fitness was a conversation I had with myself as I ran the trails on Sunday morning. It was cold and windy out. I was facing the last long run of the weekend and the end of week one of taper for Lake Martin 100. I began by going through the routine of whether or not I was ready for this race. As the first mile ticked off I began to lose myself in the race strategy as well as what the pain would be like at mile 78 of the race. Why mile 78? No clue, it is just what popped into my head.
Not long after that I was making a right turn on the trail and planted my foot. Before I knew it I was falling to the ground with a thud and a gasp. I got up gingerly and looked at my right leg now coated in mud and bleeding. My right arm was covered in dirt as were my gloves. I took inventory and other than the small cut on my right knee everything seemed to be in working order. I walked for a few steps and then started to run again. Every step became more and more focused and that is when my left ITB, reacting to the fall, began to ache. I was going to run 10 miles but after 2.5 miles I knew I would just turn around and make it back to my car for a total of 5. I was not going to take any chances on this muddy trail with the race two weeks away.
As I progressed back toward the car I realized how important these 2.5 miles were. 2.5 miles over the course of the training to date which has totaled near 1000 miles would seem to be nothing. A small percentage of the overall total but they might have been the most important to this point. My left ITB was tender. My right hip was sore and my right knee was achy from the cut. I was not running fast but I was running. I put myself onto the race course and realized that if push came to shove I would finish that 100 mile race even if it took me the full 30 hours. There is no way that I will not get to the finish line and it was then that I started doing the math.
Dave, Jeff and I will represent 3 out of 39 competitors at Lake Martin. Statistics tell us that 50% will not finish that race for a myriad of reasons. With those numbers there will be approximately 19 finishers. Of those 19 we WILL represent 3 or approximately 15%. That is an amazing feat. I will not let either of them quit unless there is an injury so traumatic that it will not allow them to continue. This is where the mental fitness means more than the physical fitness to me. Being able to survive a race that does not unfold as we envision is how one displays the courage and the mental stamina to keep on moving.
If I were blessed with the ability to complete a 100 mile race in 18 hours or an Ironman in 10 but did not because I just did not have the ability to coax my mind to push my body to that level I would consider it a failure. There are plenty of great athletes out there that cannot endure because they do not have the ability to push through the pain and hurt. I do not consider myself a great athlete, but rather average at best, but I do know that nobody will work harder and get the most out of their ability. Each and every morning I wake up and put my Hoka’s on and head out the door. It is not a blazing fast workout or impossibly hard but I am getting out the door day in and day out. The body has its limits but the mind does not and when the mind says we can do this the body keeps going.
I have a goal for Lake Martin 100 and I have shared it with Dave and Jeff. I would consider us fortunate if we hit that goal, but I also know that regardless of achieving our set out times we will finish. We will find away when others take to the ‘crying chairs’ and decide to throw in the towel because they cannot go another step. We will dig deep and push each other along the way. We will tell jokes and stories and make the other person forget about the pain that is ravaging their feet, ankle, knees and hips. We will keep each other in line when it comes to hydration and eating so that when night falls there is little chance of delirium setting in because we were not prepared. We will cross the finish line with arms raised high knowing that we got the most out of our physical ability but relishing the fact that our minds would not allow us to quit despite the many obstacles we will come across.
Endurance sports are by definition the ability to endure while performing an athletic feat. During Ironman Arizona in 2012 I crashed around mile 10 of the 112 mile bike course, but unless there was something wrong with my bike I was going to finish that race. As a matter of fact that race was my fastest Ironman finish. During Ironman Texas 2013 I had a panic attack during the swim and had the worst swim of any Ironman race to date. I got out of the water with a determination to finish as best I could. That determination and mental strength led me to the 15th fastest marathon time of my age group despite temperatures reaching 110* that day. These events will be ready to be pulled on when the going gets tough, and it will, at the Lake Martin 100 but I have zero doubt that this daunting and unbelievable race will be finished and finished with a smile.