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Ultra Training: Unexpected Intimidation and Comfort

Following a weekend in Ohio, my wife and I drove back to DC on Monday. The route we took is one that we've traveled probably 20 times over the past six years, but this time I paid slightly more attention to our surroundings, since I'll be running a race there in six months (just typing this sentence was a very sobering experience).

We got hung up in Maryland traffic between Hagerstown and Frederick—not an uncommon occurrence—and from the passenger seat I was able to survey the Blue Ridge mountains between the two cities. The Appalachians aren't bad when you're blowing around and through them at 80 miles an hour; when you look from the bottom of one up to the top they're not so negligible. (Standard disclaimer: I'm an East Coast resident and know not of your 'Rockie Mountains', West-Coasters.)

Staring up at those mountains was really, really intimidating. More intimidating than anything that I've exposed myself to in the past year or so. I've never run further than a marathon. I live and train in a city that has no hills. I never run trails. These things have been weighing heavy on my mind the past few days, and it's not particularly fun to think about how I've set myself up for an uphill battle.

Most of these hurdles are more mentally daunting than anything else. It doesn't help that I've been outright lousy at getting all of my miles in as of late. On the plus side, I've been feeling really good the past few weeks. Beyond feeling good while running, I've been feeling that sense of comfort and enthusiasm starting to creep back in as my training increases. I'm enjoying runs more. Pete at Runblogger had a post yesterday that hit on this very point:

[N]ow that I’m once again running almost every day, I’m finding that my passion for the sport has returned full force, and it’s become very hard to take a day off (even when I know I need one). With the added mileage, I actually feel like my body handles the stress of running better, and my legs have regained some of their pop. I feel like a real runner again.

Now, I'm not 100% of the way there yet—more like 65% of the way there—but I'm starting to get that itch a few hours after a run to get out there again, the same sort of feeling that Pete's described. I'm actually going to try for a double today, doing an easy 3 in the morning and then an evening 4. My legs have been sore but not hurting—that good kind of sore that lets you know you've covered some ground. I actually want to run for the first time in a long while.

I'm certainly intimidated by the race coming up this fall, and crawling traffic did nothing but amplify my sense of dread; big hills are scary and I'm going to run on them for 15 straight miles or so. Daunting as the view was, it also helped me re-focus my wandering mind, reminding me of the training that I've missed and the challenge ahead. Sometimes a kick in the ass is what I need, and staring up at the mountains did that for me this weekend. Hopefully that motivation will last.