The training miles are done. The preparations are pretty much set. The start — and finish line — to this weekend’s race awaits.
But it’s not just any start or finish line. This Saturday, I will line up in Folsom, Calif., for the Rio Del Lago 100-mile race, my first at that distance.
On the one hand it seems ludicrous to imagine going that far. But then I think back to Karl Meltzer telling me his line that is well-known in the ultra running community, “One hundred miles is not that far.”
He’s right. One hundred miles is not that far. It’s all part of the mindset and progression.
Roughly eight and a half years ago, I completed my first 5K — a distance that seemed daunting when I laced up my sneakers for those early struggles around my neighborhood. When I crossed the 5K finish line, I celebrated the achievement of extricating myself from the couch to the roads and completing the first step of my running journey.
Later that year, I finished my first half marathon. A year later, I crossed “do a marathon” off my bucket list. More goals were met. Faster races. Longer events. Qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon.
Finishing Boston had been a longtime quest. As the realization that I would achieve that sunk in, I sought to draw inspiration from a big, new scary goal.
One hundred miles.
I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing a range of athletes, ranging from elites to mid-packers, who have finished 100 miles. I’ve been awed by every single one of their accomplishments.
Now it’s my turn.
I’ve been asked all the typical questions. “Where will you sleep?” Or “You’re running that whole way?” And, of course, “Why?”
That’s a fair question and one that I have found is critical to not only finishing the race but answering the 4:30 a.m. alarm clock day after day for the necessary training.
Knowing your “why” is also a common theme that has resonated with the ultra runners I have interviewed. When the inevitable dark patch (or patches) hits, it’s having a solid “why” that will help the runner continue.
The reward of a buckle is probably not enough to get a beat-up runner out of a comfortable aid station. And certainly the bananas, water and other treats at the finish line won’t be enough to motivate the runner to rise up and get after it.
I’ve written about my general “why” previously. But for this race, there are a handful of other “whys.”
This weekend is a time to celebrate. I chose to run 100 miles. And I chose to do it on a course that features roughly 8,000 feet of climbing and about the same descent. I could have picked a race that was flat and fast, relatively speaking. I could have picked a loop course that would be easier to manage the logistics.
But I chose Rio Del Lago because it is challenging (and, truth be told, because it is a Western States qualifier).
The race is a way to redefine what is possible for me. Just like that 5K was, so many miles and years ago.
This is what I have been waiting, preparing and training for. Not everyone has this opportunity. It’s time to make it happen. I owe it to my incredible support team, led by my wife and family members, and of course, my amazing coach, David Roche. We’ve only worked together since July but I feel stronger, happier and fitter than I ever have before.
My life is going through a transformation, the typical “sandwich period” of 50somethings. Our home life is transitioning to an empty nest. Meanwhile, my parents and in-laws are showing signs of their advanced age.
Those life-changing moments have made it clear just how short life is; a thought that has enveloped me recently. I’ve had plenty of time to think about life while I pound out miles on the trails, roads and (once in a while) the treadmill.
And, of course, that is another “why.”
There will be a day when life catches up with me and I will no longer be able to run. It’s the same thought I had when emergency abdominal surgery scuttled my plans four days before I was to run my first 100K in May 2018.
I emerged from that setback to run again, knocking off the Chicago Marathon four months later, then the Boston Marathon the following April and achieving my first 100K a year after surgery.
This weekend is another milestone in my journey. If you want to follow along, I’m Bib 152 at the Rio Del Lago race.
I appreciate every one of you who has taken the time to read this far, offer support in one way or another, tweet me a “good luck” or “well done” message and — most of all — my inner circle who without their support, none of this would be possible.
When I reach the finish line on Sunday morning, I can check off the 100-mile goal from my bucket list. And then it will be time to celebrate, express my gratitude to my supporters and think big once again.