It has been a long process (14 years, to be accurate), but the patient approach to running ultramarathons is finally starting to make sense to me. You know, running your own race, not racing too early, staying on top of hydration and nutrition, listening to your body, etc. I used to think this was a bunch of nonsense or just sandbagging. The results speak for themselves: I have run 14 ultramarathons (5 x 50 km, 2 x 40 mi, 2 x 50 mi, and 5 x 100 km) and messed up 11 of these by going out too fast (I also messed up two of the remaining three by getting lost).
In addition to clearly showing that I am a stubborn dummy, I think these statistics may also mean that the ability to find a reasonable pace at the beginning of a race depends more on fitness and the resulting confidence than on experience alone. I noticed that all three races during which I paced myself well came when I was fairly confident that my training had prepared me well for the race distance. And I distinctly lacked this confidence during the other 11. I guess it is impossible to know or remember just how bad your body is going to hurt after you have pushed it way beyond what you had done in training.
So what is the ‘rabbit’ strategy all about then? Panic (“Oh, this is going to hurt. Let’s get it over with quicker”)? Optimism (“Oh, it’ll be different this time, and I am feeling great right now”)? Or are some people actually capable of getting it right (check out this hugely impressive example, which was pointed out by Ian Sharman)?
I am not sure. And I am even less certain about where this leaves me for the 85-mile Ridgeway Challenge this weekend. I have run the first halves of all my races this year fairly conservatively and finished them feeling strong. It would be nice to continue this streak, but then again, I have no clue what this distance is going to feel like. Think I should ‘put some time in the bank’ early on?