GUEST BLOG: The Race That Is Always Ending

I like to ask questions.

Talk to my wife. It drives her crazy. Rarely can she get through a story without me grilling her, Matlock style, for more facts - I need to know who, where, how, all the juicy details. It’s the way my mind works. I really should have been a detective. I can’t just be told something. I can’t just accept things for what they are. I have to know why. I need to understand all the tiny, intricate details behind something for it to make sense. The ‘why’ always leads to another ‘why’, and so on. You’re agitated now, just like my wife, I know. What does any of this have to do with running or racing?

A lot.  

I recently finished another Hot Hot Hundred 100K Relay - 40K on the day, just under 26 total miles, and some 5,000+ feet of elevation gain. Our team finished in 13+ hours. For some strange reason, we/my team/I, decided to run the event again this year as a 3-man team. I preface again because that’s the only way I’ve ever experienced the event since its inception. Each year, four laps around the tree farm, four X the pain, and yes, usually, four X the satisfaction upon completion. I’ve competed in big Fall ultra’s each year, usually in October, and the HH100 has always been a perfectly nestled big mileage training day on my schedule.

For those who haven’t participated in the HH100 previously, you should. Try a two, three, or four person team (most teams elect to run as a 5 person team, each runner completing 2 laps). Here’s your quick primer:

  • Trails
  • Laps
  • Running
  • Hot
  • Heat
  • Climbing
  • Suffering
  • Eat
  • Drink
  • More climbing
  • Pee (A LOT!)
  • Drink, rest, run again, eat, heat, climb, compete,..(you get the idea)
  • Beer/Baconator

While 2015’s Hot Hot Hundred was probably my best overall performance, the last two years have been somewhat of a grind. A good grind, but still a grind. So naturally, after this year’s event, I started asking why? I attribute it all to a few variables that will sound familiar, but in my quest to go deeper and understand, I think I unlocked something else that may have been weighing on me (and those around me - I saw the “grind” on a lot of faces this year). The last two years have seen increases in my overall training mileage, race load, and responsibilities at work and home - all variables that will take a toll on your performance. I still consider myself a strong runner, over fast or quick. I’m not going to win any races, but I’ll still reel in runners throughout the day, climb and finish strong.

The physical aspect of where my body is in this season of life got me to thinking more about the mental side of running ultras and events like the Hot Hot Hundred (a recurring theme if you’ve followed any of my writing, the mental aspect of it all). While I consider myself a mentally strong runner (I’ve only ever dropped from 1 race), I like to think I figured out why I, and those around me, were approaching laps with such trepidation and why the HH100 can be so difficult. Simple answer: the race is always ending.

I would guess the majority of runners run the majority of their races by themselves, from start to finish, with only short stops at aid stations for respite. Relay’s, much less trail relay’s, aren’t necessarily popping up all over the country (while I do understand they’re growing). A relay runner on a team smaller than five people must constantly manage their day, both mentally and physically. While we’ve touched on the physical battles - the heat, the difficulty of the course, and the constant need to stay fueled and hydrated, what about the fact that someone is almost always finishing a lap? And how does seeing people finish all day play on your psyche? Would it make you want to be done more, or less?

Go deeper for a second. Reflect on how this could weigh on you mentally. Any given runner on a team between 3-5 would have between 2 ½-5 hours of downtime between loops. Imagine how many people you’d witness crossing the finish line during that period. Not to mention, you’ve already completed a tough 10K yourself. Then another 10K, then, maybe, another. At what point does your mind convince your body you’re done? I imagine, on a much larger scale, runners who attempt the infamous Barkley Marathons may experience something similar - someone always finishing, the repeated returns to the finish line and your base camp. Another question comes to mind; what’s the more difficult race, the point-to-point 100 miler, or a race of the exact same distance split evenly in five exact and precise loops? Logic would say they’re equal, right? Experience and a quick delve into mental visualization say you’d prefer the point-to-point.

So there it is. Is the theory that someone is always finishing the actual reason why the HH100 is so difficult? Or in my case, is it because I have a gloriously wild 21-month old at home, increased responsibilities at work, my body is getting more and more interested in a break I’m just not willing to give it, or because it was easily the hottest it’s ever been at the Hot Hot Hundred?

Oh, I’m doing it again.


Jesse ChulaComment