The “Doubt” Run

You think you’ve got the tools. You know the difference between believing the truth about yourself and your abilities, relying on your training, trusting the process, and believing an outright lie. Then why, you might ask, is living out the truth at times such a difficult thing to do, especially when it comes to training for and running a 100-miler?

The human mind is an immensely difficult and power thing. It’s complex and doesn’t always make sense. Yes, this blog, as are hundreds of others, is about the mental game, doubt, anxiety, fear, and belief - because 100 miles is a really long way for a human to travel in one day. While a part of me says I’m wildly unqualified to write about these topics, the realist in me says “screw it”, there’s no one more qualified to describe my own personal journey through something than me. And what’s so wrong with being vulnerable every once in a while anyway?

Here’s what happened.

There were some really pretty rock formations early in the run near Todd Road.

I had a bad day. A really bad day. A bad day that was a bad training run where pretty much everything went wrong. So bad in fact that during the run I began to contemplate whether or not I could complete the War Hammer 100 in June, or if I should even attempt it. I’ve had similar thoughts each day since then, too. It was the first and only day this year that I’ve doubted my abilities to complete this race.

While the number of poor long runs I’ve had in my first 8 of 20 weeks of training have been slim to none, why, I ask myself, is this one day hitting me so hard? I haven’t been able to completely solve the puzzle yet, but I think it has something to do with how hard we are on ourselves, how the mind receives and processes negativity (and ultimately how we naturally want to reject it), and how we understand the concept of truth. Because of the uncharted territory I find myself in, I also believe the issue is so much more than just those ideals and that the weeks ahead will provide more insight into not only my training, but the race itself.

First, back to the run.

Mike and I planned this run early in the week of 2/26/18 to take place on Friday, 3/2/18. It was set to be a beautiful, almost perfect day for exploring after a long stretch of crummy weather in Central and Eastern, KY. I’d take the day off work, drive down to McKee, KY and meet Mike at 8AM (we were both early), drop my car off at the trailhead we’d finish at, jump in his Jeep and head out to the start, a stretch of the War Hammer 100 course about 30 minutes up the road in Beattyville. After tip-toeing passed a small stretch of brush as to not step foot on some private property, we slowly started what would eventually become a 23.5 mile slog through actually some of the prettiest areas of trail running in the state.

I caught Mike taking a dip in the creek near Turkey Foot.

The beauty was quickly and often offset by my performance on the day. Slow, sluggish, lacking energy or any spark in my running, I immediately knew it wasn’t going to be my day and bargained with myself to not look at my watch for as long as I could hold out. It gets worse. I next did something I’ve never done before in training. I began playing the mental game by transporting myself from that cool, sunny day in early March to Saturday, June 2nd (strangely, it was exactly 3 months away from the date of the race). It was one of many mistakes I made that day. During those moments of self-realization, self-assessment, or ‘self-transportation to a future date’, I wallowed in self-doubt and wore the pin of pity on my vest as some sort of trophy I’d collected for poor performance. If I was struggling 2-3 miles in to a 23-mile training run, how on God’s green earth would I make it to the finish of a 100-miler, or even mile 60, or 80 of 100? This weight hung on me like a cinder block, stuffed down into my Salomon pack like an extra water bottle. I countered. I kept telling myself, “one run does not define your training”, “one day is meaningless in the grand scheme of 20 weeks”, “just get through this and reset next week”, then finally settled on, “practice at something else”. There it was, the smallest of breakthroughs.

I began to verbally process out loud to Mike what I was feeling and thinking, he’s a good sounding board. I was emotional but I wasn’t. I told him I was fine and just needed someone to listen to me and that I’d decided to push through this day and “practice” at running and feeling real bad. That way, I’d decided, was the only way I’d be able to actually succeed at anything that day. If I simply lowered the expectations of my personal performance, I could easily end the run (in another 4 hours) feeling OK with what I was able to accomplish. I also realized this slog was going to prove vital in creating another muscle memory in regards to what it feels like to really struggle on the trail and to keep going. A great “I’ve been here before and know how to get through it” kinda thing - moments that are sure to surface during a 100 mile race. Ultimately, I finished. I put one foot in front of the other while doubt about the actual race continued to grow. “There’s no way I can do this”, I said to myself, as I continued on knowing and naming my mistakes.

Hitting the trail again after a brief stretch of asphalt and gravel near Arvel.

Back to the concept of truth. Was my truth that day the realization that 100 miles is too far for me and that I’m just not ready? Had a 23-mile stretch of the course beat me 3 months before the actual race? Or was the reality setting in even deeper regarding how difficult this journey is going to be? Either way, the pressure was felt.

So what’s next? Right now I feel somewhere in the realm of OK, positive, scheduling more rest days, completely defeated, giving up, getting back at it, and exhausted both mentally and physically, as I’m sure many are that have decided to tackle a race of this distance. Experience and logic both tell me that my fitness is in a completely fine and acceptable place. Only two weeks prior, I had crushed a 20-mile training run on the same trail, the Sheltowee, that time in Morehead, KY on the Big Turtle 50-Mile course. I even ran a solid negative split that day. A full week off of training to rest and reassess would probably do more good than harm on the mental and physical side. I’d lose no fitness.

As far as other answers about the weight of the day are concerned, I just don’t know. When something is important to you, like a major life goal, failures, even small ones, have a way of digging into your spirit. The right answer, albeit the one I’m still seeking, has to be somewhere close to taking a deep breath, taking a step back, looking back on the achievements of the past two months, resting, resetting my mind, and focusing in on what I know to be the truth. After all, it was only one ridiculously terrible day.  

I won't soon forget this run or what I learned in that forest.


Jesse ChulaComment