It isn't often that I head into a race with absolutely no expectations. In fact, I could probably count the times that I have on one hand. It's a rarity-- typically I've assessed the situation well, based upon how well my training has progressed teemed with other things like my diet, weight, etc. I even had expectations for the Green Jewel 50k, despite having never raced the distance and being heavier than I've ever been; and my knee was still recovering from an injury. I fell short of my goal, and my expectation for the race, but that's beside the point. To tell you the truth, I cannot remember the last time I raced without any expectations whatsoever, but I can imagine it was probably either during my second pregnancy when I looked like I had a mountain growing from my abdomen, or when I was 15 and could pace a 5k as well as I could speak Russian.
In less than 36 hours, I will be moving my way through uncharted territory: my first 24 hour race. Initially, I concluded it was going to be awful. I've never been overly fond of running in circles-- I hated running track, still hate the treadmill, hate running loops that are too short. I couldn't imagine anything worse than realizing I'd been running in circles for 9 hours and all I'd accomplished was 45 laps and aching legs. However, as race day has rapidly approached, I've done a near 180 in terms of how I view this run. Consider this:
1. There is decent scenery. Granted, I'm going to be passing it often enough that after 12 hours I'll probably be able to tell you how many leaves are on each tree, but it's still better than my bedroom wall in the case of the treadmill, or a football field in the case of the track.
2. It is "safe". There aren't long stretches between aid stations where I might find myself having run out of water, or with a growling stomach. Even at my lowest point in any race, I could make it to the end of a mile.
3. There is no end point. This is probably the best piece for consideration because it means if the unthinkable happens and I find myself limping at 40 miles, I don't have to be frustrated by the unavoidable DNF. I plan to run for as long as it "makes sense" (and I'll get to that later), so that could be 50 miles, 100k, 77 miles, or 4094059843p934 miles (yes, with the 'p').
This race, in other words, is not going to be the hamster wheel with no end in sight. It's literally one lap, one mile. That's it.
I have come to the conclusion that the smartest thing I can do is run a "comfortable" distance, after which I implement a set, scheduled run-walk. For better, more experienced ultra runners, this could play out in any number of scenarios. For me, this is going to play out in the form of a half marathon that is followed by two laps that conclude with a 5 minute walk "break", the latter (laps and walk) on repeat up to 50 miles. After that, my "pace" will consist of a lap run followed by 5 minutes of walking, again on repeat. When I find that I can no longer continue this schedule, I am going to stop. As much as I would love to suffer through the rest of the 24 hours, clawing along the crushed limestone, it just isn't going to make sense anymore. This isn't a 100 mile race, and I don't have to run 100 miles. I don't even have to run 2 miles. Staggering along a one mile loop for the sake of seeing how badly I can torment myself to conclude a full spin of the earth is pointless. My point here is to gauge my progress, and in this case that means running. Burning River will be a different story. But, we haven't crossed that bridge yet.
I have no expectations. This could pan out like gold, and I find myself at a gazillion bazillion miles 23 hours into the run. This could pan out like a loaf of bread that was left in the bread basket a few days too long and is now green with mold: I could end up in the passenger's seat of the car on my way home after 38 miles, my knee in utter agony. Or, I could end up somewhere in between. I have worked hard, harder than I have for a very long time. I have put in time not only on roads, trails, and treadmill, but in lifting weights, and eating a better diet. Lazy 14 mile training runs have turned into a more ambitious 30, and I've lost 6 pounds along the way. I don't know what's in store for me, but I'm eager to find out. :)