Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and good things will happen.
That was the mantra that my high school cross country coach, Greg Wilson, preached on a daily basis. The result was multiple team and individual state championships, league domination and — more important — hundreds of less gifted athletes who developed a lifelong love of running far beyond their high school days.
Don’t cheat yourself. Be the best that you can be. Find out what you are made of. Those were coach Wilson’s lessons.
Almost 14 years later, his message still rings true, and I’m putting it to the test again.
Three months from today — just 13 short weeks — I’ll step to the starting line of my first 50-mile race, the Leadville Silver Rush 50-Mile Trail Run.
For some perspective of what that means for my training, last weekend was just my second marathon, and in February I ran my first 50K (31 miles), so this will be 19 miles farther.
For a bit more perspective, my home in Overland Park, Kan., is 1,086 feet above sea level. Leadville, Colo., is located at 10,200 feet and the race will climb to about 12,000 feet on four occasions.
Running 50 miles is supposed to be difficult, but even experience ultra-runner friends of mine have said it’s crazy to choose a race at significant altitude for my first 50-miler. I have no doubt that they are correct with that assessment.
Still, that’s also where coach Wilson’s lessons come into play. Don’t cheat yourself. Find out what you’re made of. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
It’s quite possible I won’t finish. I could turn an ankle or get altitude sickness and have to stop. I might get sick the day before the race (It happened when I ran my first marathon).
It’s also quite possible that if I put in the necessary preparation, I’ll finish this race. Time isn’t important as long as I beat the 14-hour time limit, and I’d like to think that would happen with sufficient training.
Where to begin? Here’s what I know: There’s about 8,000 feet of climbing during the race. Last summer when I ran the Pikes Peak Ascent half marathon in Colorado — a race that began at 6,800 feet and climbed to 14,115 — I handled the more than 7,800 feet of vertical gain just fine. Replicating the hill training from last summer makes sense. The big adjustment will be adding more endurance training (both mileage and overall time on my feet). My plan calls for seven straight 10-mile days early in training to bolster my mileage base, as well as two 50K training runs and a few more long runs in the 20-24-mile range.
The one component beyond my control is preparing for altitude. I will head to Colorado a week before the race to acclimate, but what would be most beneficial would be to have a spring and early summer as brutally humid as Kansas endured in 2011. I found out during Pikes Peak training that humidity was my best friend when it came to simulating running while struggling to breathe.
Three months. Thirteen weeks. It’s time to get to work.