Lesson 1: Train I used to think that commuting to work and doing the occasional gravel road century was enough. I finished my first Arrowhead 135 with basically no training. I finished the Dirty Kansa 200 with basically no training. Heck, I ran my first marathon with absolutely no training. Skiing the Triple D shocked me out of my complacency. I barely made it through the 18 or so miles of flat terrain. Needless to say, I didn't finish the Arrowhead that year...or the next. The third year I put together a training program. Nothing special, just a guide to what I would do day by day to get myself ready. It worked. Last year I used a slightly modified plan to finish the Arrowhead on foot.
Lesson 2: Sell your rollers. Go outside. Ride in rain, sleet, snow, wind, and darkness. Ride on gravel, mud, snow, and ice. Run through mud and creeks, and over roots and rocks. Ski in the rain and on ice. Your races will be like this. When everybody else stays home or bails at the halfway point you will laugh and know that you've been through worse.
Lesson 3: Eat food, drink water. There are lots of expensive gels, bars, and powders out there. You don't need them. Sure, they probably work, but there are tastier, cheaper options. Fig bars, peanut butter sandwiches, trail mix, pizza, cheese and sausage. Energy drink? Ensure, Carnation Instant Breakfast, and soy milk. Chocolate covered espresso beans can save a race. Eat! Drink! Use them! It is better to stop and pee than stop and pass out.
Lesson 4: You can go farther than you think. In 2009 I skied the Tuscobia trail ultra. 67 miles into this 75 mile race I was suffering from horrible blisters, poorly waxed skis, and weird hallucinations. I had given up on skiing and was walking slowly down the trail. There was no way I was going to finish. I reached a road and powered up my cell phone; no signal. The race director rolled up a few minutes later and I told him I was done and needed a ride in. He said "no." Walking the next eight miles is the toughest thing I've ever done. I made it.
Lesson 5: Know the meaning of "quit." When you are pushing your boundaries and trying new things sometimes you get in over your head. When you feel like there is no choice but to quit ask yourself this: How will I feel in a week about having quit today? If the answer is, "terrible," then keep going. If the answer is, "like I did all I could," then quit. Be honest. You'll know if you're not being honest. Sometimes getting the Myrtle the Turtle award is a step in the right direction.
Lesson 6: The hardest part is getting out the door. Feeling sorry for yourself? Didn't finish that gravel race again? Seriously underestimated a 100 mile run? Ride across town to the coffee shop, run one lap around the park, get up and do something! Chances are you'll end up doing a 30 mile ride or a ten mile run and feel better.
Lesson 7: Savor it. In 2006, at my first Arrowhead, I was exhausted, cold, alone, and riding through a flat boring swamp. I knew I was going to finish, it was just a matter of time. So I stopped got out some food and water and just looked around. I said to myself, "This is why I came here. This is what I want to be doing." I felt great.
Lesson 8: Look out for old guys on crusty mountain bikes. It's not the young guy on the custom titanium rig who is going to win. That old guy is going to beat all the fatbikes to the finish line and set a record doing it.
Lesson 9: Commute. Ride to work every day. Walk if you have a trip to make that's less than a mile. You'll never be out of shape and you'll learn how to dress for the weather. Just remember: commuting miles don't count towards training (see #1).
Lesson 10: Be afraid.
- Luke: "I won't fail you. I'm not afraid."
- Yoda: "You will be. You will be."
Lesson 11: Call me a Sissi. You're not normal. You are doing things nearly everyone considers dumb. You wear tight pants. You will get made fun of when you're out there running in the rain. That's okay. When someone calls you a Sissi smile and tell them, "No, they're tougher than I am."