It's an honest question: Why do hard things?
I may not be the most natural person to pose this question, given that I seem to have somewhat of an unnatural propensity towards suffering or what we like to call Type II fun: "fun in retrospect". And yet, I wonder: Why?
In a way, I believe that choosing to do hard things is a privilege: having the freedom and the drive to go out and actively pursue difficult challenges tends to be an indicator of a life that doesn't include a great deal of day-to-day hardship. At least that's the conclusion that Brad Stuhlberg arrived at in his 2017 piece for Outside Magazine Why do Rich People Love Endurance Sports, and I have to admit that the logic (and research) resonates.
On a very personal level, though, I have a completely different answer to the question of 'Why do hard things': for me, taking on challenges is all about accessing the full range of human experience. It's not that I want to suffer - but I want to take on projects that require me to give my all, to be fully present, to creatively solve problems, to strategize, to improvise, to persevere and to live and work through the joyous high of successful progress as well as the lows of unexpected roadblocks or the threat of defeat. I want to feel the full amplitude of human potential; my weapon of choice is mental and physical challenge rather than mind-altering chemicals.
On Running 100 Miles...
So in case you were wondering what on earth made me sign up for an ultra hard mountain 100 miler - did I mention that the Ouray 100 has 83,000ft of elevation change?? - at the end of July... this is your answer. More pragmatically though, and in response to several inquiries, let's talk about how to get ready for a race like this.
I have completed three 100 milers in the past, and attempted another two which I ultimately DNF'd (Did Not Finish). The successful finishes in 2012, 2013 and 2014 were in three races of wildly different character but they all had one thing in common: I did not train very much for them. Let me quantify that. Lean Horse, my first Hundred, was the one I took most seriously; I was happy to be able to carve out 35 flat, sea-level miles per week (mpw) for the four months leading up to the race. In 2013 I completed Western States - averaging less than 18 mpw in the six months before the race, even though that time period included several ultra races. In 2014 I finished the very rugged and tough Ghosts of Yellowstone... and I have no idea what my average weekly mileage was, but I am willing to bet that it was closer to 18 than 35 mpw as I was working on a difficult project and towards a major promotion at work that summer.
Why am I sharing my old 100-Miler history? For two reasons: one, to let you know that it is possible to be an ultra runner and complete long-distance races without committing to a training regimen that feels like a part-time job (I even managed to pull off a sub-24hr finish on the 35mpw training schedule). Two, because I want to put into context how major a stepup my training for the upcoming Ouray 100 is. Now let's talk tactics.
Sunny's Ouray 100 Training Plan
I am notoriously terrible at following training plans - life always ends up getting in the way, doesn't it?! The way I use this plan is mostly to have a concrete goal for my overall mileage each week, and an idea of the number of long runs that I'll need to make time for in order to hit the goal. I rarely execute the plan precisely as it's written, but tend to shuffle things around as my life schedule evolves.
Here is my conceptual training plan, and what my actual training log looks like.
A few other things that I place great value on - beyond having an actual training plan but approaching it with a notion of flexibility - are sleep, food, and altitude. Sleep and nutrition should be no brainers (the body needs more and better quality of both when undergoing this type of effort). Altitude is a specific twist to the Ouray 100, the race I am training for: with a course that tops out at 13,300ft and never dips below 7,600ft... acclimatization is key. You can bet that I will spend as much time as I can training and sleeping above 10,000ft.
And with that... time to go for a run. Happy training!