Pictured: Way Too Cool trails before the runners hit them via Ladia Albertson-Junkans

The following is an excerpt from the ‘If We Were Riding’ newsletter: ep. 25. Read other past issues of the weekly newsletter and subscribe.

by Kelly O’Mara

This past weekend I ran the farthest I’ve ever run: 31 miles (or 50 kilometers as we traditionally refer to the distance). Since running that far in the mud and rain and hail took a lot of my time, it also took up a lot of my brainpower over the last week. So if we were riding right now, you can be damn sure I’d be telling you about the two main things I learned out on the trails during the Way Too Cool 50K.

Racing is different than running. And that difference is only partially related to the pace at which you’re doing it. The real difference is in the choices you’re making. Are you choosing to push yourself at each point you can? To race the people around you, to race yourself?

A lot earlier than I’d have liked during the 50K, I went from racing to simply running. Partially, it’s hard to race something you are literally not sure you can finish. This was the big difference, historically, in Ironman — when, as a sport, it went from being a contest of completion to being a race. I think, for each of us, once we physically learn we can finish something (an Ironman or a half-marathon or a 50K or whatever), then we never lose that knowledge. At least, I hope so. And, then, ideally, we can start to race it. Partially, though, racing on trails is also a constant choice to focus, to decide where to put your feet or how to jump the river or if you need to climb the fallen tree. Trail racing requires a conscious willingness to push yourself and an acceptance that it means you might fall. I don’t think I did a good job accepting that on Saturday.

I should have also accepted something I knew, but didn’t really knowOnce it hurts, it never really hurts more. I mean it hurts more, but it doesn’t really hurt that much more. The pain doesn’t increase at the same rate; it levels off. I, for one, tend to feel like my legs are falling off somewhere around 15-17 miles (depending on the day). In that moment, it does not seem possible to run almost that far again. How could I, if I barely made it to here? But the reality is my legs don’t hurt much more at 29 miles than they did at 16 miles. And once you realize this, then you realize you can simply race through it. At least, I think. I haven’t yet tested this theory.

Obviously, there are many, many people who run much, much farther than I ever do. I’d imagine the things they have learned dwarf mine in comparison, but I also imagine you can’t really know something until you know it for yourself. If you could, what lessons would you share?

Read the rest of this week’s newsletter, or subscribe and have it delivered to your inbox every Wednesday.

Alyssa Godesky also shared her experiences running back-to-back 40-mile ultras on the IronWomen podcast. 

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