|Mountain biking on Boreas Pass near Breckenridge, Colorado|
Spending a weekend at the Hardrock 100 was that cold shot of reality. Tip-toeing around the perimeter of that race was enough to realize that my own odds in such an endeavor were likely quite small, and yet I'm slated to line up for a similarly unruly event in less than six weeks. The Hardrock 100 stats are 102 miles of mountain travel on foot, with 34,000 feet of climbing. Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc is 103 miles with 31,000 feet of climbing — and, based on reports I've heard and small portions of the route I hiked while visiting Italy last fall, traverses somewhat similar terrain. Hardrock gives participants 48 hours to finish, UTMB only 46. Hardrock starts at 6 a.m., UTMB at 6 p.m. — guaranteeing two full nights out and approaching a third. Why oh why oh why did I think this was an achievable goal? Oh yeah, because I love hiking in the mountains. UTMB seemed like a lot of awesome hiking in the Alps. Why oh why oh why?
Because of shin splints I effectively have not run in a month. Nothing I can do about that now but hope my time mostly off my feet helped the injury heal, hope that biking helped me hold onto my endurance, and venture back into running. I've completed three largely pain-free eight milers this week. On Saturday I hoped to head out for a long run, but then the temperature shot up to 98 degrees. I figured that shuffling along at the maximum speeds I'm able to achieve in that kind of heat wasn't going to do much for my "training," so I shortened it to one of my usual eight-mile loops. I set out with Beat, who is already mostly recovered from the Hardrock 100 and running a lot stronger than me. I suffered, and then felt completely exhausted once I got home — more so than any of my fifteen-mile hike/runs in Colorado, and a lot more so than I should after eight miles. It's silly to gripe about weather, but let's just say I'm substantially happier and stronger when temperatures are below zero versus above ninety. There's a reason I consider summer my "off season." Winter's a good time for me and it was winter when I signed up for this UTMB thing. Why oh why oh why?
Today Beat and I joined friends for a four-hour mountain bike ride. The temperature was still in the nineties but it's a bit easier to generate a breeze on a bike. We pounded out the 3,000-foot grunt to Black Mountain, rode fun trails above Steven's Creek Canyon, and then for good measure threw in a money climb near the end — a thousand feet of gain in 1.5 miles. That was the best I've felt since we returned to California. It gave me an idea for training — continue to build up gently on my runs, and two or three times a week, do intensity intervals on my bike. I can't trust myself with speed work on my feet. At this point, the chance of injury — from overuse, misuse, or most likely, blunt trauma — is just too high. But working up time on my feet through long slow distance, punctuated by lung-searing cycling intervals, seems like my best recipe for cram-training success. For a race that's in six weeks from now. Yeah, I know. Why oh why oh why?
But another thing Hardrock showed me is that I don't want to back out of this. In fact, I think I want a UTMB finish even more than before. It's the very unruliness of it that injects daily inspiration into my work routine and giddy anticipation into my flailing efforts beneath the July sun. Why indeed.