Alea Jacta Est

Yesterday, I finally took the plunge and signed up for my first ultramarathon: the Watchung 50K.  I made running an ultra a goal about a year ago, but hadn’t fully committed to a race until just now.  I had almost decided on the Canlake 50, but it fell on my partner’s birthday (nothing says “happy birthday” like forcing someone to watch both kids while you go run for 8 or more hours), and at the time I hadn’t really set a solid base of weekly miles down yet.  I really needed a race that wasn’t too far away, because flying is out of the question with our current budget.

Common sense says that since I run almost exclusively on roads, I should run a road race, but there really aren’t that many road ultras at all, let alone within driving distance of New York.  The Watchung is a trail race, but I read the course description and a few race-reports runners had written up, and it doesn’t sound too hilly or technical.  It’s also on my birthday, and I think the prospect of celebrating turning 33 by running 33 miles is exciting and inspiring.  The fact that my birthday is on January 7th, so the race is going to be in the woods, in Northern New Jersey, in the dead of winter, is (I must admit) a selling point to my inner masochist.  I actually love running in the winter, because its so peaceful and serene (lets see if I say that after 8 hours of running in the snow!)

Why this might work:

  1. It’s a 50k, so its not much more than a marathon.  It’s like a marathon, with a 10k thrown in for free! That’s not all that far. (right? right?)
  2. It’s a trail race, but not that technical of a course.
  3. I’m running too and from work, so I can get in a lot of miles easily; I get out early enough that I could always tack on an extra hour if I left school right after 8th period and still get home at my regular time.
  4. I love that I found a race on my birthday!  Seems like a great way to contemplate life and aging, while celebrating being alive and conquering obstacles.
  5. The course is only about 50 minutes away.
  6. It’s 3 loops of an 11 miles course, so if disaster strikes I’m not that far from the starting point.  It also makes a drop bag full of food and drink easily accessible.
  7. It’s put on by the NJTrail Series, which put on the Muddy Marathon, and they throw a great, fun, laid-back race.
  8. I’m stubborn, I love running, and I don’t give a s**t about my time, so as long as I finish, I win!

Why this could all go wrong:

  1. It’s a trail race.  I don’t run on a lot of trails.  I could be getting in for something that I am not trained for at all.  7 miles of trail is VERY different than 33.
  2. I’m using Bryon Powell’s training plan from his fantastic ultra-training book, “Relentless Forward Progress.”  Its a 24 week training program.  I just started.  My race is in 12 weeks.  (Hey, I teach English, not math).  My thinking is that I’ve done a lot of the running that the first half requires, give or take (okay, take) one or two long runs.
  3. How the hell am I going to fit 24 and 26 mile training runs into my weekend?  Finding time for 14 or 18 is one thing, but the few epic long runs are going to be tricky.  Also, training calls for a lot of back-to-back weekends: long run Saturday, shorter run Sunday.  I might end up running my Sunday runs after the kids are asleep.
  4. It’s in the dead of winter.  (Funny how some of the selling points and drawbacks are identical).

But there it is.  I’ve signed up.  I figured if I wait until I know I have enough time to train, Nat will be in high school and I’ll be in my fifties.  Since I really don’t care about my time and just want to finish the distance, I really think under-training won’t be that big of a deal.  That’s the lesson I took from my last marathon, when I missed about every-other long run, dropped a bunch of the weekday runs, and finished in 4:20.  Not an impressive time, but I had a blast and I barely finished my training program.  Distance is largely psychological — the first time I ran a marathon, 4 hours of running seemed daunting, the second time, not so much.  This is going to sound naive or arrogant or both, but once you’ve overcome the obstacle’s in your mind, it’s simply a matter of doing it.

This goal will obviously comprise the main narrative thread for this blog for the next three months.  I’m excited about how things will go, because I have no idea — its the first time since my first marathon in ’08 that I’m embarking on something new and unknown.


About Chris Van Dyke

I am a 33 year-old high school English teacher and long-distance runner. I live in Brooklyn with my partner, our 3 year-old son and 1 year-old daughter and a growing collection of muppets and trains. Besides running and teaching I like to draw, read, write, cook, and play the harmonica. While I didn't get to run my first ultra-marathon on my birthday, I've got a few more I've set my sights on. You can follow my (seldom updated) twitter feed @aboutrunning. I also blog as part of the Run Smiley Collective.
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4 Responses to Alea Jacta Est

  1. Your Dad says:

    Iam very proud of you for setting a goal and striving to obtain it!
    Iam pulling for you 100%.

  2. I recently read a race report on someone (How I wish I would bookmark these posts so that I can properly acknowledge them later) discussed their marathon training. This runner hadn’t completed the typcial miles used in training. He abonded runs when they were junk miles and went as far as he wanted when they were golden miles. Basically, he applied the run smiley method to marathon training and didn’t run miles to just run miles. So, maybe if you can’t get in all those miles because you have other committments, golden or smiley will be enough.

    • Chris Van Dyke says:

      I’m also inspired by Jason Robillard’s post on how he “trained” for Western States at about 20 miles a week. Of course, he’d run multiple 100 mile races before, so it wasn’t new, but conventional wisdom would say not training for WS100 would be insane. And he ran it sub 24.

  3. If I could edit my reply, I’d say abandoned not abonded.

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