On our group run last Saturday, I was talking to Nate about the mental aspects of running 100 miles. He's gone from 50K to 50 miles to 100K quickly and his first 100 miler will be at Vermont.
One thing that I told him is that all of the talking we do during training is cheap. It's easy to say you want to run 100 miles. To actually pull it off, is quite different. At some point, and for me, this tends to happen in the 60-80 mile range of a 100, you aren't really running a physical race any more. You're running a mental race, and this is where you find out if you really truly want to finish a 100 miler.
No amount of blathering about running a 100 miles before the race will get you past this point in the race. You no longer care what others will think about your performance. You no longer care about anything except the task at hand. Your body is screaming at you to quit and you have to find a way to keep going.
It's one of the things I love about 100s. Our world is so full of complexities and relationships and jobs and finances and advertisements and communications, etc. Eventually, in a 100, I reach a point where I have my running shoes, I am dealing with pain, I probably have a good friend for company, it's dark, and I'm wondering what the hell I'm doing here. Why am I doing this? WTF was I thinking when I signed up for this. But, as I think those thoughts, the outside world is gone. There is no job, no deadline at work, no mortgage payment, no broken down car, no roof to be replaced on the house. It's existence at its simplest, in many ways. Eat, drink, run.
I will admit that I've given in at times. I have not finished every 100 miler that I've started. But, my DNFs have mostly come with good "excuses". Mostly. In at least 1, I honestly quit. I was in over my head and didn't know what to do. Quitting was easy. In another, I gave in mentally, although my physical condition was questionable. But, in my head, I know that I gave up.
So, how do you get through the dark times? First, I constantly remind myself that "I chose to do this. This is what I do. This is part of who I am." It may sound trite, but it reminds me that it's all up to me. Either I have to want it or it won't happen. No one else is forcing me to do this.
Sometimes, I think about friends I've run with over the years. Some don't run any more or can't run any more. In particular, I think about friends like Jutta and Lydia and Karl and Mike and Mia - people who should be running, but who aren't even alive any more. Cancer took three of them, a heart attack took a fourth, and a drunk driver the fifth. If they can't run any more, perhaps I can run a mile for each of them.
I also try to remember that the time cut-off for the race will come and go, no matter what I choose to do. When that time limit expires, I will either have been victorious or I will have failed. Since I can't control the time, why not simply persevere and do the best I can with the time that's left. Isn't that how we should live our lives in general anyway?
Anyway, four easy miles with the dogs last night. Tonight will be 7-8 miles with 2-3 of those at tempo pace, depending on how I'm feeling. Tomorrow morning, I'll lift and do cross-training intervals. Saturday will be a 2-2.5 hour trail run. Not too much excitement there.
Mostly, I'm starting to get myself mentally focused on the race.