“The happiness of life… is made up of minute fractions–the little, soon forgotten charities of a kiss, a smile, a kind look, a gentle word, a heartfelt compliment.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Marathon training programs help runners prepare for one of the most grueling endurance races imaginable. Most of the programs are twelve to sixteen weeks in duration and are full of workouts that include tempo runs, intervals and long runs. Had it not been for the rigor and discipline of a marathon training program, it’s likely I never would have qualified for Boston.
Now I am older, wiser (?), and no longer obsessed with finishing times. At sixty, I find satisfaction and appreciation to simply to cross the finish line at the end of 26.2 miles. Last November I ran my best marathon in a decade, and I didn’t follow a training program. My preparation consisted mostly of cycling, including a century cycle race (100 miles) with a cumulative 7,000’ elevation climb. I trained with a pair of wild men cyclists on the road and my golden retriever on the trail. Experience has taught me that one size doesn’t fit all. In other words, it all doesn’t have to be one way.
That gets me to this year; in particular this past week. My buddy Ed and I trekked forty-miles on the Appalachian Trail. Mid-afternoon on the second day we hit a 1,000’ climb carrying backpacks with roughly thirty-five pounds of gear. When I got to the top, I was wiped. I don’t remember being half as exhausted running the Hills of Newton in the Boston Marathon. In fact, I remember chest-bumping a bunch of young guys at the top of Heartbreak Hill.
At the top of the mountain, bent over, hands on knees, and sweating bullets, I asked Ed, “How the hell do you train to hike the Appalachian Trail?” After an hour or so of debate, we concluded there is no training program that would prepare you to hike 2,200 miles. Six grueling months along unforgiving mountain trails requires physical and psychological preparation that comes from more than just being in great shape, but also possessing self-confidence, focus and an iron will.
Age has a way of reminding you to appreciate good health and maintaining it for as long as you can. After spending the first four months of 2014 nursing a nagging hip injury I’m more conscious of my health than ever. The injury forced me to abandon my first ultra-marathon that I had registered for in January. Recently I found another ultra I plan to run in November.
One reader emailed me and asked, How do you train for an ultra? Run a shitload of miles?
I wrote back: No. A shitload and a half.
My plan? A 30K trail run in September, marathon in October, and the ultra in November.