Last Updated on January 27, 2022 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
In just a handful of days I’ll be toeing the line of the 2nd annual Swamp Fox Ultra. This race was something that’s been on my radar for a year now, but if we’re being honest, was ranked somewhere on the “C” team. Kind of like I was in middle school basketball.
That’s code for “benchwarmer”.
Anyway, Swamp Fox was never something I had intended to really pursue as an A race. But Eagle Endurance’s race director Chad has this awesome $30 club that we are
cult members of, and who doesn’t sign up for a 100 miler when essentially it’s already paid for?
(Runners with focus don’t, that’s who. This is why I coach…but can’t BE coached.)
I ran Swamp Fox last year, got woefully lost, and quit about 56 miles in because my heart wasn’t into it…and there was no grilled cheese as promised at the turnaround.
Yes. It’s true. I did that.
This year my main focus was finishing the Barkley Fall Classic 50K. I trained my heart out AND my ass off for that one. I put everything into it.
And then the hurricane came.
We evacuated. My “A” race was over before it even started. Though my home was safe, our area was hit brutally hard with record breaking floods, and as such, my kids spent somewhere in the range of 21 days out of school. My training took a nose dive. Mother Nature doesn’t really give two shits about your race goals.
And then my sister got married. It was a lovely 5 day weekend, but also very busy as I got a crash course in decorating, catering, and officiating a wedding. . Another weekend without a long run, though it was 110% worth it.
And then my Dad died.
I don’t even have the right words to follow that one up with.
But I do know that in a world that has been turned upside down over the last month, ending with a devastating blow two weeks ago, sitting here on a Monday afternoon discussing pace goals, time cutoffs, and crewing strategy for a 100 miler next weekend that I’m woefully underprepared for has been wildly calming. I’ve been grasping at straws lately, anything to make my world feel normal again. I didn’t think that this “might as well” race would be it, but here we are.
I’m so grateful.
So I approach this weekend with a running list in my mind of all the things I am looking forward to, and all of the ways I will likely f*ck up this race. You see, the 100 mile distance and I have a very hilarious and very rocky relationship. It’s all my fault, really. Classic “It’s not you, it’s me” style.
The 100 mile distance has never promised to be anything it’s not, and has never hidden exactly what it is (really freaking hard, that’s what it is). Then there’s me, as hot and cold as that one friend who seemingly has a new boyfriend every other week. One minute I love ultras, the next I decide at mile 90 that I’m “over this sport and have nothing to prove”. One day I can’t get enough of running for hours on end, the next I quit because I want a grilled cheese. One day I’m killing a race, the next minute my intestines are popping through my abdominal wall, trying to kill me.
You get the idea.
I’d like to think that this time will be different…but I’m also not so naïve that I forget how hard this undertaking will actually be. Especially at this, an unsupported race on a gnarly, not super runner friendly, course. During training and before a big race, we always tend to think about the start and the finish of a race. We picture how incredible it will feel at the finish line, holding that race medal or belt buckle in our hands, beaming from ear to ear with pride. But when we think about the middle of the race, the hardest part of the race, we almost always underestimate how bad it can truly feel. It’s like childbirth: your mind purposefully forgets those ridiculously low points. It’s the only way the human population carries on…and ultrasignup.com stays in business.
I know I’ve done it before. I know I can do it again. Will this be the time I do it again? I don’t know. I do know about a zillion ways to f*ck up a 100 miler though.
Maybe I’ll go out too fast, like I always do, and convince myself that it’s fine because I end up holding that pace for the first 50 miles, but then crash and burn around mile 55.
Maybe I’ll stick to the pace goal from the very beginning, and it will pay off in the end.
Maybe it’ll pour and I’ll become borderline hypothermic, as I tend to do (I’m so bad at temperature regulation).
Maybe the weather will be absolutely perfect, and I’ll never need to worry about changing my clothes.
Maybe I’ll get a blister because I’ll convince myself to wear those Hoka Mafates, because they are so comfortable, but they give me a blister every damn time, and I NEVER get blisters.
Maybe my feet will be happy and content staying in the ol’ reliable Challenger ATR’s.
Maybe I’ll finally see the wild boars I’ve always heard about and have been wanting to see in the wild.
Maybe the boars will end up chasing me.
Maybe I’ll feel incredible for the first 80 miles, and successfully gut out the last 20 (best case scenario).
Maybe the pain will set in at a mere 15 miles because my training has been less than stellar.
Maybe I’ll recognize every step of this trail, and that alone will give me a huge confidence boost
Maybe I’ll get lost…again.
Maybe I won’t be able to hang on my own, overnight, utterly alone in the Francis Marion swamp (there’s only a few dozen people doing the 100+ mile distances at this race).
Maybe I’ll absolutely thrive on the alone time, and get exactly what I need out of this race.
Maybe my nutrition will be 100% spot on, I won’t get sick of Tailwind, I’ll eat a grilled cheese, and I’ll recognize the onset of a bonk before it actually happens.
Maybe I’ll fall into that familiar old trap of “I don’t want food anymore even though I know I need food.” and then crash and burn in the worst way.
Maybe I’ll keep my focus for the entire 100 (let’s be honest, it’s a Haffa race, it’ll be closer to 105) miles.
Maybe I’ll have another “I actually don’t really like running after all” moment around mile 89. Again.
Maybe I’ll miss Geoff at the check points by 10 minutes each time, and the frustration will break me.
Maybe he’ll time every single check in point perfectly, making this self-supported 100 miler not so self supported after all.
Did I mention that maybe I’ll get lost?
Maybe I’ll get lost. And bonk. And cry (I’ll definitely cry).
Maybe I’ll be my own worst enemy.
Maybe this will be the one that the years and years of training finally pays off for.
Maybe I’ll fall (I do that a lot).
Maybe I’ll fly (some days I do that too).
Maybe I’ll add another DNF to my list.
Maybe I’ll add another buckle.
I really have no idea what might happen this weekend, and that is truly part of the appeal. I’m ready to get (figuratively, definitely not literally…again) lost in the woods for 24+ hours. I’m ready for uninterrupted time in my head , to mourn the loss of my Dad, to figure out where I’m going next (again, figuratively, I’m hoping to very easily follow trail markers). I’m ready to not have to answer questions, or say “thank you” for the millionth time to people who tell me they are sorry for my loss…and fake a smile because I KNOW they are saying it out of the goodness of their heart, but deep down I just want to scream. I’m ready for the aching in my legs and feet, the exhaustion of missing a night of sleep while going on almost 30 hours of non stop movement to numb everything else I’m feeling.
It’s funny how the universe works out. This race was never supposed to be much of anything, in fact, for a long time I didn’t even think I was going to do it. But now? It couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. I can’t wait.
Here’s to whatever is going to happen out there.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.