5 years ago, I made an important decision. I decided to take a break from road running and focus more on trail runs and trail races. After 15 years of running on the road (20 marathons, at least as many Half’s, and countless 10k’s, 5 milers, and 5ks) I’d kind of reached the limit of what I thought I could achieve on the road. All my PR’s were already 5 years in the rearview, by that point, and I needed a new challenge. Something that would push me outside of my comfort zone. So, I signed up for a 50-mile trail race. My first Ultra!
Eventually, success in that first Ultra race led me to do some other crazy endurance-type things to push that comfort zone limit line out even further. Things like: Hike 75 miles of the AT in 3 days, summit all of 48 of New Hampshire’s 4000-foot peaks in 7 ½ days and run my first ever 100-mile race. All these experiences were amazing. Challenging yes, but amazing none-the-less. And I feel fortunate enough to have been able to do them and live to tell the tale. So to speak.
However, these ultra races came at a price. And that price was speed. In order to train for, and finish, all these long-distance events I chose to focus my energies on endurance, rather than speed. So, track workouts, tempo runs, and fartleks all went out the window in favor of distance, distance, and more distance. What also went out the window was short road races. And, as it turns out, those races were the real key that unlocked my speed.
You see, road races (and the fact that I needed to run them without embarrassing myself) kept me honest about my fitness, my weight, and my speed. In the woods you can hide. Safe in the knowledge that your only goal is finishing. On the road, you and your time (and the spare tire under your singlet) are there in all their glory for the whole world to see. If you want to do well and be happy with your result in a road race, you must be accountable. And, for me, that lost road race accountability led to lost motivation and ultimately lost speed.
So now I find myself faced with a decision. I can stick with the status quo, do my leisurely (read: fat and happy) trail runs in the woods and just enjoy the calm, pressure-free experience. Or I can push outside that comfort zone once again and try to see if I can regain some of that lost speed as I near the ripe old age of 50.
Of course, the only way I know to successfully do that is by abandoning the trail and going back to my original running love – the road. It’s rather ironic. Don’t ya think?