“I’m looking for an ultra marathon training group!”
I can’t train alone; I don’t want to! I want someone there to push me, to encourage me, and to motivate me to keep moving.
My training group, my training partner, supports me. I would never be where I am without these people or this person.
All the early mornings I may have hit snooze if it wasn’t for the people around me, pushing and encouraging me!
All of the late nights I would rather have been asleep, my training partner was there to challenge me!
My longest run during my ultra marathon training buildup wouldn’t have happened without the kind words and support of my friends. I needed them when the July sun beat down on the towpath and I’ll need them again when fall turns to winter and crisp winds gush through the trees of the forest.
I train for ultra marathons with a group. I am not lonely.
The morning of my race I meet with my group, we’re all running together, and we arrange our drop bags. It’s early fall and our training has gone wonderful; we’re ready to set off and earn our belt buckles.
We arrive together and start the race together.
The terrain early on is simple and we all stick together. Would we stay together throughout the run? Unlikely; how cool it would be, though, if we all crossed the finish line together!
The sun rises. “I’ll see you at the finish line!” one of our group shouts as he slows in the heat of the day.
We debate whether we, the rest of the group, ought to slow down too. A pack mentality. We grew together in training and now feed off each other’s energy. We run on.
As the morning turns into afternoon and the afternoon into evening, our pack spreads thin over the now-rugged trail. The sun dips below the treetops and one of our group has dropped out of the race. It was statistically inevitable, I suppose.
I fall behind the others.
A chill permeates my jacket as I slowly pull into an aid station. I expected to see another of my training group, my pack, but none are there. No other runners around. A volunteer assists me with food and water.
Did they see anyone resembling my friends? They don’t know; its dark, people have changed clothes, and most moved through quickly.
How quickly? Am I the slowest of the group? Or did I pass any of them and not realize it?
As evening turns to night, I see no headlamps around me. I am chilly, fatigued, and in pain.
I am alone.
I am alone on the Wicked Trail.
I am not prepared for this; I haven’t done a long run on my own in over a year! I don’t have my headphones and I have no one to talk to; my thoughts are dancing around in a circle of pity and fear.
Focus. Breathe. Make it to the next aid station. Maybe some of my group will be there!
And if they’re not? I must set off again down this Wicked Trail with no one. Can I keep moving with no one to push me, with no one to make jokes with and talk to?
On paper I am prepared. I have the mileage, the health, the strength; it’s all there!
The only thing missing now is my group, my pack.
Can I continue on if I don’t find them? Am I too far behind?
How does one prepare for this mental game; this loneliness?
Prepare for your dark, twisting, Wicked Trail as it will be; train alone, train in the cold, train in the rain, train fatigued, and train with fear. Train for the Wicked Trail.
A failure to prepare in one area of ‘ultra marathon distress’ (fatigue, pain, adverse weather, rugged terrain, loneliness) is a failure to prepare for the race. Preparation will carry you across the line, and a failure to prepare in distress can have disastrous implications.
Loneliness is a mental battle; your thoughts occupy the forest air and the soft footfalls of your battered feet must carry the conversation.
What do you think about? Who can you talk to? How can you control your thoughts?
Train this way. Explore your mind in loneliness.
Ditch the headphones. Ditch the running group. Do your running partner a favor.
“I’m doing this one alone.”