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I think I can, I Think I Can
“If you think you can, you’re probably right. And if you think you can’t, you’re probably also right.”
This expression applies to endurance sports as well as it does to other endeavors. The purpose of training is not merely to develop the ability to achieve your goal but to create belief in your ability achieve your goal.
My present goal is to finish the American River 50-Mile Endurance Run on April 2nd. As I write this post, the event is a little more than three months away, and I know with absolute certainty that I cannot run 50 miles. But I’m closer to being able to run 50 miles than I was a few weeks ago, and I’m confident that I will draw steadily closer in the coming weeks. In other words, I don’t yet think I can, but I think I could.
When training for shorter races in the past, I based assessments of my ability or inability to achieve my goals on how I performed and felt in a variety of workouts—long runs, tempo runs, interval runs, even recovery runs, sometimes. But in this case I’m focused entirely on the long runs I do once a week or so. Nothing else seems relevant. The apparent feasibility of running 50 miles on April 2nd hinges solely on how I feel and perform when I go long.
It’s hardly an exact science. I just hope to see progress—measured in terms of pace, perceived effort, and muscle soreness—in these sessions as they stretch closer to the distance I’ll have to cover in three months.
My most recent long run was a 2-hour, 45-minute jog on pavement (about as long as I plan to go before switching to dirt). On the positive side, my average pace for the entire run was about what I hope to average in the race, I covered more distance in the second half than I did in the first without increasing my effort, and I didn’t feel an approaching energy bonk when I finished. On the negative side, my legs were extremely sore and beat up in the last few miles. Muscle damage and pain are always my limiters in long runs.
I estimate that I could have run another 10 miles (or 50K in total) at the same pace with a gun to my head. It’s a little hard to imagine coming up with the other 19 miles of range I’ll need in order to achieve my goal in the next three months. But looking that far ahead is dangerous and unproductive in these situations. For now, all I need to worry about is feeling a little stronger and performing a little better in next weekend’s 3-hour run.
Matt Fitzgerald is a thoughtful author focusing on all things endurance and nutrition. We are all looking forward to seeing how this experiment fares. We have agreed, whether a magnificent triumph or in a crumbled heap, Matt’s first ultra in 2016 will be a journey worth following. Learn more about Matt HERE.