We all have those song lyrics, lines of a poem, or quote that stick with us. This one, by my favorite singer-songwriter, captures my typical feelings midway through an ultra, aka the infamous “bad patch.” This particular song, “The Hard Way” is on my ipod shuffle, so I usually hear it once or twice during a race; the title alone is a constant reminder of why I am drawn to the hard work of ultrarunning. I love the challenge of creating a training plan, navigating the delicate balance of family, work, early wake-ups, bad weather, and going hard for a goal *almost* as much as racing. Putting together the pieces of speed workouts, strength training, recovery days, and long runs is the fun part of the training cycle, and requires trust in my training, a bit of luck and good timing, as well as commitment and consistency. Creating a successful training cycle can be tricky but incredibly rewarding, as the race itself becomes the “frosting” on the proverbial training “cake.”
Turning 55 in December reminded me that a) I wasn’t getting any younger, so b) 2018 had to be the year of “taking leaps of faith and doing things that scare me.” 2017 turned out to be particularly satisfying season of ultra adventures, as I had managed to string together a few solid races: Mt. Mitchell Challenge 40, Promise Land 50K, Bighorn 54, Iron Mountain 50 and the Trilogy 50, where I finished first female. I had a blast pacing Jeff Lysiak to a sub-24 silver buckle at Old Dominion, crewing John Andersen at his first sub-24 Western States, pacing Keith Knipling to his third Hardrock finish, and pacing Jason Farr to his second Grindstone 100 finish. Helping these men work through their own bad patches in four very different but difficult 100s was inspiring. Taking their lead, I realized that I needed to suck it up and overcome my “never again!” attitude about 100 milers, so I decided to go for a sub-24 Old Dominion 100 finish.
OD100 is a very cool, old school, “no coddling” ultra. It is the second oldest 100, celebrating its 40th year in 2018. The course is a mix of rolling gravel roads, pavement, and a few stretches of rocky Massanutten Trail single track and ATV trails. The start field is limited to 90, and runners finishing under 24 hours are awarded the coveted silver OD buckle. Those who finish between 24:01 and 28 hours get a handshake at the awards breakfast and a commemorative race souvenir, and nothing else. These are just a few of the reasons I want to run this race. I love hilly gravel roads more than technical single track. I love the low-key vibe and the family feel of the event. I love the challenge of going under 24 hours, and the long history of the event — the finishers list is a tribute to the men and women who have shaped ultra history: there are Hardrock and Barkley finishers, Grand Slammers, and back-of-the packers. To be considered a true Virginia ultrarunner, I have been told, one must finish the OD100.
The one defining characteristic of OD that has scared me away all these years is the infamous Virginia heat and humidity that settles in Fort Valley in late May. Having always considered myself a cold-weather runner, I have steered clear of hot races, but I realize now that it was fear of failure, not the heat, that had kept me away. And, after running in the canyons of the Bighorn 50 for the past few summers and regularly spending a few mornings a week in the sauna at my gym, I am much more confident about how my body handles heat. A few weeks ago, I entered OD and committed myself to training smart and consistently for my fifth 100 finish. I know the odds. It will be hot. I will suffer. But the idea of running 100 miles in the hot, humid, and beautiful Virginia countryside both scare and delight me.
This is what it feels to be alive.
Is there is a race, event, adventure, or challenge that you have been drawn to but are scared to commit to? What are the obstacles (real or imagined) that stand in your way?
What are the things that scare you?
Sophie Speidel has been running ultras since 2002. She has finished over 100 ultras, including Western States 100, Massanutten 100, and Old Dominion 100 as well as the Hellgate 100k eleven times and the R2R2R of the Grand Canyon. Sophie and her husband Rusty have three adult children, ages 28, 26 and 24 who grew up watching their mom transition from road marathons and triathlons to running trail ultras — and they turned out just fine! Sophie works full-time as a school counselor, and in her free time she and Rusty are often found running and hiking with their 3-year-old Australian Shepherds, Cooper and Blue, on the trails near their home in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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