Whenever I am training for a race, I always do my best to prepare as specifically and uniquely for that race as I can. It’s going to be really hot? Get in lots of heat running, hot yoga and time in the sauna. The race is going to have a lot of elevation gain? Emphasize climbing and hilly runs during training. But what do you do when you just can’t simulate the race well enough in training?
That was the case as I recently ran the Badwater Cape Fear 51-mile race on Bald Head Island in North Carolina. The race begins with about a half-marathon of running on trails and paved roads on the island before hopping onto the beach and running on the sand for the majority of the race. I was telling some friends about going to run the race and the primary response was “how are you training to run on sand with all of this snow?” The answer: I wasn’t!
I’ve learned throughout my ultrarunning career that success tends to take a lot of different shapes. Sometimes you have perfect training leading up to a race, and that race goes really well. Sometimes you repeat the formula and for some unknown reason, it doesn’t go well. Conversely, some of the best performances of my career have come when I didn’t think I was at my fittest and my training didn’t go according to plan. When it comes to running ultramarathons, there are so many factors that play into the end result, and it can be hard to delineate between what makes a race go well and what doesn’t.
Ultimately, I went to Badwater Cape Fear and ended up winning the race, setting a course record, qualifying for the Badwater 135 in July 2024 (the main reason I was at the race), and running the fastest 50-miler of my life. All of that on the heels of a lot more treadmill runs than I would have liked, and very little specificity for the race I was running. Why did it go so well? It’s hard to know the precise answer, but I like to think it comes down to one thing: embracing the unknown! So often there are circumstances outside of our control and less than ideal factors that make something difficult in life. In my mind, you can either focus on why you’re not as prepared as you should be or embrace the unknown factors with a positive outlook. I knew I hadn’t run on sand to prepare for the race, but I was excited to do just that! “Yeah, I’ll be out of my element,” I thought, “but at least I’ll be running next to the ocean and taking in the views!” The approach of taking a potential weakness and seeing it in a positive light has limitless potential. In running, as in life, I find that the way in which you frame your circumstances has as much or more influence over the outcome as anything else. So, the next time you’re doubting yourself, take a step back and remind yourself to embrace the unknown, for you are capable of far more than you might believe!