I can say happily, and humbly, that after 16 serious training weeks, I am ready to run the 6-day, 229 km ultra marathon. I’ve run close to 600 training miles since February. I’ve adapted my body and mind to a level of fitness and readiness that I am very happy with. It’s almost ‘Show Time’.
I just read an inspirational message in my social media feed from an ultra-running comrade, Robin Arzon, Vice President and Fitness Director at Peloton, who said, “We don’t wish for it. We work for it. A dreamer willing to hustle is unstoppable. If you’re feeling frustrated with the process of your fitness journey today, this is your reminder that little by little amounts to a lot! Keep going.”
I really believe that big dreams require determination, an internal fire, commitment to self and to training. I’ve been dreaming about this Trans Atlas Marathon race for the past two years, thinking about how to improve my ultra-running strategy in order to achieve my best performance.
Training through the winter and into spring is one of my favorite transition periods. I use the harsh winter and wet spring months to my advantage, helping me adapt physically and mentally to the challenging and variable weather conditions of cold, rain, heat and humidity. I get to witness nature awakening from a long winter sleep. I, too, awaken, building strength, endurance and speed each time I am out running. My mind focuses on the task at hand, and I remind myself to stay present, to allow myself to ‘be in the moment’. The terrain surrounding my home in Allentown, Pennsylvania includes hills, valleys, rivers and forests as well as built up neighborhoods and inner-city streets. Changing my running routes to encounter a variety of textures underfoot, allows me to condition and re-condition my body, forcing it to adapt to the variation. Running up hills builds aerobic capacity; running down hills develops technical acuity – each will be hugely important skills when traversing the Atlas Mountains.
In all weather conditions, I test and adapt to my running gear. I decide what running shoes and clothes work best. I test my hydration pack for comfort and use, practicing when to drink, what to drink, what to eat and when. Training outside in nature helps to build my overall immunity. I rarely get sick in winter and recent studies contrasting rural and modern populations have shown that spending time in natural environments “may reduce allergy risks by more than 90%”. I am a strong believer in the health benefits of spending time outdoors.
Being in nature, I enjoy moments and interactions with animals and people on the trails. A stare from a curious deer, almost tripping over a squirrel, sharing a smile with another runner or walker are all precious interactions. Each time I go out I come back home with a new story to share. I don’t feel the power of Nature indoors. Finding Harmony for me requires being outside – which is something we really don’t do enough of! Sharing experiences and knowledge with other runners is a vital part of the race preparation process, learning how to adapt to various race conditions. There is a great global network of people and information available to runners online. The goal is to be as prepared as possible, to be informed and ready to adapt to anything. The Trans Atlas Marathon will bring together a group of very talented runners from 15 countries and I feel lucky to be one of them.
Each runner will train in a different location, terrain, altitude, with weather conditions and various time constraints from work or family. We can all share stories of how we have had to adapt to take on new challenges. Even the Trans Atlas Marathon race has to adapt. In May of 2018, there was snow for the first three days of the event. The race director had to change the course plans to allow the runners a safe experience. This year the 6-day race was pushed a month later into June, due to the religious holiday of Ramadan occurring in May. Being ready for sudden changes is important if you want to succeed.
Despite some testing moments during my training, and a lot of hard work, this year has been especially rewarding as I have integrated the Harmony Principles into my training strategy. By taking on the challenge of ‘Running for Harmony’, for the Sustainable Food Trust’s Harmony Project, I’ve applied the Harmony principles to my own life. Just like training for a race, applying the idea of Harmony, “a new way of looking at the world”, and its principles to daily life takes time. In this process, adaptation has become a part of my daily grammar of thought and being.
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Photographs: Anthony Rodale