A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

On The Fly Decision-Making and Improvisation - Necessary in Endurance Races

As I gear up for the 2nd leg of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning this weekend, the Vermont 100, my mind involuntarily drifts towards the race itself; what to do when "A" happens, how to react when "B" happens, and so forth.

Mental rehearsal has always been with me when the big races approach. It helps me to focus on possible situations that might arise and how I would cope with that situation.

Mental rehearsal is important for short races like the 5k too, but with those races, it's basically "try to go at a certain pace and not blow up". There's really not much in decision-making in short races.

With long races, it's a different matter entirely. People find out that decisions are important when they do a race as long as the marathon for the first time. What food should they eat, what type of drink should they imbibe, and how often. They start to realize in the marathon that decisions might play a major role in how they finish the long races.

And the longer the race, the more decisions they have to make and the more important their decisions will bear on their overall performance. For example, if you do the Ironman triathlon, you're not just making decisions that will affect you in 4-5 hours, the decisions you make will have a major effect on you 8 hours down the road! And more decisions have to be made on the spot while you race, what type of clothes to wear, should you ingest salt caps, and how many.

Races as long as 100 miles are very long, so you just don't know how things will shape up out there. You cannot just "run a certain pace" and expect to be at the finish line at a certain time. There are so many decisions to make during the course of the race that 100 mile races really turn into chess games...what move should I make in order to see the best possible outcome. And like in chess, sometimes you need to sacrifice something in order to see the best possible result. Long races like these require you to THINK, not just run, and that is what intrigues me the most about these races.

So many adverse things can happen during a 100 mile race though, and sometimes your choice might be the wrong one. That is where improvisation comes in. Every 100 mile ultrarunner knows that they just cannot cover all possible outcomes in a race such as Western States or Vermont, so (s)he has to have the will to improvise and cope when something bad rears its ugly head. It can get really ugly out there, but if the person has that mental fortitude to keep putting one step in front of the other, (s)he just might reach the finish line.
 The improvisation part is what might happen in Vermont this weekend. I've never done two 100 milers within a 3 week period, so I really don't know how my legs will hold out. That's an unknown that might show up in Vermont this weekend. Just like in Western States, if something bad comes up I hope that I have the will to keep moving it toward the finish line. All of my Grand Slam races might just be a fight for survival and every one of those races, but maybe that's what it takes to finish the Grand Slam to begin with, that drive to get to the finish no matter what it takes.

So wish me luck as I go to Vermont tomorrow and start the race on Saturday. It's going to be an interesting weekend to say the least.


Although the Vermont 100 doesn't have an athlete tracker like Western States, I will be bringing my phone with me to update my Twitter and FB accounts while on the course. This depends, of course, on my mental capacity and whether I get a signal or not, but I will try my darndest to keep everyone updated. I will be using the hashtag #ironpete. on Twitter. My bib# for the race is 247.

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