In my training log I have a column for notes where after each run I can log injuries, or wildlife sitings, or any other random thing I choose. Mostly I do this because I know how easy it is to forget things. And data is a useful tool in problem solving, especially over the course of a long training period where things like exhaustion and strength build up slowly over consecutive weeks and months. I can look back and see that two or three days before contracting the flu I had a red eye flight, or maybe didn't sleep well because the neighbors tv was too loud. Then I might understand why after missing a couple weeks of training my calf muscle is recovering very poorly from todays run. (*see image below) This confirms the importance of sleep and helps me convince myself to make a priority of it. Very meta I know I know. Or for example I could look back six weeks ago and see that I was only running 5 miles a day. This will help me feel better about getting my ass kicked during the 20 miler I just did and make me understand that I am making progress.
It occured to me that I could log wether or not I take water bottles and how much water i drink. In fact I began to wonder at all the useful data there really is to keep track of. Its not surprising that my next thought was to fantasize about a watch that uses rfid to communicate with my gear so i would know which bottles and shoes I used each time. I would be able to figure out exactly how much water to drink to feel and perform my best and then surly I would become the runner I've always dreamed I could be. Very quickly I was overwhelmed with the compromises bringing such a tech to fruition would involve. The improbability that the myriad of companies which supply my gear would be financially able to add rfid to each product without sacrificing the quality of said products or raising the price is one of the few common hurdles between a creative idea and an actual piece of technology that makes my life better. Not to mention the potential health hazard of swimming around in a personal cloud of electronic signals (like we dont do enough of that already). Even if somehow this gadget made it to market it's hard to imagine it being as seamless a solution as one would hope. The bar for technology, (specifically wearable tech) actually adding something benificial to our lives without robbing us of something in return (usually frustration) is pretty damn low after all, smartphones not withstanding.
All this got me thinking back to a theme from my second 100 mile race. I remember having the sudden, euphoric, nirvana-moment realization that the best way to train for an ultra is to develop and focus on a few fundamental principles and avoid the risk of becoming paralyzed in a sea of data. It's tempting to want to know exactly what I must do to be ready. Thats what we do when we're afraid and we've been educated in a scientifically minded society to deal with challenges this way. I think this healthy reaction is often times misplaced. The most obvious indicator of progress is indeed a number, but the better indicator of progress (in both reliability and confidence building) is the cumulation of subtle changes in strength which you will notice when you're not pouring over a spreadsheet of workout data trying to analyze your ability or wondering why your watch displays altitude in ft instead of meters. It's the same thing with nutrition. Im just as fascinated with the study of food as any health conscious person. Ive read numerous books on the subject and enjoy delving into the characteristics of particular diets. Knowing more about what is in food and how it makes my body work has helped me understand food better but doesn't always make me do the right thing when it comes to eating. Nutrition science is discovering that just because a historically healthy food has 1000mg of calcium per serving in it, doesnt mean taking 1000mg of calcium in a pill will also translate to good health. (*tangent: Proponents of Vitamin companies like to reference Vitamin C curing scurvy on long voyages as proof that exact nutrient science is beneficial but that was just one time when supplements have ever had such a great impact. and when it comes to issues about infant health how can we not be aware that the people telling us what should be in baby formula are the same people trying to sell it). The point is that all the nutritional information in the world is not paramount to eating a healthy diet. In the same way that workout data is not essential to successfully training for your race and actually poses a great risk to achieving your goal if you get lost and lose site of it. What I'm trying to do is to eliminate the complexity which we perceive is keeping us from achieving our highest goals. Always assume that the race(or challenge) will be harder than your hardest training day. So train hard (this does not mean fast). Trust yourself that at the end of each run you will know wether or not you are going to be ready. You have the tools to go the distance, and you don't need reassurance from some website telling you what you did or didn't do(not to mention what your fellow athletes are doing). If you are nervous that the ordinary amount of running you do is not enough, than figure out how to run more and harder! It's not that complicated>>? Also, if you want to ensure that you are going to train enough, make training the easiest thing you can do. If sleeping in running shorts so that you don't have to change first thing in the morning makes it easier... DO IT. If getting rid of your tv so that you don't stay up late watching movies helps... DO IT. If running with people you don't really like helps because it makes it less boring... DO IT. At the beginning of your journey you must tell yourself what the goal is and at each one of these turning points you will have to decide again and remind yourself that you want your goal. That you would rather be an ultra runner rather than another joe shmo who saw every episode of the late night show. We pretend these minor compromises aren't connected to failure but do you want to be the one who never gave it an honest try? or the one who effing get's shit done? (sry I got excited)
THREE FUNDAMENTALS TO RACING 100 MILES
ONE - SUFFERING TOLERANCE
You will be on your feet for 20+ hours.
translation: Get used to being on your feet all day
TWO - MOVING FITNESS
You are going to be moving towards the finish as quickly as possible.
translation: Get fit. How do i do that? Run a lot. How? Run slow.
THREE - SPECIFIED SKILLS
If you'll be doing it in a race, do it in training.
translation: Run up and down mountains or whatever terrain you will find in the race including gear, fuel, hydration, and weather conditions if reasonably feasible -- but don't go too far out of your way for this last one. Reducing over-all cost (stress, money, and time) of training will increase the likelihood of it's occurrence which is the priority.