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Training for an Ultra in a COVID World
Staff Writer, Kelly Sarkis
As you’re reading this, I should have already raced my first ultramarathon—the Glacier Ridge 50-Miler.
Even worse? In less than a month, I was supposed to run the Laurel Highlands Ultra, starting in Ohiopyle and head north on the 70-mile Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail to Seward, PA.
To say I’m bummed is an understatement. I’ve put in over 1000 miles of training, ran through 4 pairs of shoes, and consumed insane amounts of fruit snacks.
My mind has trained to be out in the woods staring at my feet for 10+ hours going up and down rocky slopes, knowing that the view at the top probably isn’t great, thanks to Pittsburgh’s notoriously cloudy weather. I can endure cold, wet days, discomfort in my legs, and forcing food in when I’m only 5 miles into a 40-mile day.
Seeing my mind transform into this beast has been so rewarding. When I started this journey, it was overwhelming to think about all the long runs I’d need to do. I broke each long run down into smaller, more manageable pieces. For example, a 30–mile run becomes three single–digit runs or a 20–mile run becomes just spending 5 hours outside. I’ve proven to myself time and time again that through all the mental and physical challenges, I can, and will, endure.
Of course, there is something calming about being in nature for hours on end. It’s been unbelievably beautiful seeing the woods lifeless in January come back a breathing, green tunnel in April. I get to see wild things untouched by humans (did you know porcupines could climb trees?!). The repetitive motion of running is meditative, and the runner’s high has me hooked.
On the day of that was supposed to be the Pittsburgh Marathon, I went for a long run on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, tearing up for all runners I passed who are also missing out on their race day. We cheered for each other as we passed on the trail, even though I wasn’t running this virtual race. Since I had been running in the woods for so long, away from other runners, I forgot the true power and support of the running community.
Coming this far in training and not running was not an option. I finished out my training plan, and I decided to virtually run the Possum’s Revenge 69 Miler, hosted by Trail Racing Over Texas. Close enough, to 70, right?
It won’t be the race day I was hoping for, but I’m thankful for all the friends and family that have supported me through this journey. I’m planning on doing the Laurel Highlands Ultra in 2021 and am looking forward to see how 2020’s events make the running community even stronger.