Mt. Cheaha 50, single track, trail running, 50k training, Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama, Birmingham

When you bet against yourself, you always lose – Mika Maddela

I’m three weeks away from the Mt. Cheaha 50k, so I thought now would be a good time to write out my thoughts about my training.

It has been a strange ride so far—physically easy but mentally challenging. I am shocked and pleasantly surprised with my body that I have adapted to running longer— sometimes 50 miles in four days—without feeling sore or tired. I expected to be in a constant state of pain and half asleep every day while training, and that’s far from reality. The human body is magical.

Mt. Cheaha 50, single track, trail running, 50k training, Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama, Birmingham

Dan tackling a rocky hill

Where I have struggled the most is mentally. I have only been running for three years—it’s still hard for me to say “Ok, I’m going to go out and run 10, 15, 20 miles today” without balking. I remember vividly what it was like to run three miles and want to fall over from exhaustion, and sometimes I go back to that mindset. It’s like my mind has not caught up with my body, and it would hold me back if I let it.

Mt. Cheaha 50, single track, trail running, 50k training, Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama, Birmingham

Watch your step!

The transition from roads to trails has been tough mentally at times because road running is so easy. You pick your feet up and move forward; you can even shuffle if you get tired. There are water stops and shorter routes back to your car. Not so on trails. You always have to be watching where your next step will be, jumping over trees and small boulders, and trying not to fall. You carry your water with you, and if you’re tired you just push through.

Mt. Cheaha 50, single track, trail running, 50k training, Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama, Birmingham

I’d prefer my cabin to have plumbing. Abandoned cabin in Oak Mountain State Park

I’m guilty of thinking, “this would be so much easier on the road” when I start to get tired, even though that isn’t necessarily where I’d rather be. Road running has roads. And cars. And houses. And people. Sometimes it can be scenic—Mountain Brook and Homewood have their pretty streets—but it’s still a road. I would much rather breathe in the smell of fresh dirt than car exhaust. I might bitch and moan for a few minutes, but then I peel my eyes off of the ground for a second and look at my surroundings. The woods never fail to comfort me and make me feel at peace with everything. I could honestly live happily ever after in a log cabin nestled in the woods somewhere.

Mt. Cheaha 50, single track, trail running, 50k training, Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama, Birmingham

Fire Pit

I also notice that at some point on every trail run I think to myself, “are we done yet?” Usually that thought comes as I’m struggling up a hill or after tripping over a root. I feel discouraged that I’m so slow and clumsy running on trails. I’m like a baby deer running for the first time—only I fall less gracefully and I’m not cute like Bambi. I’m still learning how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Mt. Cheaha 50, single track, trail running, 50k training, Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama, Birmingham

Water stop

The first time I saw the elevation chart for the Mt. Cheaha 50k I broke out into a cold sweat. I know it’s nothing compared to the races out West, but it’s terrifying to me. I know that physically I’ll be fine during the race, but mentally I have to prepare myself. In the past, when the going gets tough, Tanya wants to quit. Ultra running is teaching me to push through discomfort and hesitation and trust my capabilities.

Mt. Cheaha 50, single track, trail running, 50k training, Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama, Birmingham

Tearing down a pine straw-covered hill

This past weekend I ran for four and a half hours on Saturday, my longest run to date. My legs felt heavy the first 10.5 miles and I commented many times to my friend Dan that I was ready to call it a day. But then somewhere I found my second wind and had a kickass run—the last two hours felt strong and effortless, and I could have easily kept going. It was strange, and a huge confidence-boost. The next morning I ran an easy 12 miles with Zack, and again had a great run with no soreness.

Mt. Cheaha 50, single track, trail running, 50k training, Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama, Birmingham

Dam on the Yellow Trail

So even though I have good runs and bad runs, I am loving every second of training for a 50k. And while I still have to beat down my negative thoughts on a regular basis, I trust that I’ll have a great race in three weeks!