Three Miles an Hour Is All I Ask

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When you do what we do, it sounds so easy. “I just need to cover a little more than three miles an hour.” Three miles an hour and just a little more, how hard can that be? It sounds so simplistic, so easy. Until you’re the one who has to accomplish it in the midst of a 100-mile event, then it becomes that monumental task. Three miles an hour and you’re a stud or studette, a finisher at most trail hundred-milers, that’s the general rule of thumb. But let me tell you, if or when the wheels begin to come off and it’s you somewhere in the middle of that 100-mile event, well three miles an hour can become otherworldly and seem like a four-minute mile.

There’s a lake that’s 3.2 miles in circumference, very close to where I live and I navigate that route routinely out of convenience. It’s my default distance and gives me the assurance that, unless I’m near death or I’m entered into an unusually tough event like Hardrock or a handful of other tough mountain races, I should be capable of covering that distance, no matter what and usually in thirty minutes or so. Though once it took me an hour and a half to circumnavigate said lake, after attempting it the day after I’d run a tough 50k, where I’d taken two pretty significant falls that left me battered and bruised.

What I’m suggesting is that three or four miles is supposed to be a part of my DNA, there’s never supposed to be a question of if I can go that distance, no matter my conditioning or state of mind. The only question should be how long it may take – and never over an hour. Three miles an hour is all I ask.

So it’s beyond unnerving, ego shattering and downright painful, when I find myself unable to execute that seemingly easy feat, especially when I’ve needed it most in the middle of some races. It can be very disconcerting at times, but it’s the challenge that first brought me to the sport and it’s that challenge that keeps me hanging in, though the scope of the challenge has changed. Hey, who ever thought that three miles an hour could be such a challenge? Three miles an hour is all I ask.

Even though I’m talking about time and distance, I think that nowadays it’s really the mind that challenges me the most. Can I muster up what it takes to do those three damn miles in an hour when things have gone awry and the you-know-what is hitting the fan? And I know that what’s coming won’t be quick or easy? When every step seems a struggle, even if it is only three miles an hour for about 30 hours to seal the deal? Three miles an hour is all I ask.

Whether a veteran or a newbie of ultrarunning, it can be a daunting task. Something really unexpected comes to bear and you don’t have what you normally would. The wheels start to come off, you lose confidence along with the mobility, and all that may be left is the death march to the nearest aid station for the dreaded drop. You may need ‘sumthin else in addition to the whip cracking that your pacer may be administering to you. If there’s no pacer you may need even more, what that is I don’t know. What I do know is, we need a mantra, a kernel, a something to hang onto, until things can get better, they don’t always get worse, or stay the same, sometimes salvation comes. Three miles an hour is all I ask.

We’re never going to take a podium spot or snag an age division award with that three mile an hour approach, but if it’s just finishing that counts, then that mantra will give some kind of peace of mind. Just being able to cover three miles an hour on the trails will usually get you there. But that’s still a row to hoe and it requires consistency and persistence. If I could be that consistent in doing anything in life, I might be rich and famous by now and might not be running around in the mountains and woods. Three miles is all I ask.

But until now, better has been a little ebb and flow when running for me because it allows for me to have fun and run with my heart. The problem with the ebb and flow approach is if the flow is too great, for too long or too soon, then the ebb can be an excruciating downward spiral to only one thing: another DNF. So I’m going to be prudent and patient in my engagement at my next hundred. It’s a new strategy I’m going to try to apply the next time I attempt a 100-miler. Three miles an hour, that’s all I’m gonna ask.

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About Author

Errol "Rocket" Jones is a veteran ultrarunner of 34 years, having participated in over 200 ultras dating back to 1981. Jones completed ultrarunning’s Grand Slam in 1998 and is a 3-time finisher of Badwater. He is also Co-Race Director of the Bear 100 and the Quad Dipsea, and serves as indentured servant at the Miwok and Lake Sonoma ultras.

1 Comment

  1. Awesome post. My running has been sidelined for a number of reasons, but I am still training for a 100 miler this September. My goal, power hike 4 miles an hour. Power hiking is my strength so if I train and have the strength of mind I can reach my goals. I may not be running, but I can participate and even compete against myself.

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