One of the biggest differences between myself now and myself the last time I took on the Mountain Masochist 50(54) miler is experience. When I last ran Mountain Masochist 5 years ago in 2007 it was my 6th ever ultra and it became my 3rd ever DNF. The cut-offs got me at mile 40. This year when I take on Masochist it will be my 48th ultra. Needless to say I have a bit more experience going into Masochist this time. I have not completed every ultra I have entered. As a matter of fact I have DNFs in 9 of those attempts, but I have always gone 36.5 miles or longer in every attempt.
This got me thinking about when does one shake the rookie tag and also when does one become a veteran?
Do we stop being a rookies when we stop making rookie mistakes? If so then I am afraid most of us will forever be rookies. I think it comes down to experience and what we learn from those experiences we have in races. A fair ranking system might be the high school and college system of Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior, and 5th Year Senior. Most of us take 2, 3, or 4 years to start to "know" what we are doing in an ultra, though some of us need that 5th year to figure it out. As for "knowing" what we are doing again it comes down to experiences and what we learn from them.
I got hit hard my Freshman and Sophomore years of ultra running. I suffered my 2nd and 3rd ever DNFs in 2007 and my 4th, 5th, and 6th DNFs in 2008. After only suffering DNF #7 in 2009 I felt like I had arrived only to be humbled big time my Senior season with DNFs 8, 9, & 10. I learned from those defeats. I wrote them down to remember them and took notes about what contributed to them. Sometimes it took a while to actually put into practice what I learned though.
I happened to check out Dig Deep Run Long recently and saw that I had gone from being listed as a Distance(whatever your longest distance finish is) Finisher to a Veteran1 meaning I have run over 1000 ultra race miles. Dig Deep Run Long mostly uses Ultra Signup to calculate your Ultra totals, but DDRL will also let you add races that may be missing from Ultra Signup. Based on DDRL's measurements I took about 5 years to achieve Veteran status from the first Ultra I ever ran at JFK in 2006, though not my 1st ever done. I hiked most of a 50K Volksmarch in Heidelberg, Germany in 2004. I went over the 1000 mile mark with my last ultra of the year last year, Tussey Mountainback 50 Miler. Of course I hit 1000 miles sooner than that if you count my 448.1 miles from 9 DNFs mileage.
So when do we achieve Veteran status? Do we have to log 1000 ultra race miles? I don't think so, but you can't argue there is experience gained in that feat. When you get there you just "know" it. You "know" what you are doing and for the most part you "know" what to expect going into a race. You "know" how to train and prepare. You "know" you have done it before and you "know" you can do it again. If you've trained and prepared you "know" what you are capable of.
That said I truly believe most of us are capable of so much more than we ever dare to dream or imagine. Much more than we "know."
Run Like a Horse,
P.S. For the record I am still chasing that perfect year(no DNFs) since my start in 2006 where I finished the only ultra I did that year. 2 more races stand between me and a perfect year, but deep down I "know" I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.