Running an Ultramarathon and the Importance of Goals Despite the Unknown

On Sunday, August 2013, I will run my first ultra-marathon...the Skyline 50K. It is a 50 kilometer trail running race in the San Francisco east bay mountains stretching from Castro Valley to Moraga. Though I have trained fairly well for the race, running 40-50 mile weeks through most of 2013, there is a big, fat, whopping unknown beyond the 40 kilometer (24-25 miles or so) mark.

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I just don't know how I will handle the last 10K.

Even though I don't have any idea how I will do, I want to set some goals. So the question is, "How does one set goals when they have no idea what an outcome will be?"

It is not like I can set a big, hairy audacious goal like, "Finish in sub-4 hours." That is un-attainable and un-realistic. That kind of a goal would be the biggest violation of SMART goal setting in the history of, the history if I don't know what.

So how do I set goals for this race. I need to base the goals on something I know. So here is what I know.

I know that:
  1. I can run 21 miles on a flat route, on tired legs in about 9 minutes and 45 seconds per mile pace.
  2. I can run 20 miles on a mountain course with 3,000 feet of cumulative ascent and descent at a roughly 10 minutes and 50 second per mile pace on extremely tired legs.
  3. The race tomorrow is 10 miles longer than the above references.
  4. The race tomorrow has about 4,000 of cumulative ascent and descent.
  5. I rested all week, so I would have fresh legs.
Based on this here are my goals for tomorrow:
  1. Just finish. Even if I have to walk, who cares what my time is. If I can make it to the finish, on my own two legs, under my own power after 50 kilometers, I will have accomplished something which is a decent-sized whoop.
  2. Finish between 6 and 7 hours. 
  3. Stretch Goal: Finish sub-6 hours.
So there you have it. I have three goals for Skyline 50K. 

Now all I have to do is go out and do it.