Yes, you read that well. I won’t be running the Gozo 50KM Ultra Trail Run this year. It was a big disappointment for me. Because this was supposed to be one of my biggest milestones of 2023. My longest run ever. 50 km around the beautiful coast of Malta’s sister island Gozo. Completely circumventing the island. An awesome race!

Had I ever run a marathon (42 km) before? No. Did I deem that necessary? No! I found a nice training program that would help me get ready in 18 weeks. And next to that: I had already run a couple of half marathon (trail) runs in 2022. So I thought I was ready to step up to the 50K.

So I started to train enthusiastically in January. 5x a week I went for a run. Mostly slow, low heart rate runs. Slowly building up a lot of volume. Within a matter of weeks, I had already surpassed the total amount of distance I ran in 2020 and 2021 combined! 

running italy jaer

The cruelty of chafing

Then I decided to spend five weeks in the Italian Alps. I thought it would be the perfect training terrain for the race. Lots of elevation, and lots of interesting trails. Perfection!

Everything was going very well, and I was raking in the kilometers. I did a long 30KM run-hike-run up the mountain (1122m elevation!). This is the longest distance I have ever run in my life! And it’s also the run that taught me the cruelty of chafing…

By the end of the run, my thighs had started to hurt a bit. My underpants were rubbing my skin. Not very comfortable.

But when I came home and I inspected my thighs a bit closer, I found out that they were actually bleeding… quite a horrific sight. The friction had worn away my skin. And I can tell you that having a shower with bleeding thighs was quite painful. Not very cash-money. 

But it was a good lesson! After that run, I bought myself some polyester running underpants to mitigate the risk of chafing. Apparently, they don’t absorb the sweat so much, and thus cause less friction. I also purchased a big tube of anti-chafing cream. I was ready for more long-distance runs!

running italy jaer

Fueling strategy

After that week of rest, I completed my second-longest run ever. A 25KM 742M elevation trail run. This one was extremely enjoyable. Beautiful weather, scenic landscape, everything was just perfect. The lesson that I learned from this one came at the end of the run. The last 1.5 km contained 30% of the elevation of the run. 220 meters upwards. But I was feeling strong and excited! I took my last gel to get some extra fuel for this challenge. However… it wasn’t enough. Toward the end of the hill, I bonked. Pretty badly. I lost all of my energy, got dizzy, and wanted to vomit. Not good. Anyway, I managed to get home and refuel properly. 

The lesson here is that I should pay more attention to my fueling strategy. I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but I’m looking forward to learning more about it.

running italy jaer

Ankle injury

After this final long run, my ankle was hurting a bit. That wasn’t really surprising to me, because I had a fair share of twisted ankles in the five weeks that I had been running in Italy. The rocks didn’t provide a very stable underground for my weak ankles.

I was not really worried about twisting my ankles on the rocks too much, because I have quite a long history with twisted ankles. They never worried me, because they always recover very quickly. 

This time was different though. This time it kept hurting. The pain slowly eased away when I took some rest, but during/after a new run it started to hurt again. And after more runs, the pain crept into the metatarsal bone in my foot. And after that, the pain crept into my calf muscle. That was a sign for me that something was not alright. 

And so I stopped running. Back in Malta, I went to the physiotherapist to see what was up. He explained to me that my ankle ligaments are probably stretched up because of the continuous twisting of the ankle. And because they kept twisting, my body responded by making the ligaments even longer, which resulted in a higher likelihood of twisting the ankle (because they are too flexible). A self-perpetuating circle. 

With a few exercises, I should be able to strengthen my ankles and be better prepared for the future of long-distance running. But unfortunately, the Gozo 50KM Ultra Trail Run will come too early for me. My ankle still isn’t 100% back to full strength and I’ve now missed too much of my training plan to feel confident enough to finish the race in good spirits. 

The mental challenge of accepting defeat

I was struggling a bit with the idea of canceling the race. As most of you know, I am a bit of a ‘planner’. I love to make plans, set goals, and all of that good stuff. Not all of those plans and goals will always be completely reached. Sometimes because I lose interest, or because I am lacking time, or for some other reason. I’m usually fine with that. Because I tend to ‘over-plan’ my life anyway, so I know that I won’t be able to do everything I want to do. 

But very rarely do I fail to reach a goal that I have been working towards passionately. And that’s a bit how this felt. I had been training for this run for about 14 weeks (3 months). I had been enjoying the process, feeling strong, and feeling excited. This race was supposed to be one of the most significant, milestones of my year. 

So I was rather annoyed with this stupid injury…

I always felt like it was going to take ‘only a few more days’.

But the pain remained.

So I kept postponing the idea of canceling this race. I kept coming up with delusional plans for preparing myself for the race. And to be fair, I probably would’ve been able to finish the race. I think physically and mentally it would be possible, if I really pushed myself (or am I still being delusional haha?).

But as the deadline crept closer, I asked myself the question: why would I try to push myself for that 50K run if I’m not fully prepared? Why would I risk destroying my ankle even more, just to hit that milestone? Plus the risk of other injuries is enormous as well.

And then I looked back at my ‘failed’ bike-packing adventure in Sicily last year. I also overshot myself there. After an impressive 170KM on the first day, I was unable to cycle any of the other days. My reflection after that trip was: just chill man. Take your time. You are doing these things purely only for your personal enjoyment. So if that personal enjoyment is at risk, just don’t do it.

I now look back at that reflection and see how it applies to this situation as well. There is no need to do the 50 km trail run right now. I can just do it next year 🙂 I will have 12 more months of training and I will have a marathon under my belt as well (I’m planning my first marathon together with my sister (in Venice!) in October 2023). 

The premise of the reflection sounds a bit simple and pretty straightforward perhaps.

Just chill man. Take your time. You are doing these things only for your personal enjoyment. So if that personal enjoyment is at risk, just don’t do it.

But sometimes I get a bit caught up in my planning and I forget that simple lesson. I’m just doing it for my personal joy.

Once I accepted this lesson once again, a bit of weight fell off my shoulders. It was nice to feel at peace again. All of a sudden, I didn’t have to worry about the race anymore. I could just slowly take my time to recover. Get ready to run again.

I think it is good to set goals and be a bit ambitious in the process of goal setting. It’s cool to push yourself and test your limits. Setting ambitious goals can help with that. But it’s also cool to be able to accept it when certain goals can’t be reached yet. To take the time to build up strength and knowledge. In the end, I set these goals purely for my personal enjoyment and my personal journey. And the lessons I learn along that way are what bring me at least half of that joy 🙂

PS I will be attending the race anyway tomorrow. Not as a participant, but as a marshall! I’m very excited about it! Looking forward to having a ‘sniff’ of what I’ll be doing next year!