This last weekend I was lucky enough to run one of the most organised and well put together trail races I've ever been involved with. The Feral Pig Ultra, part of the Ultra Series WA was run on Saturday the 2nd of July on the trails around Pickering Brook. Three options were available to runners; One lap of the course for 25kms, Two laps for 50km and Three laps (plus an extra out and back) for the 50 mile option. The amount of work done behind the scenes by race directors Shaun and Ron to get a race to run as smoothly as it did on Saturday is amazing. Add to that all the volunteers who gave up their time to help out on the day and the general vibe of all the amazing runners, from the regulars to those hitting the trails for the first time, and it's hard to not get caught up in all the excitement.
I had invested quite a bit in this race myself. I had run the course with Shaun and other runners when he was deciding how to put together these amazing trails into a loop of approximately 25kms that would be suitable on the day. Later I ran again with Shaun to work out a new starting 5km so as not to cross a road but keep the distance close when joining back onto the loop. Luckily he had picked a newer section that was much nicer to run and had the distance within 100m of the original.
After the initial run, we were having a post-run coffee and I was looking at the course that someone had already uploaded to Strava. Straight away I saw the outline of a pig. After some explaining Shaun and others could see it as well, then the brainstorming began for a name of the race. I'm afraid my input to this was not worth recalling, however Shaun came up with The Feral Pig Ultra, and subsequent names for all the distances, the Pork Chop 25km, Sow 50km, Boar 50 mile and my favourite, the Piglet Porkrun 5km.
It's hard to not have Shaun's enthusiasm rub off a little and to say that he was enthusiastic about this race (and the Ultra Series WA) is an understatement. That is why he is able to organise such amazing races. I decided to use the course outline to try and draw what I had seen after that first run and came up with this...
This rough draft was then given to someone with actual artistic talent and became the official pic that is now on the website, shirts and used for the race medals.
Between that first run and race day I had also clocked up over 300kms on the course, including a couple of official recons and one double lap 50km run that left me feeling pretty confident that I would have a good run on race day. I was never going to be up with the fast guys, but by knowing the course so well I knew when to push or take things easy, and my perceived effort on the day would be lower as I would be able to run a more relaxed race without worrying about what was around the next corner.
All of this basically means I was somewhat invested in this race. More than just the training, I felt that this race was more important than others I had done. I like getting a shirt and medal after doing a race as much as anyone, but when that shirt and medal has a design that you had some input into you want it even more.
Sometimes when running trails you see a side track that looks interesting so you veer off course for a while (sometimes it's unintentional). I'm going to do that now because a sweet bit of economics and game theory singletrack is just over there and it looks interesting...
In economics there is a term called sunk costs; a sunk cost is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Behavioural economics recognises that sunk costs often affect economic decisions due to many people having strong misgivings about "wasting" resources (loss aversion). The price paid becomes a benchmark for the value, whereas the price paid should be irrelevant in future decisions. This is considered irrational behaviour. An example would be if someone has purchased a non-refundable movie ticket, then after realising it is not the movie they wanted to see, many people would feel obliged to go to the movie despite not really wanting to, because doing otherwise would be wasting the ticket price, even if they could be doing something better with their time. This is know as the Sunk cost fallacy
In Game Theory the sunk cost fallacy is known as the "Concorde Fallacy", referring to the the fact that the British and French governments continued to fund the joint development of Concorde even after it became apparent that there was no longer an economic case for the aircraft.
Back on the Feral track...
What does this have to do with my race on the weekend? Well, as I've mentioned I was very invested in this race (sunk cost). Leading up to the race I had developed a slight niggle in my left calf, I had managed it well and it was improving, however on race day it started to cause some tightness around 20kms into the race. I managed to still run without too much discomfort but was starting to think that I wouldn't be able to carry on for another 60kms - but I wanted that medal! There is a photo online of me at around 28kms that shows how I felt quite accurately. After the first lap I took on some advice from a fellow runner to use my trekking poles which were in my bag at the start/finish aid station. By using the poles I was able to manage the pain better, however I was soon cramping quite badly and as the race went on I was also starting to have shoulder pain from using the poles.
Without the poles I would not have finished the race. Although they were helping, I still had to run over 50kms with what was gradually becoming a much tighter calf. I had the occasional thoughts about whether or not I should continue with the race, however the first thing that came to my mind each time was "I want that medal", rather than considering the possible costs of running on an injured leg for so long. It's a common mindset in ultramarathons to keep going when hurting, however there are different types of hurting and sometimes it can be hard to differentiate between the pains that are to be endured, and those that should be listened to. Unfortunately, we can't just turn to the back of the book for the answers. We have to go home, order the book on Amazon, wait for it to arrive, then check the back pages, because that's how long it takes sometimes to know if racing through an injury will have a lucky result (we will tell ourselves we made the right decision), or result in a greater cost to your running future.
I was placing too much emphasis on my previous investment or sunk costs, thinking I've done so much already so I must keep going. I was not considering whether the benefits of finishing the race would outweigh the costs. Sometimes the better choice is to cut your losses and put the emphasis on the future.
I finished, I got my medal, I was happy.
After finishing the race I was glad that I had suffered through the pain. I was happy to finish, I hadn't done as well as I knew I could, and my time was well off what I had hoped for, but it was still a reasonable time and I certainly wasn't the only one to push through the hard times.
Does that mean I made the right decision?
After the usual post race pain and tightness I was left with some residual tightness and a faint bruise over a large area of my left calf. The limping has almost gone and I have done a few 20-30min walks and a short MTB ride without any troubles. I'm hoping to be back running sooner rather than later as I have a bigger race in a couple of months time and there is plenty of training to be done for that. At this stage It's still too early to tell how quickly I will recover. If I'm back training 7-10 days after the race, feeling fine with no pain, it would be very easy to congratulate myself on making the right decision however I don't think it was the wise decision.
Either way, it was an amazing event, and had some truly amazing results from some inspirational runners.
Some of the front runners flew as if they were on the Concorde, while I suffered from the Concorde fallacy.
I made the wrong decision to keep running, and I'm happy... I did say it was irrational.