On the outside, this looks like a typical photo of any ultra-marathon finisher. Medal intact, standing strong, posing for the must-have finish line photo. However, on the inside – through the experience of the ultra-runner – the ideal photo could never be struck with a Kodak camera. The ideal photo is captured during the run – capturing the endurance, the pain, the tears for no reason other than pure happiness (or is it exhaustion?), the adrenaline rush at the sight of an uphill, and the rush at the sight of a downhill. The ideal photo is actually, by no means, a photo at all. More likely, it is a sophisticated video capturing the energy molecules and atoms racing through the runner’s brain as thoughts manifest from those of exuberance and passion, to those of challenges, to those rambling and unforgotten memories, but never to those of fear or anxiety. The battle of an ultra-runner is by no means a physical battle. It is the enduring challenge of whether the brain can be activated by a certain frequency – to trick all the knowledge he has ever learned, gained, acquired by any runner-blog source guiding his training – to merely stay active and on par for the entire 31.07 miles of the race. Through the unavoidable slippery mudslides that stick to the soles of his shoes (gaining an extra couple pounds to carry), through the slick rocks slanted in that awkward direction that angles the entire body towards the ground, through the snow and ice sending him skiing down the trail when knees shake to keep upright, and through the terrain whether fast or slow. It is the enduring challenge of being present with mind, body, and spirit – single-handedly battling a race, not coming into contact with another soul for stretches of miles, scenery, and sunshine… To hear the voices cheering in the distance (are they really there?) – taking you out of a steady trance, sending a chill down the spine that allows you to push forward just one more mile (maybe 2, maybe 3) – just one more step at a time until the aid station comes into view. Re-fuel on electrolytes, bananas, and the never-regretted peanut MnMs, and with one swift wave, you’re off again – back on the trail of the unknown – in another unknown experience to battle what’s to come – until reaching another 2-person cheer squad. Sometimes 2 people are all it takes to know you’re not alone on this 9-hour adventure. Maybe…
To move to the soundtrack of your feet propelling you forward – no music can compare to the whistle in the trees, to the sound of nature. To glare at the summit of a mountain with ambition, to look at a flat slope with irritation, and to look at a downhill with hopefulness. To take each turn as it comes – to focus on each rock and step that can send you flying head-over-heels if you’re too captivated by your thoughts; however, finding that balance of equilibrium, peacefulness, and curiosity within your mind. To let your mind wander from the race to any possibility you can dream of. To day dream a focused dream, to send white light, to let the mountain-side heal the pain in your legs and care for your body. To run until you lose track of time – and to finally glance at your watch overcome by the shocking numbers on its screen glaring back at you – and in disbelief shoving it away. You are outraged at the three extra hours – did you not plan accordingly? What the @!#$ happened? You are overjoyed with your 6th sense you’ve never reached before – you may have just over-accomplished what you came to accomplish. Moving, accelerating, captivated by the idiocy of the race – you are okay with simply forgetting everything else. So you reach deep down into the depths of your body, lift your heart, strengthen the courage in your soul, uncover the energy that has never existed, and run even faster. Ankles twisted, calves burning, thighs aching, you run. You tell yourself the definition of running – to simply put one foot in front of the next. And keep doing just that. That’s your only job.
A tea tag is just opened: “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly” (Robert Kennedy). A tear streams down, as the universe causes everything to happen at a precise moment in time. What is the significance of a delayed finishing time if the race was never run? What is the accomplishment if it never occurred? Finishing – is not a failure. Ever. Achieving – is priceless. Always. Sometimes perception gets in the way. Sometimes expectations get in the way. Set these aside and breathe in the experience of crossing that line. Of being out there longer, enduring more, facing the inevitability of running in solidarity. Of crawling, shuffling the last 7 miles. Of reconfiguring the definition of a “runner’s wall” until it has been demolished completely. And most importantly, of finishing with a deep surge of inspiration and acknowledgement.
Running is an internal accomplishment. An event, a race as challenging as an ultra is only comparable to itself and those who stand by your side. No one will know it even happened. Everything tucked away perfectly at home, except for a medal and bib stapled to the wall – with one blink – it’s over. Life continues. Work goes on. School continues in its usual fashion. Maybe a couple acknowledgements here and there – the proudest one being the acknowledgement to yourself and for yourself. Running is not broadcasted, it’s not accomplished in teams, nor can many people even dream of running a 5 or 10k. Running is an individual sport that only you can prove to yourself. Running is a sport you can only truly discuss while in the process of it. In the midst of conversations, minds come to life when they’re moving. When they’re on the trail they expand even more into empty space. Individually or with a partner-in-crime, problems have the capability of being solved, inspirations manifested, and the unknown becomes a reality. Just around the corner – you never know until you take one step outside, scuff the mud a little, and go for a run.
It’s mind over matter. When you have your mind, that is all that matters.
Durango Double 50K
October 12, 2013