*Admin note: And here we go: with less than two weeks until
Leadville, I’m finally entering that strange introspective, philosophical
territory that always seems to precede my epic adventures. Apologies if you don’t feel like wading
through 1300 words of psychoanalysis … but on the plus side, there’s a nifty
little rock tune waiting for you at the end.
“Life goes south when
pretty goes away -
The best that you can
get is when you're falling in a good way”
-Everclear, “Falling in a Good Way” (video after
Even as I’ve been forging myself into a better 100-mile
runner this year, I’ve also let myself become undeniably worse.
Truthfully, no ultrarunner is ever completely happy with the
training he or she has done in the buildup to a major race; we’d always like to
run more weekly mileage, do more high-quality workouts, or supplement our
efforts with cross training or massage for injury prevention.
Normally I don’t complain about the training I’m able to do,
because for the most part I’m consistently able to wake up early, log miles by
myself, and listen to my body when it’s time to back away from the brink of injury. I’m thankful for every day I get to run, and
with each passing year I’m more grateful for the wondrous places the simple
activity of running has led me.
Having said that, I’m going into Leadville having completed less
overall training than before any other 100-miler I’ve done – and for that
matter, before a lot of 50-milers I’ve done in the past as well. Where I used to have a base of 70-80 weekly miles
with frequent spikes to 100+ miles per week, this year most of my weeks have
been in the 30 to 40-mile range, with peaks in the 70s or 80s. Where I used to lead into a tune-up 50-miler with
50 or 60 additional miles the week of the race, I’ve done as little as 10 miles
in advance of race day.
Here’s how significant my training dropoff has been: my wife,
who is usually happy to have me in bed when she wakes up in the morning and awake
when we’re watching TV at night, has told me on several occasions that I should
be training more. Or, as she once put
it: Let me get this straight … you’re
preparing for the hardest race you’ve ever done my training the least that you’ve
ever done? She’s nothing if not
logical, that one.
Of course, she’s absolutely correct: my training has fallen
almost completely off the map. But here’s
the thing: I happen to think it’s fallen in a good way.
I went through an obsessive phase with my running that
lasted for many years – perhaps coincidentally, most of it took place in my 20s
and early 30s, when I was still grappling with my adult identity, full of
questions about the person I was becoming and what life had in store for
me. Many of the qualities I admired about
hardcore training were ones that I wanted to instill in myself: toughness, passion,
discipline, intensity, ambition, and reveling in all the physical pleasures of
the healthy body running provided me.
These days, I’m still passionate about running, but for
completely different reasons. I don’t
race for age group awards, or personal best times, or for people to recognize
me as the Runner Dude - which, ironically, seems to happen more and more
nowadays thanks to this little blog of mine.
And I certainly don’t stress out about how many miles I’m running.
Getting my Zen on at 7000'
Today I run as a ritual to keep my mind at peace, and to
keep me grounded in humility. I run to
enter a restorative niche* where I can sort out my thoughts and connect with my
true self. And with increasing
frequency, I run as a means of meditation and worship, reveling in the spiritual
outlet that the activity provides me.
(*A term taken from Susan Cain’s , a brilliant book that should be
required reading for introverts who struggle with conforming to the
increasingly noisy world around them.)
No matter where I look or what other means of devotion I
try, there’s no better way for me to feel close to God than to set foot down a
trail somewhere to immerse myself in His wondrous creation. At the same time my own exterior is stripped
bare, the presence of the Creator becomes more prominent, and it’s almost undoubtedly
the closest I’ll come to encountering the divine while here on Earth.
Also, remember how I described being concerned about how I’d
turn out as a grown up? Well, I’m in pretty
much in the place I was headed to now (although I’m exceedingly reluctant to
use the term grown-up, which implies
some level of maturity or responsibility – neither of which I particularly excel
at), and it turns out to be a pretty good spot.
Perhaps not exactly a grown-up ...
In nearly every way you can imagine, I’m overjoyed with how
my life has turned out thus far. I have more
blessings than I can count, and I have no desire to identify myself by activities
I do, or to get any external recognition of this crazy ultrarunning thing I
love. And I certainly don’t obsess over
workouts and mileage anymore. While
running is still a passion, it has long ceased to be a priority – and when life
pulls me in other directions, I have no qualms about letting it go.
That’s more or less the situation that has taken place this
year: other things have become more important than training, so I run when I
can, and bag it when I don’t feel like it.
Consequently, my overall mileage has decreased, my speed has dropped
off considerably, my race times are slower than usual (this is hard to quantify
on courses that change from one year to the next, but I can tell), and ultras
are more of a physical struggle than I’ve experienced in the past. Lots of people I used to outrun now finish
well ahead of me; at first this was brutal to the ego, but I’ve learned to let
this go as well. Come to think of it, I
really didn’t have a choice.
The good news in all of this is that none of it really
bothers me – because I’ve definitely fallen in a good way. And I’d much rather be the content, peaceful
guy muddling around the middle of the pack than the intense, misguided dude who
has structured his whole life around breaking some arbitrary time goal or earning
some physical trinket that recognizes an accomplishment. There’s
so much more to life than that, and so much more to the experience of running
100 miles than who you beat while doing it.*
(*However, there’s still the matter of cutoff times, which
of course are extremely important to beat – and which at Leadville aren’t exactly
generous. I’m choosing not to dwell on
this too much.)
So what does any of this mean for me at Leadville? Your guess is as good as mine. I’m relatively optimistic in my ability to
finish – but there’s a very strong chance that it’s not going to be pretty. I fully anticipate that it will be the hardest
challenge I’ve ever encountered, and there will be many moments of anguish and
depression and emptiness along the way.
But I also believe that I have the right mindset to rally through them, and
I have faith that the entire journey is going to be one of the most glorious experiences
of my life.
And it’s now less than two weeks before we’ll all find out for
Everclear, “Falling in a Good Way” (click to play):