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Falling in a Good Way

Posted Aug 06 2012 12:00am

*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 post)

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.

A spare shot from the TRT 50

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 sure.

Everclear, “Falling in a Good Way” (click to play):

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