I've seen the Facebook pictures of Tara's mutilated macerated feet after she finished the Laurel Highlands 77 mile race; I've seen the detailed scribbles drawn by Bob on the Mohican 50 map, marking every last water crossing--the genesis of colossal blisters; I've heard war stories of the swarthiest runners dissolving like sugar in the sun by mile 15. "So, why am I doing this? When baffled co-workers ask this question, all I can think to answer is: "Because I get to spend the whole day doing, literally--more than a work day even--doing something I totally love doing!" The pain? Well, for me there is no pleasure without pain. I can easily take things for granted. It's truly a blessing to seek out your own pain. I have a choice and so many people don't.
Ultrarunning is the only activity that gets me to stay in the moment. I'm one of those tortured souls that spends 99% of the day ruminating about the past and fretting about the future, that the details of the present embarrassingly slip by. I had a picture of a tree hanging in my office for three years, right above my head with "Change" written underneath it, before an astute student pointed out that the holigram tree did, indeed, change as you walked by, metamorphising from bare winter trees to green summer leaves. I never noticed.
I bought a book once about the practice of "in the moment living" and I couldn't do it. The only time I come close is when I'm doing a 50K. You have to stay in the moment of your body--you have to listen to its signals, so that you eat when you need to eat and drink before thirst sets in. You have to watch the ground every second to avoid stumps, roots, and shadows, and budget good stories to tell your trail running friends to make the time pass. Some people run ultras by focusing on the next aid station. I do that too, but, better yet is staying on the current mile and whatever it brings. Many runners will listen to their Ipods. When my trail running buddies are too tired to talk, I'll run my fantasy reel, choosing from one of a million, from several fantasy categories--food, sex, career, etc., to keep me in the moment, rather than fretting about how far we have to go. I don't wear a Garmin--can't afford one anyway, will probably not even start my watch. Moment by moment living means that if you're having a bad moment, it can change in the next moment, much like our lovely Northeastern, Ohio weather--forecasted to be near 89 degrees for race day; you just have to hang tight when things appear to be going bad.
I run ultras because I think I'm weak. I will near alway underestimate my abilities. I have had "lacks self-confidence" on every report card since kindergarten, only now they sneak it into my employee appraisals. Honestly, I'm scared to death that I will get out there and cave at the first bit of pain. I'm a big baby. I run because I'm weak, but I want to be strong. It's a huge huge challenge to see how far you can go, cause if I can run 50 miles, just think of what else I might be able to do? Progress and not perfection. What if I go only 40? Well, that's near 10 miles than I've gone before. I will not let this be a negetive experience--I'll learn something even if I end up in the hospital on an IV drip. Stay tuned.