A few years back as I began the early stages of my training for Ironman UK, I joined a CTC run one Wednesday night. There were just 3 of us that night. One runners name I have lost in the past few years. I have either not seen him since or I saw under a different light. The other runner was E-speed . I think it was our first formal meeting. I knew who she was, as she had spent the whole day at GCT rooting us all on. Her enthusiasm certainly fueled a few miles for me that day. I had also read her JFK50 mile race report here in blogland. So many folks in these sports seem to inspire others just by doing what they do. Sometimes inspiration takes a long delay before it hits. As we ran along, E shared her experience from the JFK50 mile. The race seemed unimaginable. I was focused on Ironman, so entertaining any idea of running a 50 mile race had no space in my mind. I also remember her reflecting on the questions of "What's Next?" and "Whats the point of all this?". These questions have dogged me over the past year since finishing my first Ironman. I imagine this is common for long distance athletes. Looking for a point may always remain a mystery. I am not sure I have ever heard of anyone clearly defining a point to pushing beyond the limits of human endurance. When it comes to staying in shape, these Ultra and iron distance races are overkill. Trying to find an easy sound bite to explain our drive is silly. When it comes right down to it, I think if you are searching for a point, you have missed the point. The only clear point is a finish line. Once we cross over that line it ceases to have any relevance in our present.
At a races end, it is easy and common to become lost as our sense of purpose has come to a conclusion. What is gained from many of my races is gained during the months of training that precedes the actual race. A big smile and a finishers medal account for a very small part of the reward. Sometimes the greatest struggle comes after the finish. Haunted by the emptiness of living with out goals makes life after the race more difficult then the race it self. We have had so much time to ready our selves for the trials that we would have to overcome on race day. We spend almost no time preparing for the transition after our goals have been met. Just as I believe death is a transition, I believe that a finish line would be better defined as a transition line. Crossing that line can bring a world of confusion if your biggest goal has been achieved.
Following my IMUK finish I was able soak up the joy for a while. Within a month, I had committed to another year of ironman training. I took some downtime and got back to work.
As I began the training for IM Louisville, I found my self confronted by the same questions I had listened to E-speed ask a year earlier. I had no answers to these questions and often found my training uninspired, flat, and boring. I wondered what the point was often and more then once considered dropping out. One thing I repeatedly promised myself after IMKY was to spend more time just running. I looked forward to a season of more focused marathon training.
Early on Nichole and I had planned for the Big Sur. Having new goals waiting beyond an Ironman finish propelled me to the finish/transition line at 4th street live. I learned alot about myself last year. Most importantly I learned that I have no quit in me.
My training for big Sur began well. Driven and focused on a new goal, the joy of training had returned. When it became clear that Nichole was dealing with injuries that would force her to drop out of the Big Sur plan, along with economic fears looming, I adjusted my plans as I once had to do for ironman and picked the Trail Marathon. My training moved along without distraction. I went into my race feeling I was ready......I was not......The trail kicked my ass. I was down, but there was no quit in me. Like the little scrapper that I was as a kid, I would drag my bloodied body from the trail and jump right back into the fight. I refused to end a season of marathon training with a race like that. I decided to run the marathon in Cleveland 2 weeks from now and maintain my training. I am completely focused.
I have also decided to maintain my focus on running. Sept 19th I plan to go 50k for the first time on the same course that beat me last week. The race is called the freak50k. It is a part of a weekend called Runwoodstock . The big race is the Hallucination100 Mile. I will follow that up with the Towpath Marathon and then a week before Thanksgiving I will end my season with The JFK50 mile. I gotta be honest, the distance still seems unimaginable to me. I think back to last Sunday and remember how relieved I was to see the finish/transition line. I wonder,"how can I go any further?". The truth is, I don't think I have ever seen a finish line that I was not relieved to see. Most races leave me feeling destroyed for at least a short moment.
So I now have season race goals that will give me focus. 50miles is huge in my mind. I have a lot of miles ahead. I have no idea what comes after JFK. But I know unlike the 60's, Woodstock comes first.
I came upon a child of god He was walking along the road And I asked him, where are you going And this he told me Im going on down to yasgurs farm Im going to join in a rock n roll band Im going to camp out on the land Im going to try an get my soul free We are stardust We are golden And weve got to get ourselves Back to the garden -Joni Mitchell