I’ve spent a lot of the past 2 weeks trying to wrap up my feelings after Old Dominion. I guess I was kind of hoping that I would experience some sort of profound ability to be able to put into words how the event changed me – because it did. I feel like this race was a huge milestone for me. It was security in a time of questioning if I was even competitive in the sport. It was the answer to the question of “what happens next?” I now look at myself, my sport, and fellow athetes in a different sense. But figuring out how to describe the experience in a way that is not just by replaying the miles, what I ate, who I ran with, and the things I ran by seems nearly impossible.
Ultimately I have decided that I don’t think I can really convey my feelings. People will either get it, or they won’t. I am fairly confident that anyone who saw me out there running that race, while they may not really understand why I do what I do, could see that ultrarunning was a part of me. That was what I came to do, and I was having a good time getting the job done.
I also reflected on the flawlessness of the race. In just about any distance you will have a moment where you wonder if you will be able to go on. You wonder if you’ve pushed too hard, if you’ve trained enough….or maybe you’ll simply just get sick and not be able to continue. Especially in a 100 miler, it’s just assumed you will have your low points and your high points. You will, inevitably, have moments over the hours that make you want to stop. Bring you down to your lowest. Make you question why you’re there.
This race was different. I had low moments, don’t get me wrong. But not once did I question my ability to continue, to finish, to get in under 24 hours. Not once did I sit and procrastinate getting up. Instead, I was attacking each section. I was eager to make up time and find some company on the trails. I was hungry to win the entire time, even when I knew winning wasn’t a possibility.
So instead of trying to explain to everyone the feelings that a race like that can bring you, I decided to ask myself questions and really try to figure out how this race what different. What did I do that made the race happen so easily? Over the past 6 months, what did I do right? I also read a lot on endurance athletes trying to figure out my own motivation and get a glimpse inside my head to how I stayed positive and strong not only through the race, but through some long months of training.
The most obvious change I made for this race was in training. Last September I went to Francesca and told her that was going to be my goal race, and I wanted to win. I wanted to do everything I could to beat as many people as I could. I think it’s important to have a coach that is on a separate level than just being a friend. She is, by every definition, one of my good friends. But, she’s my friend because she’s my coach – not the other way around. By treating her like a coach first, I become more accountable. And maybe it’s just because I took the role of having a coach so seriously in my sports growing up. Who knows. Either way, when she wrote my workouts, I did them even when I didn’t want to. Working 730-430, then starting a 3 hour run at 5, getting home at 845, and getting in bed to get up the next morning at 430 to do 6×2 mile wasn’t always fun. It wasn’t always easy. There were plenty of times I didn’t hit the splits I should have. And sometimes I am sure my pace the last quarter mile was probably that of my grandmother. But, I stuck out the miles. And from that I gained a greater sense of appreciation for the work that was required to do this distance properly. I enjoyed being out on my long runs. My legs started to get stronger during the 30 miles I’d be putting in, the day after a 3 hour hill workout. I would take the longer, more challenging routes. And that felt good. So, not only was I putting in the time, but I was doing what I could to make the miles count. Running became my second job – one that I enjoyed, and had fun at, but I still had to treat it as a job to keep myself in check.
So why was I doing it? Why was I running until 9 pm on a Friday night, then rushing to bed so that I could be up at 5 to be driving to the trails for a 6 hour run? When Lance is asked this question, he had the, now famous response that he doesn’t do what he does for the pleasure – he does it for the pain. That made me think – do I get some sort of sick enjoyment out of the pain? Do I thrive on the pain that’s required to run these races? I don’t think that I do. If I was looking for pain, I’d just run marathons. I can’t walk for longer after those than a 50 miler anyway 🙂
Then I thought about a Tim Noakes argument – maybe my personality made me a distance runner. He suggests that distance runners share a series of common traits – a love of privacy, an overwhelming desire for solitude, and an inability to relax or talk in company; an overconcern with physical health, typical patterns of mental behavior that include day dreaming, absentmindedness, procrastination, and an inability to make decisions. This seemed even further from the truth for me. While I value my alone time and my privacy – and I certainly love that running does give me that time away from the world – I don’t think I am an introverted or absentminded person. And, in fact, while I run the majority of the miles in these races alone, it is during the races that I am able to feel more connected to people than at any other time in my life. When I run, I am keenly aware of myself and my body, every hunger pain, every sense of thirst, etc. Being able to relay these things to crew, aid station workers, etc, boils life down to the basics of survival. I am trying to survive, and those people are helping me do that. There are few greater bonds than that. And few feelings of greater self worth than when you have a handful of people cheering you into an aid station, on a dark country road at midnight. While the 60 people who ran the race may never cross paths in the race, we all share an indescribable bond. We know that each other raced the same trails. The same problems arose for everyone. The same day was spent running – and even when I had 10 miles to go, I felt close to those who still had 30 to go…and those who were already showered and laying in their hotel rooms that night, hoping for some brief escapes from the pain to sleep.
So, ultimately I don’t think I can pinpoint what exactly made this race pay off in such a great way for me. But, as simple as it is, I put in the honest effort and, just as importantly, I believed in that process. In the trial of miles. And having fun while you do it :