For new readers

To get an idea of what I'm trying to do and why I think it's possible, check out the following entries, they'll help get you up to speed.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Suffering and Gratitude

Two days ago I ran 56 miles.

Over the 10+ hours i questioned my sanity and motives a dozen times, making countless bargains with myself about when i was going to stop.  I fell to pieces mentally as i was overtaken on laps 4 and 5 by runners who the day before had finished the first half of the undead hall of fame challenge, navigating over 100 miles of these same twisting and undulating trails on mountain bike.  I was hurting bad and these guys seemed to be blow by me effortlessly, despite the previous days monumental accomplishment. My laps got longer and longer, until the 6.2 miles was taking me approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes. My toes seemed to drag along the trail, and maybe they were - i took tumble after tumble during this low period.

It's interesting as i write this to think about these things - the way the whole event changes from the beginning to the end.  At the beginning ego is typically a driving factor.  There is something to prove.  But i've come to realize as i've done lots of long events that ego isn't enough.  It's ability to provide the necessary drive to pilot the human machine decreases exponentially once certain physical states are reached.  And when you're in these states and your pre-race expectations aren't being met (and they rarely are), ego becomes all but useless. Rationalization and justification take over - and these weapons of the central governor are indomitable adversaries.  To overcome them - at least for me - a shift has to take place - a shift from motivation by external things (what others think of me) to internal ones.

My mom
This particular race was a fascinating experience in many ways because of the lap style format - i wasn't able to use the sense of a 'journey' (one of the mental attitudes i often employ) to get myself through the darker moments.  i got to explore some new ground.  I didn't listen to music and so had nothing to do but think and check in with myself.  I realized that cardio-vascularly i felt pretty good and that my challenge would be just accepting the amount of discomfort that i was in (not necessarily an easy task) and would be in for another 5 or 6 hours.  I thought of my Mom and her struggles with neuromyelitis - the tightness and aching in her legs that endured unendingly for months, not hours.  I thought of my grandfather who suffered from shingles for years near the end of his life.  It made my discomfort seem insignificant and i realized that the only thing that made it non-trivial was that i had a choice.  I could simply stop running at the end of my next lap, find a place by the roaring fire, and lay on my back with my feet up the wall  (to drain the pressure from my legs). I didn't though, and my decision to keep going was somehow based on this odd sense of connectedness i felt with both my mom and grandfather through the act of willful suffering.  It was a connection, as trite as it might sound, to the human spirit and human resilience.

Things got better after that.  The suffering became purposeful - part of goal - rather than a hurdle to be overcome in pursuit of it.  The remainder of the day seemed much more manageable - a small offering of gratitude to loved ones.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Upside of Penance

In my last post i described my busy fall.  What i didn't mention is that i failed to clean up after myself.  Well, i didn't clean up well enough.  Some 50 tires from one of the mud run obstacles had been left on a   somewhat out of the way trail on the greenway in grand forks.  The volunteer help and vehicles i'd been using to clear the course were no longer available (or i was unwilling to ask - these folks do SO much!) and wet conditions made access difficult even were I able to get a truck.  Combined with a busy schedule and, well, my own mental exhaustion, i just kind of blew it and hoped it would be ok for me to get to it when i got to it.

But it wasn't.  Turns out the trail wasn't quite so far out of the way and regular Greenway users were tired of seeing my mess.  The city was getting calls - it was public space after all.  I'd already decided that next year better planning was in order to ensure things got taken care of more quickly after the event but that was next year... and those tires weren't going to move themselves.  The city had offered to contract with a company to get in and remove them and charge the race for the labor.  And they would graciously forgive me as well - it's not a 'one strike' kind of city which is one of the reasons it is such a great place to live.  It was tempting.

But it was my mess.  I borrowed a truck and enlisted one more volunteer to help with the removal yesterday morning.  10 minutes before I left the house it started raining.  It kept raining.  The trail became too difficult to access, the closest i could get to the tires was about 50 yards away, up a slight rise.  The volunteer got lost and never showed.  Fair enough.  It was my mess.  So spent two hours carrying mud and water filled tires,  four at a time, up to the truck.  My forearms became jelly and my traps burned. Then there was the tractor tire that weighed over 100 pounds.  I became sisyphus rolling it up the slick path.  The final hill was too steep as there was no tread against which to leverage, so i had to resort to tire flipping it up.  I can't even remember how i got it into the truck.   By the time i finished i was soaked to the bone and coated with mud.  It was awesome.

When i made it to the gym for my scheduled 10 minutes on the bike late in the afternoon i pushed hard as usual and failed definitively half way through.  I had nothing left.  A good day of training.