Recently I've noticed some of my friends and family have been rather critical toward my running.
"You're running too much, its not good for you."
"You need to stop running so much, you're too skinny."
And so forth...
Last weekend I ran my first 50K (31 miles) at N.J. Ultra Festival. The course was essentially a 10-mile loop, with an additional mile loop thrown in for good measures. I planned on going out and running at a pace about one minute slower than my marathon pace (how fast I would run if I were running 26.2 miles on a flat course), however, by the time the race director counted down from 10 to zero, that plan was thrown out the door and I was off at marathon pace, if not faster. It was my first time racing on a trail and I soon found myself zigging and zagging back and forth avoiding rocks, jumping streams and puddles, branches whipping me in the face. It was fantastic.
However, there is one moment that I want to share with you. I had been running for about three hours and 20 minutes and I looked down at my GPS watch and for the first time ever saw that I had traveled just about 26.5 miles (more than 26.2). I was now in unknown territory, my legs had never run milage this far in one run. To make matters more exciting, I knew that I was in second place, probably about two minutes ahead of the runner behind me, and about two minutes behind the runner in front of me. I only had 4.5 more miles to go, and I felt fantastic. I even had a good chance of finishing under four hours!
And thats when it hit me, how brilliant this was. Most of us are content taking subways, buses, and jets to get from point A to point B as fast as possible. I was going to spend nearly four hours ending up in the exact same place as I started. Furthermore, I was racing, using every last ounce of energy to propel me forward trying to not only stay ahead of the runner behind me but also the tick tock of the clock trying to stay under four hours. And for what? The second place prize of a CamelBak I already owned? The fame and glory of a top three finish... that's nonexistent? As a matter of fact, running faster I could almost feel the approval of my peers going down. Their criticisms growing. Yet I was having the time of my life.
Perhaps it can't be explained better than in the words of David Blaikie, the former president of the Association of Canadian Ultramarathoners, who once wrote:
But as poets apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand perhaps better than anyone that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being -- a call that asks who they are.
And thats what made that one moment so beautiful. Everybody's criticism just faded away and I had my own questions for them.
"When was the last time you felt like you accomplished something amazing?"
"Have you ever felt like you gave something everything you had?"
"Have you ever thought that you were capable of something, only to find that you were capable of so much more?"
And maybe thats why I run. To find out what I'm capable of. On May 4 I plan on running 50 miles at Rock the Ridge. I can't wait to discover what that run brings.
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