Friday, August 19, 2016

Digging Deep and Hitting Bottom

The 100-mile finish remains elusive. I am 0 for 2 in my attempts, but I think I understand myself and my motivation a bit better for having tried...again.

First, I will start out by saying that I am okay with this un-finish.   Unlike last year, where I was devastated by my inability to cover 100 miles, this year's race was a long shot to begin with.  Tendon injuries going into training gave me a good excuse in the event that things went wrong, because training was never going to be what it shoulda, woulda, coulda been.

I guess I should gladly grasp at that excuse as my reason for a race not well run and leave it at that, but the truth is that I don't think I really wanted this finish. What I wanted was the start. Let me explain.

After last year's failed finish, I wasn't even going to do another 100 ever again. But, it wasn't too long before I started feeling a bit differently and shortly after that when I signed up for my second 100-mile attempt at Burning River. For a long time I thought that I really felt compelled to run a 100-mile race, or to at least say I had finished one. But the more I thought about it during my ill-fated march across Ohio, the more I realized that it wasn't the finish that was important to me, it was the start. I had only wanted to prove to myself that I wasn't afraid to try again - to brush the dust off of my first failure, dig in my heels, and give it another go. Actually finishing the race was at best a secondary goal. I always have been more of a journey person than a goal person. (Training for a 100 was fun; running it, not so much. Running on shredded feet and a pulled tendon for 67 miles was fun; suffering through all that for another 33 just to say I had finished, not so much.)

And, the journey was educational. No, I didn't finish the race. Yes, clearly, I have limits I must face. No, I guess I didn't want it badly enough to gut it out, overcome all the insufficient training and lingering injuries, and persevere despite all. However, what I did do was have the courage to start, knowing that my training was sketchy at best, and knowing I didn't have a track record that would lead me to believe success was in the offing. Dammit, I knew the cards were stacked not in my favor, but ... I. Did. It. Anyway.  And, that is worth something, at least to me. 

So, now that I have failed twice, surely I'll go back out and try again, right? After all, I need to prove to myself ... again ... that I don't give up just because of repeated failures, right? Well, not so fast.  Because, another epiphany that I had while doing this event, marching into the night on aching feet and pulled tendons, was that I am not ready to complete a 100-miler.  

As someone who suffers from serial injuries, necessary long breaks from running, and the resulting woeful lack of consistent training, it is clear that I need to get stronger both physically and mentally before I can try this again.

And this shouldn't come as a surprise! After all, when Andy did his first 50-mile event (which was a crazy concept for me at the time!), I told him that I could never run that sort of distance until I could spend that kind of time in my head with myself.  You see, for some people (in fact, most of the people I know), running ultras is a social endeavor - an extroverted romp through the landscape hanging with friends or meeting and making new's a giant party on the move. But that's not me. Not always, anyway.

For me, long distance running has been more akin to a Zen exercise (or at least an attempt at one) - a moving meditation, a time to go deep inside and see what is there, a time to connect with God or whatever moves this world. In training, I often like to run with friends, but during race events I like to disappear inside myself, to go places in my head and heart that others cannot follow.

Failing at this second 100-miler attempt, I realized that I am not ready for that kind of distance yet. My spiritual, meditative abilities remain stunted at the 70-ish mile mark and I have not been able to stretch them beyond that point yet. Of course, that is aided and abetted by a body that doesn't really want to go much beyond 35 miles.  So, rather than be upset by the DNF, I take it as a lesson in my personal growth. It has shown me where I am at and what I need to work on. I may or may not yet get to the 100-mile distance, but in the meantime I am no less valid as a distance runner - a thought that plagued me after last year's DNF.

At this point, I have no plans for signing up for yet another 100. Instead, I plan to enjoy shorter longer distances (i.e., marathons, 50Ks, and 50-milers) and really just enjoy the process of digging deeper, getting stronger (and perhaps a tad faster), and working on what is important to me - which is to be healthy and strong for myself and my family, and to be distance running well into my dotage.

If my journey takes me further than 70 miles one day, so be it. In the meantime, I am happy of the reminder that some things come naturally, and some things you really have to work for.  After all, there was a day when 50 miles seemed beyond my abilities, but I have grown into that distance. A 100-miler is most likely not impossible, it's just not now.