ONLY THOSE WHO RISK GOING TO FAR CAN POSSIBLY FIND OUT HOW FAR THEY CAN GO.
– T.S. Eliot
Why do I run Ultras? That is a good question to ask. I mean why spend hours upon hours in training, so you can run 50 to 100 miles in a single race. To be so sore the next day that you sometimes need help just getting around. What is that about? Really? Have I gone crazy? Hmmm. I came late, so to speak to the Ultra Running scene. But from about age 25 I have always had the idea to do one but never had the time. Thinking back, it might have been related to age and a single button that changed it all. The big 5-0 transformed me – there are things that you tell yourself you will get around to, but getting around to them might not ever come if you wait too long.
When I hit the half century mark I was working at a Management Job in Health Care – it was not good for me. Very long hours in a position that has been likened to: “Trying to Herd Cats.” In the process of doing this job I gained 30 pounds in two years. The eye opener came one morning when I went to button an extra-large shirt and it did not fit. I am not a large man – 5’5″. So to be wearing an extra-large shirt in the first place should have been a warning sign. But we have a tendency to rationalize things. Luckily it was that one single button, midway between the abdomen and chest that got me to pay attention. So that was it – no more “feeling like a dog chasing its tail.” Made a plan to quit the management job, revaluated priorities, decided I was going to do an Ultra. Just that simple? Of course it is never just that simple but that can wait for another story.
My first Ultra was the Run Rabbit Run at Steamboat Springs in September 2013 – the 50 miler. I was 51 years old and scared to death. I had read several books on running Ultras, surfed the web for information, and subscribed to Ultra Running Magazine. AND I had trained. But the mind wanders into dark corners. I was nervous enough that I did not sleep the night before, almost talked myself out of showing up. The only way I got myself to the starting line was taking it one small step at a time: Just get dressed, make and drink some coffee, eat a muffin, just get in the car, drive, etc…. I eventually made the start. I was actually early.
Because it is September the 50 mile race starts in the dark. And if you are slow enough like me, it finishes in the dark. The day before the event – the race director Fred Abramowitz had a pre-race briefing. The one thing he said that stuck in my mind was “For you first timers, at about the 30 mile mark you are going to look down at your running shoes, which may be covered in vomit, and say to yourself why the hell am I doing this? That is the moment you must not quit. If you can get through this point you will make it.” This point or moment came for me at the Rabbit Ears turn around. I so wanted to quit. I had just run 25 miles and the realization that I had another 25 to go made me nauseated. But I remembered Fred’s words and continued – believe it or not – in a few miles things actually got better.
By the time I got to the top of the ski hill (Mt. Werner) it was dark and I was exhausted but there was only about 7.5 miles to go and all of it downhill – about 3000 feet of downhill. At this naive point I felt that I could finish this. That it was actually going to be a reality. That was until I started running downhill. In the back of my mind I remembered someone telling me that the downhill parts in the last stages of an Ultra can be the hardest. They were not kidding. Wow – I would run a little ways, walk a little ways, and run a little ways. There was pain in this descent, intense pain, but not pain like an injury. It could be more described as a “powerful soreness.” A soreness that you have to experience because words fail to describe it. When that finish line came into view, I became what can only be described as jubilant, euphoric, enraptured, and ecstatic. I have never felt this way with any other activity, except well, maybe a cardinal one? In Ultra’s there is a boundary you cross that you do not realize is there. When you successfully cross it your world changes. I wanted to dance, to sing, to shout out to the world that I did this and I am invincible! I felt on top of the world, nothing else mattered! Civilization could end tomorrow and I did not care. After that experience I was hooked on doing Ultras.
Of course, all of this only lasted for about 30 minutes and then I needed my daughter’s help to get back to the car and for her to drive me back to the motel. The picture below shows me at the end of the race in 2013. I was second to last in finishing and it did not matter. I had crossed the boundary!
Well, that is about all for this week – hope to see you out there!!