Today I ran for several hours.
I did! Honest.
Well, except for the times when I walked and there were plenty of those. Here’s the thing though: I ran for several hours today and if not for this posting it would pass without comment. All of the other people that I ran with ran for several hours today as well…except for the parts where they walked. After the run we stood around a parking lot and dripped and sipped bottles of tap water and talked about the Cavs and said goodbye and left. Then I went home and set up the sprinkler in the yard for the kids.
What on earth? When did running for several hours become something that passes without comment? Mohican must be near. The entire cultural flavor of my life skews toward the absurd as the big day beckons. If I run for several hours in December you will darn sure hear me commenting on it…..but when Mohican is in the air its just life.
In the last 8 weeks I have run the marathon distance twice (including today’s run) two 50K’s and a 60K. I hope that’s going to be enough. Some years it has been and other years it hasn’t but I can tell you this much: its not considered a large amount of work or an excessive amount of preparation among the crowd I hung out with today. I have met some amazing and lovely people through this sport. Some of the people I ran with today, including Michelle and Damian and Terri, ran 20 miles last night as a warm-up for today’s run and will run 17 more miles tomorrow. This is the annual Mohican training weekend; time to show up, run, lather, rinse, repeat…and not make a fuss about it. Rob and Don went to some other state that is hillier than Ohio so they could put in 50 miles all at once. They told everyone that that’s what they were going to do but only so we wouldn’t worry when they didn’t show up for today’s MARATHON.
I struggle with how I should use this cultural hardening as a tool as Mohican approaches. On one hand it is undoubtedly a good thing to desensitize myself to the numbers. The miles covered, the hours elapsed, the calories consumed, to temper my consciousness for the annual all-out reach for the finish line.
The truth of the matter is that I can’t “practice” running 100 miles. What I can do is condition each system: The muscles, the places that chafe, the stomach, the endocrine system, the mind. Then on one day they all get stretched to their limit and, given a good solid dose of God’s love, hopefully all goes well. But all of these systems also have to be HEALTHY on the day of the race or nothing good is going to happen. So really it is all one big inoculation. A trace of the poison put into the system so that when the real killer arrives my system has been expecting it. But not so much poison that they are naming a hill in my honor somewhere out on the course for next year’s race.
Since I cannot practice running 100 miles should I be trying to be confident about the fact that, because I have bent myself to the task, I will be able to do so? Is it good for me to be blasé about running a marathon? Is fear a tool or the enemy? Can I be overconfident? I thought of these things a lot today out on the trail.
When I finished Roy Heger was standing there waiting for me as though we had an appointment scheduled with each other. If you don’t know Roy I have two pieces of advice: First, get to know Roy; Second, listen to what he says. Roy has done it all. He has ten-time finisher’s buckles from BOTH the Mohican AND Massanutten 100 mile runs. He has finished Burning River and so many other ultra marathons that it would be impossibly cumbersome to list them all here. Yep, Roy has seen fire, and he’s seen rain. He has seen cold, heat, hail, lightning, ice, tears, and joy. He has seen hypothermia, hyperthermia, nausea, and borderline organ failure. He has placed very high in national championship races and has been beaten into submission in obscure events. He has the type of slow-spoken wisdom that can’t be ignored. And today, as we spoke in the parking lot after the race he told me that finishing this race is all about respect.
This man, who is so tough that he is revered by a community of individuals who pride themselves on grittiness that defies comment, told me that the answer lies not in toughness or mind-over-matter commitment, or in fitness, or in the ability to handle pain…but in respect.
Roy and I didn’t speak for too long but after we spoke I felt better. I believe that he meant that no matter how well trained a runner is, no matter how experienced, and no matter how tough, 100 miles can chew a person up and spit them out. No one really beats Mohican. The course always wins. But if I am gentle, and caring, and pay attention to the demands of the task, perhaps I can gain the finish line one more time. In the weeks leading up to the race I’ll spend very little time thinking of shoes or salt pills. No more very serious challenges to the endocrine system. Instead I’m going to try to have my mind in a place where I believe that nothing can stop me, and at the same time and with the same intensity honestly believe that there are things that can stop me. I don’t really know what you would call that, maybe Zen. But I’m not going to spend any time worrying about what its called either.
I don’t need to practice running 100 miles because I cannot run 100 miles no matter how much practice I get in. The mystery of how I sometimes finish Mohican can remain one. I’m at peace with not knowing. I will strive to be gentle. I will strive to be honest. And I will strive to find a way through the challenges. I believe that in our sport tough often needs a ride home after midnight.