1. Seek silver linings.
It was not my idea. It happened to me. I was asked to participate in something, not as a volunteer, but as a student. The pandemic hit full force. We were all sent into our homes to shelter and the Zumbro 100 miler I was training all winter for was cancelled. This is life. It’s hard and it doesn’t always work in our favor nor is it under our control. I had accepted that rationally and leaned heavily into my teachings of acceptance and Amor fati. Unfortunately the deep subconscious parts of me was not following that program. I was running angry and joyless and my body was telling me a much different narrative. On instagram I happened to catch someone I didn’t know talking about running the April calendar and this person was just reaching the heart of the challenge in the week of the 20’s. My gut reaction was, that sounds impossible and really stupid and went along on my merry scrolling way. But the stupid idea kept coming back. I started thinking about that stupid idea more and more. That stupid idea stalked me. Slowly I started immersing myself in it. I would look at the month of May on my phone calender. Then I did the math. How many total miles is that? How many miles per week? How many miles per day? Then it started to take root. I would just stare at the dates from May 20th until May 31st. 12 days in a row running 20 miles plus, a marathon on day 26, then 5 ultra marathons in a row. Silver started to appear.
Come to the edge, he said.
We can’t, we are afraid, they responded.
Come to the edge, he said.
We can’t, we will fail, they responded.
Come to the edge, he said.
And so they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.
– Guilaume Apolinair
2. The significance of 5.
Numerology is any belief in the divine or mystical relationship between a number and one or more coinciding events.
When I did the math and I added up the mileage it came to a total of 496 miles for May. I immediately thought I have to do 500. That doesn’t seem weird or odd, we tend to round up or down pretty instinctively. I guess as humans we prefer tidy round numbers, and even tidier lives. My next thought was I couldn’t just run all month. I’m not just a runner. What is more basic, simple and hard working than a push up? 500 miles… Okay, 5000 push ups. The numbers again aligned and worked in harmony. That didn’t seem that odd or divine either. I just added a zero and it seemed like a lot of pushups. Then I started thinking about the races that had been cancelled or would be cancelled this year that I had planned on, was working towards, that meant something to me. I had deemed this year my ultra year. I was only going to run ultras.
1. Zumbro 100 miler.
2. Montana Spartan Ultra beast
3. Spring superior 50k
4. Afton 5ok
5. Killington Spartan Ultra beast
Okay that is a little weird. Then I thought about the last week of this challenge, again. Day 26, run a marathon, day 27, 28, 29, 30, 31. Run 5 ultras, 5 ultras in a row, 5 ultras in a month, 5 ultras in a week.
Divine? Mystical? Destiny? Purpose? Coincidence?
Total miles – 504.1
Total hours running – 97 hours 42 minutes
Average miles per day – 16.2
Average pace over 504.1 miles – 11:37
Miles per hour over 504.1 miles – 5.16
Total push ups – 5,004
Average push ups per day – 161
Most push ups in one day – 300 / day 15
Least push ups in one day – 90 / day 29
Total elevation – 37,554 feet
Average elevation per day – 1,211 feet
Most elevation in one day – 3,392 feet / day 31
Least elevation in one day – 174 feet / day 5
Total calories burned – 63,800
Total calories consumed – 79,897
Most calories consumed in one day – 4,182 / day 28
Least calories consumed in one day – 1,556 / day 5
Slowest mile – 14:49 / mile 25 / day 31
Fastest mile – 8:11 / mile 20 / day 23
Smallest pace differential on one run – day 11 – 8:38 – mile 7 / 9:37 – mile 10
Largest pace differential on one run – day 31 – 9:19 – mile 29 / 14:49 – mile 25
Shoes destroyed – 2 pair
Blisters – zero
Miles run on pavement – 27.14
Miles run on trail – 476.96
Single runs – day 1-26, 30, 31
* 2 runs- day 28, 29
* 3 runs – day 27
* this was not the plan. I was supposed to be on furlough this week. Furlough was cancelled and this was my solution in doing my job and running these miles.
3. The degenerative process of life.
I tend to believe you let an ultra event come to you. Let it find you. You don’t control it you exist within it. The first 14 days were about running with joy. Joy found me. If I only made it 14 days I had already received so much out of this experience. I woke up everyday and couldn’t wait to run. I wasnt training, I wasnt thinking about races, or times, or splits, or much of anything really. I was just in the woods moving. That emptiness in my head created a thought. I got hit with something so far out of left field within my brain that I couldn’t have seen it coming with the help of the United States military Blue Force Tracker.
I started to really comprehend the journey I was on. Everyday I would wake up and my day would get harder, ascending difficulty, Everyday my body, mind and soul would be getting weaker. Descending response.
It was out on a run that I deeply considered this and then I started thinking about my fellow humans that suffer at the hands of this not for days, or a month but for their entire life. I deeply reflected on fellow humans suffering with ALS, Alzheimer’s, chronic irreversible pain, stage 4 cancer. Humans that survival from day to day is based on the amazing ability to forget yesterday, not think about tomorrow because tomorrow is only going to get worse and be present in the moment of today. It’s all they have.
It’s all we have.
If the journey had stopped there I had been given a gift that I will open the rest of my life. If I was going to get through this month I had to truly embrace the teachings of presence I have been studying for years.
I could not consider the miles behind me as they accumulated.
I could not think of the miles in front of me as they escaleted.
I could only wake up. Look at the date. Run those miles.
No yesterday, no tomorrow, just today.
I wasn’t learning how to be a better runner, I was learning how to live my life.
When someone is seeking,” said Siddartha, “It happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal. You, O worthy one, are perhaps indeed a seeker, for in striving towards your goal, you do not see many things that are under your nose.
– Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
4. Accepting the end.
I’ve always struggled with the idea that someone wanted this to be over. Ones life. Not that I don’t accept death. Memento Mori. But I feel like life is worth fighting for. I couldn’t truly understand why someone wanted to go, that their time was done here. Be it age, or disease, broken heart, or they just lived so long they were plain worn out from this ultra called life. It was time to move on. In a bubble I would think, I would fight until the last breathe. I may, I may not. But that entire conversation was happening within me the last week of this challenge. In a race the finish line is a celebration. You start counting down the miles and new life starts pumping through your body. This was the opposite. This was entirely built on when will the suffering stop? Can I make it to that point? I had many moments when I wanted it to end. This was a crash course in what we all face at the end of our lives. Do we accept it? Do we fight it? How long do we struggle? How much suffering can we take? And when is enough, enough. There was not going to be a celebration at the end of this. It would just be over.
Someone asked me how many more days I thought I could go? My response was I don’t really know. All I know is I would have woke up the next day and tried to run 32 miles. That’s about the best answer I can give. Maybe it’s the only answer. Maybe what I found was a better understanding how I will deal with the end.
If you are inside your comfort zone, you may be outside of your enhancement zone. What is keeping you from stepping up to your edge? Move beyond fear today, and take that bold step towards what you really want. “When we are willing to stay even a moment with uncomfortable energy, we gradually learn not to fear it.” – Pema Chodron
5. Not quitting in my living room.
Within a race the idea of quitting is not something that I advocate in my mind. It’s not because I am tougher, or horde more grit, or was given an extra dose of will. I just do not allow that thought to grow. When it visits me, I try and slam the door as quickly as possible. I also don’t encourage, nourish or water that flower during training. From day 22 until day 31 I lived with quitting non stop. It moved in. Kicked its feet up on my living room table, grabbed a beer and made itself incredily comfortable. We spoke a lot. Some very uncomfortable and long conversations. The conversation ended here. I was not going to succomb to it in my living room. At home, on my couch, inside, nice and comfortable. Feeling sorry for myself physically and emotionally. In submission, drained, beaten down, overwhelmed and doubting myself and my abilities.
I only had one rule for 10 days. Find the hardest place to quit before you decide to make that decison. Which in its simplest form was just starting. I was going to put my gear on. Pack the food. Fill the water bottles. Drive to the trail. And take step one.
The easiest place to quit is to never start. To wave the white flag before you even step into battle. To never try. To never enter the arena. To create excuses and create failure before you even fail. That is true failure. The only thing you learn through that experience is to be a better quitter. If quitting was going to win, I was going to fail within the task, not because of it.
That I could live with.
Growth is not a light switch. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a commitment, everyday, to stretch a little farther than you did the day before. To keep stepping from the known to the unknown. Growth lives in the uncertainty, the in-between, the unfinished sentence, the season of becoming. If you’re growing, you’re out of your comfort zone. STRETCHHH as far as you can…and then just a little bit more. If you waver, remember, “The universe has a way of forcing us to move forward and to constantly keep creating and experiencing life at a higher level.” – Joe Duncan
Thank you Jeremy Hager, Jodee Thomas, Brett Essman, Ryan Peck for your endless support, love and humor.
Thank you Pam O’leary for always, always supporting all the stupid ideas that find me.