Friday, August 17, 2012

The Hardest Run I Never Did

First, the fact:

I am not running the Summer Beast of Burden 100-Mile Run this year.

Next, the speculation and introspection:

It would be partially true to say that when I packed my bag this morning (on auto-pilot, as has been the drill for some time now), and walked down to my car at around 1100, to find the passenger-side window broken out, and my backpack, water bottle, tote bag, and all of the food in my trunk stolen from my car, that the ensuing 4+ hour ordeal to make things as "right" as they could be (i.e., restore the window, if not my property) made a 7+ hour drive to Lockport, NY prohibitive given the timeframe for the race, and that's why I am not starting.

It would be partially true to say that since Speedgoat, my weekly mileage totals have been, with great difficulty, 42 miles two weeks ago, 23 miles last week, and an anemic 10 so far this week (albeit with two days to go), and that given that I back-slid so badly into Badwater, and managed to somehow far-exceed expectations there anyway, it would be very risky to attempt another 100-mile race on such poor training, especially considering that this past week, I was deathly ill (to the point of sleeping all day this past Tuesday),  and that's why I'm not starting.

It would be partially true to say that since this time last year, I've run Badwater, six 100-mile races, a 50-mile race, two 100Ks, five 50Ks, five marathons, and attempted the North Coast 24-Hour National Championship race twice, and that 1300 miles worth of marathon and ultra-racing in a year might, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, be enough, and that's why I'm not starting.

But the most complete, significant truth is a lot more complicated than any of that . . . 

At this time last year, I was just starting to start over, no longer engaged, and, quite honestly, afraid of the void that I knew she would leave.  

So I ran. A lot.

I ran at 3 a.m. down deserted city streets.  I ran in spite of fences topped with with barbed wire in the rain, fences I bravely (if stupidly) scaled.  I ran in obscenely bare legs in an improbable snowstorm on my 30th birthday.  I ran in deserted woods in the frigid cold at midnight.  I ran loop after loop around a park by the shore of a lake.  I ran in the scorching hot desert.  Sometimes I was careening down steep, winding, mountain single-track trail at breakneck speeds. Sometimes I was trudging up similarly steep mountains, hands on knees, straining to keep making forward progress.  Sometimes I was shuffling along at death-march pace, nearly too exhausted to keep myself upright.  And sometimes, I was running effortlessly, and felt like I could run that pace forever.

But no matter what, I was still running, half because I wanted to prove that I was "better" than before, and half because I was afraid of what might happen if I stopped.

But today, this morning, walking up to my car, sneakers crunching on the broken glass, the sound and sensation warning me that something was wrong before I even saw the window, I felt, for the first time since this time last year, an uneasy truce inside myself.  

Because the reality is, pesky matter of the marathon PR aside, I've improved significantly on nearly all of my same-race performances from 2011 to 2012, not to mention taken on a number of new challenges with great success.  At this point, considering all that I could have done, and, out of that, what I failed to do, I have no significant nagging regrets.  In fact, I think that the level of success that I've achieved this year hasn't truly sunk in.  

But more importantly, as I stood there, staring blankly at the broken glass, my first coherent thought was: "Today, I have nothing to prove.  Today, for the first time in a year, instead of running, I am going to go home."

And that, honestly, even in consideration of all of my crazy adventures this past year, is the scariest thought that I've had in a long time.  

In a relative sense, it would be "easy" to drive for a long time, and sleep in my car, and put on my running shoes and clothes, and run for hours until I've completed another unimaginably long race.  I know how to do those things.  Over the past year, I've become an expert of sorts.

But it's truly "hard" for me to pack up and go home before even starting the race, to go home and start the process of learning to live without being "dependent" on running to fill every one of those difficult moments.  It's "hard," especially given the last few months, to take a step back from the frenzy, to restrict my running to a plan, to set daily mileage goals, and weekly mileage goals, and goal races, when I've been bouncing from one adventure to the next, with very little thought in between, for so long.  I did these things once, but it's been so long ago now that I barely remember how to do them.

But for the sake of long-term health and success, in all aspects of my life, that's where I need to be right now, starting today.  With one last possible 100-mile "adventure" aside, my schedule is blank from today forward.  And, right now, that's a scary, but necessary thing.

Finally, the conclusion:

I will not run today.  But don't mistake this for an "I am no longer running" manifesto.  I don't plan to stop running anytime soon.  But, just like at this time last year, it's time for me to rethink my strategy, revise my approach, and reframe the way running fits into my life.  And that's not without bumps and jolts early on, but, as this past year has proven, over the long haul, this is a difficult thing that needs to happen, if greater successes are to come in the future.

I hope that this has been somehow interesting/educational/amusing/informative for all who took the time to read it, even though it is mostly about not running, which pretty much everybody does (or doesn't do, whichever construction is most comfortable for you).  (And I hope I'm not waxing overly long and poetic here, because this is as concise and direct as I can be right now.)  Good luck to everybody who will be running the Summer Beast of Burden 100-Mile Run tomorrow; enjoy everything about the race, and if things fall into place, hopefully next year, I'll be right there with all of you.