Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why do I run?

A good friend and one of a few runners who have influenced me the most always has this to say about ultras: “Highs and lows, peaks and valleys…”  I never ask myself this question during the highs, but I’m pretty sure every runner has when they’ve hit a low.

A little over halfway through Voyageur was one of those low spots for me, and I spent much of the second half pondering that question, “Why do I run?”  I couldn’t help but think about all the other hobbies and interests that sound so much easier.  If I kept the hobbies I had when I was a kid, I’d be spending most of my free time fishing, collecting coins, or catching butterflies.  Think about it…on a bad day of fishing, the worst case scenario is still a relaxing day on the lake.  On a bad day in an ultra, the worst case scenario usually comes with a whole lot of pain and misery – or even worse, the dreaded DNF.

So, back to yesterday at Voyageur, as I left the turn-around at the Duluth Zoo, the biggest decision I had left to make was which aid station I was going to pull the plug at.  I threw up four times in three miles, was way overheated, lost all fluids, couldn’t eat anymore, had no energy, and the body just felt like it was shutting down.  All I could think of was how pointless this was, and for the first time in my life I was trying to come up with reasons to justify calling it a day.

When it came down to it though, I think it would take more guts for me to actually willingly choose to take off my number than to keep going.  I dragged myself to an aid station around mile 18 or so.  Thank goodness Tony was there…as several of us found out yesterday, there is nobody better than Tony to pick you up and kick you back out on the trail.  After he got me stocked up with some Gatorade and ice and after several cups of coke and ginger ale, I was back out on the trail.

I did feel better relatively soon after that.  It doesn’t always make sense, but it’s crazy how you can bounce back from rock bottom to rebound and feel better.  I never felt real good and had to drink all my calories for the last half, but was able to keep it moving slow and steady to the finish when I didn’t think I could.

I’ve said this before, but making it through an ultra on a tough day is sort of like an episode of Full House.  There’s always something bad that happens in the middle, but in the end it is all resolved and everything is perfect again.  As frustrating as it was and as much as I questioned, “Why do I run?” during the race, as soon as it was over I had no doubt about the answer and my love of the sport.

All in all, the 30th Minnesota Voyageur is in the books thanks to Andy and Kim Holak, who are such great people and race directors.  The volunteers seemed especially incredible this year.  And I’m always excited for many friends and training buddies who finished – some their first 50 miler, some with great races, and others who just grinded it out on a hard day.

Someone who I met after the race shared with me some great words of wisdom, “The sun don’t shine on the same horse’s ass every day.”  For some reason, I liked that a lot.  I think the more you can take a tough day in stride and still enjoy it, the more good days you’ll have in the long run.