Relatively speaking running is a pass time that is fairly new to me. The allure for me is observing my mind, body and spirit transform from the vibration of an anaerobic hockey player to an ultra endurance athlete. Just over 2 years ago I hung up my hockey skates and picked up my first pair of runners. I had no idea then I would find a new passion that would completely transform my life.
One of my sayings in life is that “You never plan to fail, but you can fail to plan”. Over the past several months I’ve logged 1000’s of miles on my feet. What I’ve learned during this time is that there is something truly special about being able to completely strip life down to its bare essentials. For me being an ultra marathoner has nothing to do with burning off steam or inner pain and angst. I also do not believe in voluntary suffering or that pain is a noble cleansing of the soul. Running for me has to do with connecting with nature, myself and facilitating a pure expression of joy and freedom.
The race started at 12 noon on Friday, Aug. 8. I felt great, was very relaxed, and was prepared to simply “do my best”. At the start line the race had approximately 30 starters, the countdown started and off we went. As usual most runners took off fairly quickly, I did the opposite. As I looked over my shoulder there were only a handful of runners behind me putting me at about 25th place, I just laughed and smiled. The course consists of two 50 mile loops, that is 97% trails and 3% paved roads with a net elevation gain of 12,000 feet.
As I ran through the first several miles to the first aid station I began to get warmed and loosened up. Kate (my amazing Fiance’ and crew for the race) was at the first aid station, fueling me up and getting me back out on the trail, this rest stop was less than a minute. I then headed north towards
The next section was 9 mile hill. Yes that’s exactly what it is, a steep hill 9 miles long. I ran where I could and walked when it got too steep. This was a challenging 2 hour climb. After 9 mile hill loop I was 8 hours into the race and back with the crew and Chris at the aid station. Chris and I threw on our headlamps as the sun was setting and it was great to know I would run the rest of the race with him by my side. It was now Friday night, 8pm.
After several hours of running something special happens to me. I am provided with an opportunity to peel the layers and attune into a more pure existence of what it means to be a human being. In our daily engagements we are forced to spend the majority of our time in our cognitive, left brain mind. The left brain is necessary for those parts of our life that require facts, language, math, strategies and it is practical and safe. This is a necessary part of our brain that must be nurtured, but it is important to understand that this is only half of our reality. There are fewer things in our society that honour and nurture the right side of our brains. The right side uses feelings, imagination, has “big picture” ideas, believes, appreciates, presents possibilities and takes risks. For me this shift from left to right brain consciousness provides more balance, purity, trust and allows the deepest parts within me to step forward and have a more authentic and profound experience.
Having Kate and Al as a crew at aid stations and having Chris run with me for the last 14 hours, facilitated this transition to even deeper levels. You see the right brain cannot protect as it can only feel and trust, the left brain allows us to discern, assess and protect when necessary. My support team was now there to “take care of me”. The opportunity to just eat, run and fully experience life beyond the veils of our cultures domestication and materialism was present. Yes, the simple life!
We now made our way to the start/finish line and I had completed the first 50 mile loop in exactly 10 hours. One more 50 mile loop to the finish!
To complete a 100 mile race is a feat on its own, to add more challenge to this was the technical aspects of the terrain. Chris got a taste of this as he badly sprained his ankle just after the 50 mile mark. I did not realize how bad it was until we got to the finish line. It was a BAD sprain. The only word I have to explain Chris is that he is a “Machine”. Physically he’s over 200 pounds of solid muscle, a freak of an ultra marathoner. Mentally he’s unwavering, I knew I needed to find a pacer who was as strong as me mentally and could push through anything. There can never be an once of doubt in the air of what is possible. Chris was in excruciating pain, but he did not say a word, not even a single “peep”. He ran the last 57 miles with me pushing me harder and further than I could do alone. “Two great souls are better than one”.
As we ran past
We continued on through another technical single track section of the race and made our way to the next aid station. Kate asked me how I felt, I said, “like I’ve just ran 70 miles”. Physically, I was in serious discomfort, my entire body ached, I was having trouble digesting food and I had serious cramping around my diaphragm and upper abs. I sat down at the aid station, ate several sections of orange and had another Starbucks double shot. Everyone at the station was telling me how great I was doing; my left brain says they were lying to me.
Many people would consider me to have lived a fairly extreme lifestyle, living life on the “edge”. Truly, I believe life is more fully experienced at the edge of our comfort zones. However, I have never pushed my mind, body and spirit to this extreme of a level before. After running over 70 miles I was in unchartered territory. Something profound happened yet again, Physically I was beyond exhausted, yet this inner voice told me to get up and said you are far more than your physical body (cognitively I know this, however, to experience this is beyond comprehension). “Let’s finish what we started, 30 miles are left in this adventure, let’s go!” After my longest break of 3-4 minutes of sitting down, I got up, looked at Chris and said “Let’s Rock”.
We pounded down the pavement to
Dropping out of the race was never an option; I was crossing the finish line no matter what. Everything within the world is created at least twice. First within our minds and then it takes its physical form within the reality of our world. When I have an idea and focus all of my efforts towards it, I see it come to fruition. This race was no different.
Chris and I made our way to the top of 9 mile in just over 2 hours. Close to the top there was a bear on the trail. It was sitting right in front of us. Being in my right brain awareness I was thinking about how cute it was and how it would feel pretty good to give it a hug. After a second I snapped out of it and we started yelling at it and it eventually tucked back into the bushes. At the top we were greeted by Cheryl who was the volunteer at this aid station. I had some more yummy soup….mmmm!
After another short climb we were on a long downhill single track back to the powerhouse station. With only 11 miles to go I just let my legs open right up and we pounded down this trail. After running almost 90 miles I had no idea that I could still muster up a 6 minute/mile pace. Wow, I was impressed. Chris and I were smiling ear to ear, screaming out loud, we both LOVE fast downhill’s. We were like 2 kids at a candy store.
We got back to the powerhouse aid station, took off our hydration packs, lights and grabbed our handheld bottles. I was just 6.5 miles to the finish line. This last section was more undulating single track technical trail. Possibly the longest 6.5 miles I have ever run. We kept a good pace and finally I saw the finish line. We ran up, heard my name on the speaker and I crossed the finish line. First with my hands in the air with a huge smile and then to tears of joy as Chris, Kate, Al, Stephan, Nate, Lanny and Kacey all received huge hugs from me.
I just completed my first 100 mile ultra marathon in 21 hours and 39 minutes. I finished 4th overall and 2nd in my age division. Wow!
For me the bigger the commitment, sacrifice and dedication we make towards living our lives in our own ideal the more profound and prolific our experiences become. Having cheerleaders are extremely important. This experience would have never been possible without the love and support of Kate everyday of my life. My good friend Chris who selflessly ran 57 miles with me (50 of them with a severely sprained ankle, without an ounce of complaint, he is a machine). And finally my dear friend Dr. Alain who always “shows up” no matter what. You guys Rock!