This weekend I have the Sean O'Brien 100k. It will be my first 100k and the farthest distance I have ran so far. I am nervous, of course. Who wouldn't be? But, I am so excited! I have only ran a 50k before and while most people run a 50 mile before a 100k, I just decided to go for it. The Sean O'Brien 100k is not a race to be trifled with. It has 14,000' of elevation gain and of course 62 miles of running. There is a 16 hour time limit and 12 aid stations, so an aid station roughly every 5 miles. There are four aid stations that you can have a drop bag at, which of course I will use. There are no pacers allowed and you can only see a "crew" at mile 50. The reason I put crew in quotation marks is because since you can only see them once I'm not really counting them as a crew. It's of course and as per usual going to be my dad, mom, and sister there to watch and crew. So really I will only be able to see them at the start, mile 50, and the finish. Meaning it is going to be a very long day where I am in my own head. And I wouldn't rather be anywhere else. The purity of suffering alone has always been one of my greatest loves, in life and in ultrarunning.
This race will be hard. There is no doubt about that. But, I have trained hard and been smart in the lead up. The only thing left for me to do this Saturday is dance that mental dance. As they say the race is already done, I just need to show up and do it. The mental dance is something that we face everyday and every moment. Usually it's innocuous. What to have for lunch? What's the fastest way to get to work today? Why do I have to do this essay? Should I do this essay? And so many more little dances that our minds play and complete. The difference between the everyday dances that we face and the ones faced during an ultramarathon is that during an ultra those dances are what will keep you going or bring you to a hard stop. They are the barrier between a successful and unsuccessful race.
When I talk about these dances I don't mean any simple dance either. Your mind is a powerful foe and can make or break you. Especially in an ultra, you must learn to dance the dance. To motivate yourself. To control your mind and dance away the little voices that tell you to stop or to quit. Sometimes those little voices win, but that is never the end. This mental dance is a constant back and forth. Little losses and little victories that will hopefully end in overall success.
The dance is complicated and it takes practice to really get to know its depths. I have only been dancing the dance for a few years, but I have many, many more to come. I love the dance, in fact. It is like a game of chess to me. Just like any game or any dance you must know the moves, or at least know how to come up with new ones. When the going gets tough and the little voices turn into roaring crowds of despair, knowing how to cut through the noise is key. One of the best ways to cut through that noise is to take a lesson from meditation. In meditation you use noting to bring yourself evermore into the present moment. Noting is what it says. You note what you are thinking, hearing, feeling, and seeing. Use your mind to identify the senses and the thoughts that are bringing you out of the moment to let them go. While it may seem counterintuitive to note what you are feeling or thinking just to let it go, it really is productive. You make yourself aware of the distractions and then can better let them float away. In suffering my approach is the same. I note what is hurting and what my mind is saying to make me stop, then I simply breath in and out...I let the pain, the despair, the hurt, the thoughts float away. I chase them away by identifying them. Because, when it comes down to it those thoughts that are trying to bring you down are scared of attention. If you shine the spot light on them they will run and hide. If you keep the spot light trained on them, wherever they run to, they will cease to exist. The same is with pain. Identify your pain, shine your mental spotlight on it, chase it away, and make it cease to exist.
Pain is not something that the mental dance should be scared by. In fact the addition of pain is when the mental dance turns from a middle school dance to a Broadway performance. When your brain is fighting a revolution within itself. Battling to see who will have control. The little voices telling you it hurts and that you should stop or the calm, motivational side that tells you to push on. That this ain't over yet. Sometimes the little voices win fully and you have to stop. But, I try my hardest to make sure the calm side wins always. That I can keep going. But, you have to be smart about these things. Pain can bring bad judgment, which can bring the failure of a kidney because you forgot to drink, or the cramping of a stomach, or the overwhelming pain of an brutally cramped muscle. You have to be aware. To know yourself and what you need, because without that you will get lost in the dance and never come out, which is just as bad as the little voices winning. It is a balance that you should treat with the utmost respect.
Mind (n): the element of a person that allows them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought.
You see that even in the definition it discusses awareness. Awareness is something that our world seems to lack. Awareness of ourselves and others. Awareness of our own true self. Instead we blindly go by who we are and never try to realize our most fulfilling life. By running this race I am trying to be more aware. To be more aware of who I am. Only through suffering can we learn who we truly are. I know I will suffer this Saturday, but I will be aware. I will be aware of who I am now and who I truly want to be. I will be aware of what is bringing me down, so that I can lift myself up without it. It is a constant battle and I know that whatever happens out there in the Santa Monica Mountains in 4 days will be what I made happen, good and bad. So here's to a great race, I'll make it happen, I hope!
Thank you always.