As I made my way up the first climb of the Sean O'Brien 100k this past weekend I could only focus on the circle of light ahead of me and everything else around me, the mist, the darkness, even the people, may have well as not been there. It wasn't because I was suffering just yet, but because I was in the moment. I was feeling the flow as Meghan Hicks and I discussed last week in our podcast. I put one foot in front of the other continually. In my focus I was surprised to see the sun, when I looked up. The sunrise had begun and I hadn't even realized. Fiery orange and cool blue stretched over the horizon, capped with clouds, as I looked on to the rising ball of fire. I didn't stay long, just enough for a picture. The climb beckoned. I love to climb. Not vertical walls, I'm not a rock climber. But, to push my body on a near vertical trail is pure bliss for me. That first climb was not near vertical. But, I took it for all it was worth and I loved every moment of it. The cool morning air whipping around my sandal clad toes and tossing my hair. The sun beginning to shine brighter and brighter.
I realized in that moment that the whole idea of that race that I was going to accomplish that day, and I was going to accomplish it, was to simply enjoy it. Enjoy every step and every climb and every descent and every rock and every person as they are, as it is. If it hurts, let it hurt. If it feels good, let it feel good. In fact there is a wonderful allegory to illustrate this point:
There was once a student who asked his teacher, "Teacher, what is enlightenment?"
The teacher replied, "When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep."
Of course one of the basic realizations/lessons of the Buddhist tradition is that enlightenment cannot be taught, it must be found. So take this allegory with a grain of salt. Either way I am not saying I found enlightenment during the 15 hours and 18 minutes that it took me to complete the 62 miles and 14,000 feet of elevation gain in the Santa Monica Mountains that is the Sean O'Brien 100k. What I am saying, instead, is that this was yet another journey. An encapsulated one. Life in a day as they say. Where I experienced the joys and sorrows so familiar to those of us who are truly experiencing life, instead of simply passing through. Life is sacred. It has to be. Otherwise, you will become one of those who died at 25, but weren't buried until they were 75. I treat everyday as a sacred day. Last Saturday was no different. It was a day were I had to dig deep within my own soul to find the perseverance to continue.
An ultramarathon is a test. Pure and simple. The only way to pass the test is to find within yourself who you are. To further chip away at the stone that encapsulates your true self. The Self is hidden and yet clear to see, but like the Bhagavad Gita says if you find the Self then duality falls away. The complicated verses that are so common and so similar in all religious and secular texts become clear. You realize that the key is not in a book, but right within the body that we occupy. I love to run. To me a hard run is purity exemplified. Everything else falls away and all that matters is what you are going to do to keep going. The mind is powerful and in a long run you get a glimpse of just how powerful. You are privileged to witness what you are capable of if you can and it is a perfect time to further search for the Self.
In this after, after period of the race I have a lot of thoughts. Now what I mean by after, after is that the "after" was when I finished the race. When I could barely walk and food was the only thing I desired and then I didn't even feel like eating it once I got it. Then over the next two-ish days of pure exhaustion and pain all over. Now the after, after is what has happened since. The subsiding of muscle pain, but the arising of overall body fatigue and the ability to really think now. With this ability to think straight it has given me time to think back on the race. To relive what happened out there. The good and the bad.
Looking back I realize one very important thing. I can be arrogant. When I finished the race and over the next two days I did not think I suffered all that much. Or at least that the suffering was singular to two or three very specific sections and that the rest of the race went by great. But, now that the fog has lifted and I can truly remember it is only now that I realized that the Sean O'Brien 100k REALLY FREAKIN' HURT! That is what I mean by after the after. Now I can see how painful that race really was.
Thinking back on the race day I can pin point very specific moments of pain, but I can also realize that it took a lot to finish that race. There were more than a few extremely low moments. I never asked myself why am I doing this or wanted to quit. Sure I wanted to be done, but I wasn't going to be done until I covered those 62 miles. I'd sit in a chair soon I told myself, but let me just take a quick 20 mile detour first. Coming up the longest climb of the race, a 5 mile climb I believe, I crested a shallow hill that I thought for sure was the top. As my eyes rose from my tired legs to, I hoped, see the trees that would mark the top, I instead saw the second half of the climb that I needed to complete to reach the top. Those 5 miles where specters manifested in twists and turns that tortured your mind. Playing fake peaks and finally the real peak in and out of view. Tantalizing close, yet brutally far.
The minute I crested the true peak I threw on some Iron Maiden and flew down the descent. I was happy to get my legs moving. But soon an 8 mile section of rolling hills, twists and turns, and relative flats gave me a run for my money. A painful section where I simply wanted to walk, but I knew I would get to a steep climb eventually, so just walk then.
I am not going to do a detailed account of my race, I did that in this week's podcast episode. But, I do want to talk about the after, after. Now that time has passed a little it has gotten clearer like I said. I am still not 100%, but I am getting there fast. The race destroyed me and I know that, so I have recovered right. But, the real things that I have realized in the past few days is how far a simple step, multiplied over thousands or millions of times can carry a body far. It's so simple, yet so mind blowing. If you just keep on going, keep on committing, building upon where you have already come from, what you have already done, you will get to where you want to go. The lessons we learn in running are lessons that apply to life. The skills that we build through pain are ones that aid us in everything else. I have realized over the miles that I have ran that if I keep putting one foot in front of the other, then one day I will get to where I desire. But, it doesn't mean I have to do it only focused on where I am going, I prefer to focus on where I am. To make the most out of what I have right now. I read a quote recently that I really like...
"The future is just a bunch of right nows strung together."
Which is so true. The Sean O'Brien 100k was an infinite amount of right nows strung together to form the day that was. Now I am experiencing the day that is. Recovering right and eating well. That is all any race or endeavor I undertake is for me. A bunch of right nows. Some of them hurt and some don't, but they all have one thing in common, they're all beautiful. They really are, I just need to find the beauty. I need to stay in the right now and put one foot in front of the other and that is exactly what I did. I couldn't be happier!
To doing what we set out to do,