Saturday, March 30, 2013

7 Lessons from Our First Ultra: Lessons 4 & 5

by Matt Gray

Mile 39: A man wearing a tuxedo running shirt catches up to me and starts asking me how I'm doing. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I'm sure I explained to him my dehydration earlier in the race, my ups and downs of completing the 50 mile distance for the first time, the growing soreness in my feet, and the beautiful little reason my brother and I are running, (Juniper).

I'm accustomed to this conversation, since several times throughout the day other runners, complete strangers, have run with me for a 100 yards, a quarter of a mile, half a lap.  We talk and share stories, laugh over some inside runner's joke (usually something about how good pain feels), and then part ways with words of encouragement and smiles.  Let me be quite clear, this is happening during a race.  Ultrarunners have redefined the meaning of competition . . .

There's the "Jester" who is going to run the course for 48 hours; he gives high fives every time I pass, and he's often moving along with a large group of other runners talking to him. There's the woman running the 100-mile race in sandals (yes, sandals).  She makes a point of catching up to me and talking me through one of my most difficult laps. And the winner of the 50 mile distance runs his second-to-last lap with me, chatting about training and preparation (in what other competition does the winner hang out with the person in tenth place during the race?). While I didn't talk to either of them, I was inspired by them every lap: an eight year old and a ten year old running the 24-hour race, with more heart and courage than I've ever had.

The man in the tuxedo shirt though, provides me with the advice that powers me through the final eleven miles. He asks, "do you notice that you're running?" I nod. "And that I'm walking?" I nod again.  In other circumstances, this might sound condescending, but my new running partner is well aware that my brain is only functioning with a great deal of effort. I need the advice delivered slowly.

"Stop running for a bit," he commands, "give your muscles a break, and walk. Follow me."  I do.

"But it hurts,"  I exclaim, "and I can't walk that fast right now."

"You definitely can, just walk with more purpose.  See my stride?"

It's not a power walk, but it is most definitely a walk with purpose.  He propels himself forward with this stride.  I fall in-sync and it feels good (as good as anything can feel at this point in the day). As the race continues, I will return to this walk many times.  This advice and this new walking stride ensure that I will reach the finish line.

Lesson 4:  You don't always run during an ultra, sometimes you must walk.  But when you walk, walk with purpose.

Lesson 5: Community matters, and it matters everywhere, especially when testing the limits of endurance.  I will remain forever appreciative of the community that formed during the Beyond Limits Ultra.  I get goosebumps just thinking about how much all those exchanges, smiles, and pieces of openly shared wisdom helped me complete lap after lap. I just wish I could thank everyone by name.  To all my fellow runners on March 16th . . . thank you!

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