by Matt Gray
At mile 17 I'm in a fast stride going up a rather steep and long
hill, "walking with purpose," as my mantra has become. The sun is
starting to emerge from the clouds, and the cool, crisp air of the dawn
race start is sneaking away. I feel good. My muscles are burning, I'm
taking steady, deep breaths, and my heart rate remains at a clean
"Good work," a fellow runner says to me as I pass
by her. She's struggling with the up-hill, and has all day. "You too," I
respond, "see you on the downhill." She might be struggling with these
inclines, but the descents are absolutely trashing me. In two miles,
when we roll over the top of this little summit, she'll fly by me in a
controlled running fall down the other side.
A similar interaction
will happen with a half dozen more runners as we negotiate our way up
this section of trail. Having just left the 3rd aid station, past the
halfway mark of this 50k ultra-marathon known as the Dirty Thirty, we're
all starting to feel the effects of long-distance running. At least
those of us in this pack of runners. We'll find out later that the
winner of the race is crossing the finish line as we reach mile 20.
could he endure the pain of running at such speeds on this trail, the
same trail that's pounding us down right now? How are we enduring the
pain that we're all experiencing on this hill right now? And probably
the question that most sane people will be asking as they read this: why
have we chosen to put ourselves into a situation where we have to
endure this pain, and significantly more pain in the last miles of the
"Running with the Mind of Meditation," which I cited in last
week's post, talks about the importance of engaging pain, experiencing
pain, and knowing how to deal with pain. This hill seems like the
perfect time to contemplate these wisdoms.
I'm thankful for all
the hiking I've done since I was a kid. My leg muscles have a lifetime
of training in the effort of walking up steep hills. These same legs
are also pretty accustomed to walking down hill, but as for running down
hill, which I'm inclined, motivated, and persuaded to do when I get to
the top, that's a different story. With only a year of running under my
belt, and minimum miles learning to run with gravity, the entirety of
my body will feel quite different in just a few minutes. I'll be in the
same state then that everyone I pass by now is in.
I know one
thing for sure, it won't feel good. The bottoms of my feet will ache,
my shins will feel twinges of sharp, stabbing pains, and my upper-leg
muscles will feel a serious burn. I will attempt to adjust my form, and
some of these changes will help. But the real issues are that I don't
have the best technique and that I'm under prepared. Fortunately, as I
pass by another set of runners, we laugh about the state that we're all
in. We smile at one another and congratulate one another on our
collective effort, and I'm quickly reminded of the great joys in running
these races and the happiness that community brings.
conclusions do I come to during this contemplation and celebration of
pain? Pain is a part of life, and as such, we must meet it as an
experience. Laughter and smiling at our pain is a strange act, but it
must be done. Secondly, pain reminds us that we are alive, strolling
around this earth in volatile bodies. Pain reminds us to appreciate
every moment, to inhale the refreshing breath of life.
finally, third, pain makes us work hard to accomplish something. It
forces us to overcome the limitations of our bodies, minds, and hearts.
It makes us stronger, and it makes completing the race or weathering
life's greatest adversities worth every moment of struggle. Pain
revitalizes us to see the new dawn with hopeful eyes, to fully embrace
the gift that is today and that will be tomorrow. We need pain to
appreciate all that we are.
So, downhill? Here I come.