It’s an Ultra!
It’s amazing how fast significant events can disappear into the rear-view mirror of our lives. It was nearly a month ago already that we ran the Vermont 50. Yet despite the passage of time, I keep realizing how many lessons I learned in the hills around Ascutney.
I used to think that life was like a marathon. I don’t think so anymore. Now I think it’s more like an ultra. Here’s why:
1. The need to take better care of ourselves.
There is no question that marathon training is difficult. And 26.2 miles is a long way to run. But it’s possible to run a marathon, get a bit dehydrated, allow yourself to get nutritionally depleted, and still walk away relatively unscathed.
Not so with an ultra. Over 50 or 100 miles, it is critical to attend meticulously to the needs of your body. You can’t afford to get dehydrated. It’s essential to continually monitor your electrolytes. You need constant fuel to go the distance.
How easy it is to ignore our bodies in our lives. When I’m out speaking to groups on the message of Journeys, when I urge folks to be active participants in their lives, the familiar refrain I hear is: I’m too old, too overweight, too out of shape.
It is axiomatic that without our health we have nothing. And yet how cavalier we are with the care of the vessels that enable us to make manifest the very essence of who we are in the world.
Small tweaks in diet and exercise can transform how we feel about ourselves; and can transform our lives. At our ideal weights, we can sometimes feel like we can fly.
The death of Steve Jobs is a stark reminder that all of the fame and fortune and success and notoriaty on the planet cannot save us from consequences of ill health.
We need to care for our bodies well if we’re going to go the distance.
2. It’s about endurance not speed.
I remember being preoccupied in my marathon training about time. Would I finish sub-4? Would I have a “qualifying” time? Would I beat Ann? How fast could I be?
In an ultra, there is a lot more plodding. And for me, running 50 miles was not about the amount of time it took me; it was about being able to go the distance. Sure there was a time limit. But it mattered much less to me how fast I ran it than being able to cross the finish line.
We are constantly challenged by the need for speed in our lives with the constant barrage of emails and voicemails and status updates. Yet what really matters is our ability to persist.
Those of you who read me frequently know that I am a big fan of Darren Hardy’s metaphor of the hand pump, one of those old metal things you see at a campground. He says that when we engage in a big life project – at work, in school or in our creative lives – we need to make slow, steady, constant efforts toward our goal. As we continue “to pump the handle,” at first we see just a slow trickle of results for all our work. (If we stop, we need to start again.) But if we continue to pump steadily, eventually a huge torrent flows.
Jack Canfield says that even the mightiest tree in the forest can be felled with just five whacks of the axe each day, so long as we don’t give up.
Small consistent steps over time lead to magnificent results.
Persistence is the key.
3. We get to stop and re-group.
When I first started my distance training, I freaked out when Ann suggested that we stop and hydrate and have a snack. Stop? How can we stop? We’ve gotta run a race! We can’t stop! We’ll fall behind! Our muscles will seize up. All will be lost!
Well, in running ultra distances, there’s a lot of stopping.
We need to be a lot better about this in our lives. And I am guilty as charged! They say that we teach what we most need to know and this is a lesson that I need to constantly remind myself to follow.
We seem to think that busy means that we are productive. And this is not necessarily so. In fact, last week I wrote: busy is bad.
Busy will burn us out. And yet the world drives us forward. Our egos drive us forward.
How essential it is to stop. To reflect. To rest. To recreate. To think about where we’ve been; to consider where we’re going. To connect again with those we love; to connect with our essential selves; to connect with the ground; and with the Ground of All Being.
If we’re going to go the distance, we gotta to stop and regroup. Often.
4. We can suffer for a long time and still be ok.
Before I met Ann, I hadn’t run more than 8 or 10 miles. When I went out beyond 10 for the first time, I thought I was going to die.
As I extended the distances out, though, I discovered that the entire range of physical and mental feelings ebbs and flows; that there is a constant state of flux. I found that I could run 15 miles like the wind, 10 miles as if my legs were bound by piano wire; and another 5 as if I were a flowing river. All on the same run! And I discovered too that even if I were miserable for 20 miles, it could all change in an instant – and it would be ok.
In every day of our lives, we go through the range of emotions. Some affirmation from a co-worker will lift us up; the all-too-busy boss becomes a sure sign that we will lose our job; the ungrateful teenager enrages us; a smile from a passer-by makes our heart sing; our exhausted spouse hurls us into a lonely despair. Over and over again.
And we will be ok.
A relationship unwinds. A loved one dies. We have no idea whether the house will ever sell. Or whether our kid will get into school. Or whether there will ever be work again.
And we will be ok.
It is so easy to lose faith in ourselves; in our abilities; in our resiliance.
We shouldn’t. We can prevail. We will.
5. It’s a banquet, a really nice banquet.
On a short run, you start and you finish. In marathons, there are places to fill your water bottles every now and then. And perhaps pick up a package of Gu.
When I first started thinking about ultras, I was told that they were like running buffets or banquets. And they are!
Every 5 or 6 miles or so in an ultra, there are long tables of goodies: sandwiches and bananas and cookies and crackers and fruits and nuts and candies and gummies and all sorts of other fun stuff.
Life is like that: it’s a banquet. And we forget. We forget how good it is. We forget to stop along the way and peruse the table and fill our pockets and satisfy our hunger and our thirst. We hurtle forward, missing the majesty that lays before our eyes.
We miss the sunrises and the sunsets and the northern lights and the shooting stars. We miss our lover. We miss the child who wants to connect; the parent who wants to be remembered; the co-worker who needs a hug. We miss the garden and the fall colors and the fine wine and the bountiful harvest. And one day becomes the next.
And before you know it, the ultra is done.
Linger at the banquet. It’s ours to enjoy.
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