Lessons From 50 KM
There is a distinct sound that a basketball makes once it comes in contact with the asphalt. The sound echos through the neighborhood I trot by. Trot makes me sound like a valiant steed when, in fact, I look like Eeyore on his worst day.
I am broken out of my meditative basketball trance by the vibration of my GPS watch. Mile 30 - holy shit- one mile left to go. It is hard to believe 7 hours, and forty minutes earlier, I had embarked on my first ultramarathon - an ultramarathon, where I was the sole participant. Whose brilliant idea was that?
A few years ago, if you were to ask me to go on a run with you, I would quickly say no. I hated anything to do with the sport of running - so, why run an ultramarathon?
In 2017 I was overtaken with depression and anxiety. It got to the point where moving out of bed in the morning felt like an impossible task. I was a healthy 27 year old who worked out, meditated, and ate well. No matter what I tried, it felt like I was losing my battle with depression. The situation only intensified when my wife came home to discover me in a ball on the floor - crying, hugging myself, and lost in my sadness. With her assistance, I was able to place my ego aside and get the help I needed.
My GPS watch still reads 30 miles - either time is going backward, or I am not moving, perhaps it is the latter. My feet continue to move, and I turn a corner to head toward the finish line, home. It is only then that I remember the road home is entirely uphill. My watch can make phone calls, and I could easily call my wife to come to pick me up. 30.15 miles is nothing to shake your head at, but still, I had trained for months, and isn't the pain I feel in my legs just in my head?
No. It's a pain, and it isn't a weakness leaving your body!
January 2018 was the first time I laced up my running shoes. During the holidays, I managed to read Christopher McDougall's "Born to Run,"
and it dawned on me to take up running. That day I made it exactly one mile and called it quits. Every time my foot hit the ground, another reason why I hated running popped into my head. Why did running sound so exciting in McDougall's book? Maybe it was the fact every race took place on an isolated trail.
The very next morning, I woke up, grabbed my pup, and headed to the nearest trail. A few hours later, I was home with a big silly grin on my face. The fresh air mixed with the crunch of dirt and gravel was the most fabulous playlist I have ever heard.
Fast forward to September of 2019, and I knew every trail near my home like the back of my hand. So, what was next? I have a love for the outdoors, and trail running is my favorite form of meditation; therefore, I was determined to enter a trail race.
So, your first race is an ultramarathon? Are you crazy?
On March 7th, I turned 30 years old, and as a present to myself, I signed up for a 50 km trail race. Any race beyond 26.2 miles is considered an ultramarathon, and I decided to do it all for a good cause. I partnered with the folks at Movember
to raise money for mental health and awareness. In 2017 I was fortunate enough to get the help I needed; however, not everyone has the same opportunities. Thirty miles by the time I turned 30 to raise money to help others in need!
My first day of training was November 1st, and the big race day was Saturday, March 21st, 2020. After months of hard work training and raising money, the race was canceled due to Covid-19.
It's better to be safe than sorry.
Large group gatherings aren't safe at the moment, and why risk getting sick at a time like this? There is no one to blame, and we are all human. We feel pain. We feel anxiety. We are scared of what is to come. It is strange because that is how I felt while dealing with depression.
I was determined to run with or without an official race. It was never about racing anyone else other than myself. The 31 miles would be my mental battle, and mine alone. At 8:15 AM on Saturday, March 21st, I put on my pack, set my watch GPS, kissed my wife, and started to run.
My ultramarathon course took me through towns and trails all around New Jersey. I saw beautiful things in nature like waterfalls and beautiful things in neighborhoods like families drawing with chalk on driveways. The moment we are in is hard, but there is beauty in the ordinary that surrounds us, and it's our job to find it.
Pick up your legs.
I continue to look up at the hill and wonder if I can make it to the top. My trot turns into a run, and my burst of speed allows me to sail to the top. The pain that has wrapped my legs for the last ten miles vanishes, and I continue to move as if the previous thirty miles never happened. The thought of stopping seems foolish, and I continue to run home.
I have a laser beam focus as I fly down the sidewalk. I think my family was cheering for me, but all I wanted to do was cross the finish line. Ironically my watch chimed to let me know I completed 31 miles a while ago, 31.8 miles ago, to be exact.
I crossed the finish line and collapsed in a squat after eight hours. I held onto my very pregnant wife and our dog. I cried and thought about something a family had written on their driveway in chalk. "I am grateful to be outside with my family, and I am grateful that you get to be outside too."