Friday, September 16, 2011

Running On Empty

Last weekend I paced another runner, Kendra Olson, at the Haliburton Forest 100 miler. This was the only significant running I had done since Burning River at the end of July. I did go for a guilt run of 20 km the weekend before Haliburton, but that was just to determine whether it was even remotely possible for me to pace. Other than, that my runs were mainly short 30-to-60 minute runs near my house.

I could have run more, if it weren’t for work. Work is completely crazy right now. Hugely interesting and crazy-busy, a fatal combination when it comes to my running. With modern virtual teams spanning multiple time zones, lunch runs become a theoretical fiction. By the time I’m done, it’s time for dinner and then I’m just too mentally beat to go out later. Repeat the next day. In “The Lore Of Running”, Tim Noakes stipulates that it’s impossible to run hard and work hard at the same time. I now believe him. Just maintaining the pitiful volume that I’m running now requires some effort. My wife is now pestering me more, saying I run too much AND work too much.

Anyway, my runner finished. I spent 14 hours running overnight from 8 PM until 10:30 the next morning, a total of 70 km. It was a full moon in a cloudless sky, not a hint of wind, cool but not cold (well, not TOO cold). Kendra was a trooper and she hardly complained, except for random announcements that she couldn't run anymore. She would usually say that just before she started to run. We talked a lot about running and people who run. Funny how a relatively short distance like that leaves you completely drained. Running overnight is hard, especially without feeling the mental reinforcement that comes with racing. You are pursuing a secondary goal, basically helping someone accomplish something that makes no sense to begin with.

Kendra says she will never run a hundred miler again. Maybe she won’t. I don’t understand why I will do it again, so I sure can’t judge anyone who decides not to. Another friend, who had just finished her first 50 Miler, was a bit shaken by her experience even though she did really well. Talking to her about it afterward, I could see that she had been caught by surprise by how physical a 50 miler becomes, to the point of questioning whether it was worth it. Obviously, she’s the one who needs to decide where her personal limit stands. Where does insanity start, 50 km, 50 miles, 100 miles or further?

For my part, I find that doing something insane once in a while heals my soul. Somehow, standing at the finish line after the race physically beat up, mentally exhausted and emotionally drained, despite how weak I am, I feel certain that there is something in me that is more than it was a day or so ago. That certainty fades away slowly over time, I guess, and that might be why the urge comes back after a while.

In our world of daily responsibilities, cause and effects and pervasive yes/no technology, is it that crazy that I sometimes feel the need to escape into insanity, if only for a little while?