ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER
Updated: Mar 22, 2019
My friend Jenny, who heads up a running club, had mentioned something about an ultramarathon on Facebook. As someone who’d only recently completed his first half-marathon, and was in the very beginning stages of training for his first marathon – it sounded insane. I marvelled that there are human bodies out there capable of such a feat and mentally moved on to my next distraction. At some point weeks later, she mentioned it to me in passing. Within the context of it being an insane undertaking for a runner. I agreed and continued on with my day. Twice this ultramarathon entered my attention span, and twice I’d dismissed it as insane. Twice. Reviewing a local calendar online, the event came to my attention again the morning before the race. Fresh off a recent semi-successful 16 mile training run, my ego and enthusiasm prompted me to joke with Jenny, “so, are we doing that ultramarathon tomorrow or what?” … or something similar. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was for Jenny to take me seriously. The next couple of hours are a blur: Jenny and I using calculators to figure the slowest possible pace we could run a 50K race and still finish within the allocated time. Jenny and I carefully plotting best case and worst case scenarios (including death). Jenny and I joking about what great training it would be to run an ultramarathon. Jenny and I scouring the internet for tips for running your first ultra. Jenny and I trying to register for the race online – Wait. What? Trying to register??? Well – thank goodness the race had shut down online registrations. So short of driving to the packet pickup location (Fleet Feet) and begging the race director to let us – two novices who’d not trained for an ultra endurance event – to run on a hot August Saturday, there was no way for us to make the ridiculous (and in hindsight, dangerous) decision to register for an ultra. So guess what we did? Yep. We drove to the packet pickup location and begged the race director to let us register. He was clearly not prepared to address such an idiotic request. His response was something very close to, “I don’t want to offend your intelligence, but you understand this is an event people train a very long time for?” Well at this point, any sane person would heed the warning of an experienced race director and walk away, right? RIGHT? Let’s just go ahead and cut to six the next morning when a sleepy Jason and Jenny are lined up with those people the director had told us about (you know, the ones who’d trained a very long time for this event?) waiting for the race to begin. We were lined up with folks, like us, running the 50K and folks who were running a 100K (this was the GLER, or Green Lakes Endurance Race). Now, Jenny is a runner. She’d run marathons, halfs, 10Ks, you name it – she’d done it. More impressively, she’d often placed in the races she’d run. I had, however, only the dubious distinction of having never died in a race. But we were there and this was happening, so we did the only thing either of us was programmed to do: finish. One foot in front of the other, sometimes running, sometimes walking, sometimes hopping painfully down a steep hill; but always one foot in front of the other. We had only one goal: finish. Make four laps around the course and revel in the moment we’d receive our medals allowing us to proudly proclaim (as we’d decided on lap 3) in our email signatures that we were Ultramarathoners. Here’s the crazy part (I know, I know – most people reading this far have decided the entire thing sounds crazy, but wait for it) not only did we decide to run an ultramarathon with less than 24 hours to prepare. Not only did we continue to push past every sign the universe shoved in our face telling us that we weren’t meant to run this race. Not only did we callously disregard a race director’s warning (accompanied by waivers I’m sure he was certain he’d have to invoke). Not only did we then show up at the crack of dawn. Here’s the crazy part: we finished. We finished. Not because we were prepared. Not because we are stronger or tougher or more athletic than anyone else. But because we kept putting one foot in front of the other. Sure, there were times I wasn’t sure if I’d pooped my pants or not. There were several times Jenny was instructed to look away from me as I was sure I was about to erupt into a flow of tears rivaled only by the most talented toddlers (in tiaras). But the bottom line is we crossed the finish line, collected our medals (and promptly hightailed it to the nearest soda fountain for bucket-sized Mountain Dews) and completed an ultramarathon with zero preparation (and in my case, zero experience). The response from people (who didn’t know ahead of time that we were doing this – we didn’t have time to tell anyone!) was always a variation on a theme: “Wow, I could NEVER …” You know, exactly what I’d been saying up until 24 hours before the race. That it was crazy, insane and I could NEVER run an ultramarathon. But then I did. How? Am I super athletic by nature and able to do super-human things? No. Am I such an accomplished runner that this was merely a stretch of existing talents? No. Then what? How? Was I wrong when I said, “I could never…”? No, I was right. BUT I was also right that Friday afternoon when I said “We could do this…” And then ignorance being bliss, and with a stubbornness and conviction that if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’ll eventually reach your destination – I did the impossible. The insane. The crazy. And the totally achievable. And this, as you can imagine, changes your perspective significantly. You start to wonder what else you can do. Like, maybe I could do a triathlon even though I’m not a swimmer? (Famous last words:) No, that’s crazy. I could never do that.