Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My choice of bliss

We who are running the 2010 "Mohican Trail 100" are closing in to within three days of this all-encompassing event. This Saturday at 5 a.m. I will join at least 148 of my closest friends in the ultra running community and begin what will likely be a 28+ hour personal journey over rocks and ridges, through streams and rivers, mud and roots, searing heat of pavement, with possibly a rain storm and lightening thrown in by God as an added natural challenge. It is a yearly recurring event in my life, one my kids and best friend Sharon have become accustomed to, following me from aid station to aid station, crewing me through the terribly long night, telling me I am beautiful when surely I have had better hair days, acting positive when all I want to do is crawl into the side brush and sleep forever. Who knows how many years I have robbed off my daughter Savanna's lifespan due to her intense worrying about my true athletic abilities getting me through versus a do-or-die attitude that could actually cause me to die someday.

No matter, this is my choice of bliss. I do this because I can. I do this because I want to. I do this for me... and it is one of the most selfish things I do in life.

Selfish, pretty much. Maybe even solitary. I find that the week before a 100-miler I get a little crazy, a lot antsy, not at all balanced or consistent. There are no long runs to reduce my stress either, because if I am doing the training "right," I am backing off miles this week to rest up for my intense weekend comeback to running.

It's a strange week. I write lists. I pack, unpack and re-pack drop bags and drop boxes. I obsess over my January 1st resolutions of upper body workouts that didn't really ever happen, and double long runs with Bill Wagner that happened a lot less than they should have. I tell myself I am fat, and under-trained... and then I debate back and say I am in the best shape of my ultra life. I tell myself this is running and running is simple. You just get there, and start. Basically.

Until the gun fires, however, I find myself on an emotional roller coaster which I am trying so hard not to ride with my family. "Back away from the Mom, Mohican is Saturday. Approach her with caution next Monday (provided she is not hospitalized)." For this drama and burden to all who love me, I apologize.

I am not delusional. No matter how many ultras I have attempted, run, and completed, 100-milers are not easy. Even with Alicia and Savanna (making me cry) meeting me at all possible handler locations, and Sharon shoving espresso beans in my face with a glistening smile, no crew, no pacer, no love-of-my-life, can be positively inside my mind at every mile. I am going to be alone! There will be down times. There will be crashes. There will likely be bonking and puking going on. Yet I must remember that I can and have recovered.

Pacers-of-old can attest, I have come back from the dead when they each thought I was finished before the end. I must remember now because while a runner is living through that special hell, i.e. a major bonk, it is way difficult to believe it will ever get better. I have known runners who have dropped out of a race, pulled a bib number, and recovered a short 10 minutes later (in the shameful car ride back to the start). I will be weak BUT I WILL BE STRONG.

Do you see the conflicting visions? My bliss is somehow equal to puking! I am taking two vacation days to pack bags of back-up batteries, Advil and Aspercream. Plan well but run simply. Have crew but run alone. Hit bottom and recover. Taste failure but beat each cutoff. Hurt in ways you'd rather not experience, yet find joy in the gift of having legs to ache.

Despite all of this self-centeredness of ultra running, each race finish ironically brings with it this amazing global thankfulness. Every aid station volunteer, family member, partner, pacer, new friend, new acquaintance, old friend, living legend, hero who touches your race is an element in your success. You want to thank them all profusely. A deep love emerges that makes a runner realize: I couldn't have done this without you.

So this time around, I think I will be more thankful up-front, before my finish Sunday morning. I want to thank you all now for your undying support. And thank you to each of my closest friends who will be running in front of me, behind me, and with me during the race. Best of luck to you for a strong finish.

My deep gratitude to those of you in my life who have allowed ultra running to remain so special to me despite its relative lack of importance to global crises.

I know it's just running. And running is simple.
It's simply living in the moment.
It is simply my choice of living.


  1. Bravo! You have captured it perfectly. Just perfectly. I can't wait to see you saturday and Sunday : )

  2. Perfect. Just perfect. You explained it so well that in my head, I kept saying "Yep...you got that right!" I really wish I saw you more than the occasional race, Suzanne! I think I need to add you to my blog roll! I'll be thinking...and praying for you from early on Saturday through the day, into the night and into Sunday morning. Run strong and bring home that buckle!

  3. Great post! Let's hope for a great race!

  4. You have captured sooo much of the essence of ultra running in this short post. Kudos!

  5. I've never done a 100, but I'm shooting for 50 miles which might as well be 100. I've thought a lot about what you said, ultra-running being a "selfish" sport. On the surface it would appear to be exactly that--self absorbed and nuts, but much hidden soul-strengthening is going on in the ultra runner, ultimately making them a better person. Great post. Good luck to you! You're going to make it!