A while ago I watched an interview with Jack White. He was talking about how when he played live concerts with The White Stripes he placed his instruments on stage in a position where it was difficult for him to get from one to another. He gave himself just barely enough time to make his cues while bouncing around from keys to mike to guitar, etc. This gave him a constant challenge and something to keep him alert and engaged during shows. He likes to challenge himself to consistently perform at the highest level. Listening to Jack during that interview I realized I too am that type of person. I like to always be presented with challenges to overcome, scenarios to navigate, things to do. I have never been comfortable being "comfortable". I'm at my best when a lot is expected — or even demanded — of me, and/or when I have to use all ounces of my creativity to accomplish what's in front of me. I prefer to stretch myself thin, just to the point of exhaustion.
This past weekend I chose to participate in an activity that absolutely stretched me thin to the point of exhaustion, both mentally and physically. My challenge this time was running the Ragnar Relay, a 192-mile course from Breckenridge, CO to Aspen, CO. I did with a team of just 5 other people. Our team of 6 was half the standard number of participants per team. This meant the least amount of miles any of us ran was still about a marathon.
My 6 legs added up to about 34 miles, though as my younger cousin/teammate noted midway through, those legs were probably the hardest legs combined because of the combination of length, hills, altitude and time of day I had to run them. While that might be true, this wasn't a cake walk for any of the 6 of us. Every single person on our team faced strenuous runs, and it seemed like even short 3-4 mile runs came with the caveat of being straight uphill, or having to dodge loose wolverines or something.
Not a single person on our team let that get in the way. By leg 30, some 159 miles into the race, we were averaging 8:47-minute miles as a team. I had personally been averaging 8:58-minute miles, a full 17 seconds per mile faster than the pace I had trained at. Keep in mind, this is over multiple runs in a day, as we were averaging having to run once very 4 and a half hours.
As the Facebook post I included above says, at some point adrenaline takes over. At some point there's nothing left but adrenaline. There's something to be said about being in a place where all you have left is your survival instinct. You're not well rested, you're not comfortable, you're not going for a pleasant little jog. When everything has been stripped away, there's something deep inside you that makes you take another step. There's something raw or pure about what you experience when you're left alone with nothing but willpower and the thoughts in your head (as weird as they become when you're so tired). Clarity through crazy. It's an experience everyone should have somehow, though hopefully it doesn't take running an Ultra Ragnar race to achieve it.
While I am crazy enough to do this race again next year, I don't want to wait that long for the type of clarity I felt this weekend. True, running regularly does give me a taste of it, and living in a place as beautiful as Colorado offers me the opportunity for escape into peaceful wilderness with minimal effort. However, my goal in the next year is to fine away to achieve clarity on a more regular basis. But, how do I do this?
Read my next post about it.