Tuesday, April 03, 2012

I run because I seek the greatest adventure...

About a year ago, I found myself rubbing elbows with a group of individuals unlike any I had encountered. They were 'runners', but they were an entirely different breed. They spoke a language I could barely understand.

They spoke of running distances I could barely fathom. The first time I ran with them I was reduced to a quivering mass. I was humbled in their presence and I came to realize that they were less runners and more 'adventurers'.

Several months passed and I began to understand their language a bit more. I completed a few brief adventures with them and found my body more resistant to the strains and stresses of these journeys.

I listened closely to their tales of covering astonishing distances of 50, 62, or 100 miles in some cases. Initially, such adventures seemed completely implausible to me, not to mention a bit foolish.

But, things changed. Ultimately, it was a passion other than running that served as a catalyst for me to seek out an adventure unlike anything I have ever experienced.

Viewing the powerful documentary 'Unbreakable' struck a chord within me unlike anything I've ever felt. Scarcely a week later, I signed up for the Lake Sonoma 50 mile race on 4/14.

My preparation for this adventure began in earnest in January. I knew I was in the kind of shape to cover 26.2 miles on the road, but 50 miles on the trail was an entirely different beast. There was much to learn and experience if I hoped to complete this adventure successfully.

My first foray entailed a 23 mile journey in the Headlands with roughly 4,000 feet of climbing. I approached this first legitimate training exercise in a way that some would characterize as foolhardy (including me).

I went into it with no water and meager fuel. While perhaps a bit foolish, this was by design. I wanted to experience firsthand just how bad things could get during an adventure like this. I got all I could handle.

Sparing the more gruesome details, it was a veritable death march the last few miles with my muscles staging a full fledged mutiny. Punch-drunk and fuzzy headed, I barely made it home that day and could barely stand up later in the evening. If there was any lingering doubt that this was an adventure unlike anything I had tackled before, it was completely dispelled.

A bit wiser, I pushed onward the next few weeks with more respect and better preparation than I had the first time. I pushed on through stifling rain and wind. Staggering heat slowed me down, but didn't stop me. I struggled, I suffered, I pleaded for mercy, but I never quit.

Eventually, running 20 miles became almost pedestrian. Running 30 miles might have contributed to this altered perspective. Running two hours used to seem like a long time. Gradually, two hours began to feel like a warmup in the shadow of 4, 5, and 5.5 hour runs.

I was changing. I could feel my body evolving to handle an adventure unlike any other. I logged 100 miles in a single week for the first time in my life. It was an incredible milestone and a veritable running 'bucket list' item I had always wanted to cross off, but wondered if I ever really would.

April was rapidly approaching and while I was enjoying the process of preparing for this adventure, I was looking forward to taper in a way I can't fully explain. The only thing that I hadn't done was a true 'dress rehearsal'.

A couple weeks after logging my first 100 mile week, I toed the line at the Woodside 50K in cold, miserable, rainy conditions. I was undaunted. My preparations had included a few runs enduring conditions more unpleasant than what I saw that day.

With 56 miles already on my legs, I went into this event not feeling sharp or well rested....which was by design. I felt dull from the first step and my legs weren't turning over that well...which was not the end of the world as the first 5-6 miles were uphill. Eventually, I found my way to an aid station about 11 miles in and indulged in some quick carbs before tackling another 9 miles.

20 miles in I was feeling surprisingly decent as I hit yet another aid station. Ingesting some Skittles and Mountain Dew gave me a nice sugar high that lasted all of two miles before running started to feel like slogging again. The final aid station was not nearly close enough.

I lingered longer than planned at the final aid station staged at mile 25. I stayed on my feet despite the powerful urge to simply lie down in the mud, curl up in the fetal position, and cry for awhile.

I was suffering from a reasonable amount of fatigue and a completely unreasonable amount of chafing. Fortunately, it occurred to me that perhaps the kind folks manning the aid station might have some Vaseline. Greased up, I tried to fire myself up for the home stretch.

I soldiered on for what felt like an eternity before the finish line appeared. I felt an emotion that transcends elation. While I can't find a word that truly captures how powerful this emotion was, it was powerful enough to enable me to throw in a finishing kick after 30+ miles and nearly 5,000 feet of climbing.

I was relieved to finish and elated to find that despite everything I felt like I had something left. 50 miles was still scary, but not as terrifying as it once was. I would follow this 50K up with the Oakland Half Marathon the next day capping yet another 100 mile week. Enter taper.

With less than two weeks to go before I stare down perhaps the most ambitious adventure of my life, I'm swimming in a volatile mix of fear, anxiety, confidence, and faith.

Any way you slice it, I'm likely going to come away from this adventure a changed man. I've tested my limits continuously these past few months both mentally and physically.

While I've hovered perilously close to the brink a few times, I have yet to fall. I don't intend to on 4/14. I run because I seek the greatest adventure...


Holly Kopman said...

I am so impressed. Good luck. I will be cheering for you.

Marathon Matt said...

Thanks, Holly. I will need all the help I can get!

Anthea said...

Thank you for sharing your experience Matt. So much respect for you and what you are doing!You'll do great out there and regardless, like you said, it will be an adventure :)

Robert Shaye said...

awesome job Matt! I enjoyed reading about your training, good luck on the 14th!