Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I run because there's something bigger than me...

When I was a kid my parents used to make me attend Sunday school. While I didn't find it unpleasant, it wasn't something I looked forward to. 

I did look forward to the occasional sip of Sherry and the wafers that were provided during communion. I also enjoyed attending the adult sermons periodically as the main chapel never failed to inspire with the stained glass windows and booming pipe organs.
But, for whatever reason, the parables rarely resonated for me. By the time I was in high school it was time for me to go through 'confirmation'. Confirmation entailed a weekend retreat with many of the kids I knew in Sunday school.

Given my general lack of conviction, it really didn't make much sense to me to go through this process. It felt disingenuous. I told my parents as much and they were fine with me forgoing confirmation.

I became agnostic. It wasn't that I didn't believe there was something bigger than me, I just wasn't sure what it looked like and had yet to encounter anything in my life that definitively proved it existed.

Right around this time, I found what would effectively become my religion.
If I sought peace, I would put on my shoes and hit the road. If I sought absolution, I would find it in the comfort of a grueling ten miles.

Two decades after finding my calling, I embarked on my most audacious running related journey. I had spent several months rubbing elbows with a number of incredibly talented ultrarunners and predictably, I found myself intrigued by the idea of going beyond 26.2. I decided to tackle an ultramarathon. 

The race I elected to target was the Lake Sonoma 50 (miler). Not only did this race entail covering nearly TWICE the longest distance I had ever covered, it also entailed climbing a soul crushing 10,000 feet of ascent and descent. There was no getting around the fact that I was going to have to suffer in ways I never had before to even attempt this.

In an effort to gauge exactly how much I could 'suffer', I headed out for my first long run in preparation for Lake Sonoma. I was going to tackle 23 miles of trail with 6,000 feet of climbing...with only a single water stop halfway through.

If one of my runners told me this was their plan, I'd tell them they were crazy and it was horribly ill advised. But, I wanted to get a taste of the pain and discomfort I would inevitably feel running 50 miles. I would get much more than just a taste this day. 

I made my way through the first half of the run without major incident. 3,000 feet of climbing and 11.5 miles hadn't killed me, but it had taken some wind out of my sails. I guzzled as much coconut water as I could and knocked back a gel before launching into the second half of this ill conceived experiment.

After notching a few more miles, the vague fatigue I felt at my only water stop became much more pronounced. I also could feel twinges in my calves and quads that signaled something more ominous than fatigue, cramping. I became all too aware of just how foolhardy I had been in thinking I could conquer a run of this difficulty with little more than a single stop for water.
The wheels were starting to come off and I had MILES to go. Making matters worse was the all too rapidly setting sun. It wouldn't be long before I would be navigating the remaining miles of what was quickly becoming a deathmarch in the dark without fuel or water.

Adding insult to injury, the combination of fatigue, dehydration, and the onset of cramping reduced my speed to a near glacial pace. I was no longer running, I was essentially doing glorified power walking and badly at that. 

As I struggled through a particularly unpleasant climb, I became completely consumed with thoughts of water. I couldn't remember the last time I had been so thirsty. I had never been more desperate for fluids in my entire life. 

These desperate moments resulted in a silent prayer for some kind of salvation (in the form of fluids). It was hard for me to fathom finishing the remaining miles without water, but this trail included no such luxury. I knew my silent prayers would go unanswered.

I winced and staggered the last few steps to the top of the hill and found myself confronted with what was surely a mirage. Right in front of me in the path was a small bottle of Crystal Geyser water. I paused, wiped the sweat off my brow, and rubbed my eyes. The bottle was still there.

I glanced to my left and right to see if anyone was nearby. Not a soul was in the vicinity.
I slowly reached down and picked the bottle up. It was full and seemingly unopened. I looked around for another minute before I cracked it open. 

I took a quick smell just to make sure it wasn't urine. It was odorless. I took a small sip. It would appear my prayers had been answered. I inhaled the rest of the bottle and staggered down the hill, hoping to finish before the miniscule amount of daylight completely disappeared. 

I was still wrecked and vowed to never attempt something so foolish as this again, but I found myself confronted with the very real possibility that I had been witness to some kind of inexplicable cosmic intervention by some force, power, or entity much greater than myself.

Granted, there is also the possibility that I just got lucky and some hiker dropped their water bottle and failed to notice it until they were miles away.

It's entirely possible that the universe simply doesn't care and our lives are really just random, irrelevant, and meaningless. 

But, I prefer the idea that my silent prayers were answered that day and the delivery of water was a sign that something much bigger and powerful than myself was watching out for me that day. 

Running has always provided me moments that seem to transcend the normal, ordinary, and explicable. These moments (big and small) never fail to inspire and it is the desire for more of them that keeps me going. So, I run because there's something bigger than me... 

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