As the the sunrise creeps closer to 5:00 am, my morning runs have become longer and start earlier. It was on one of those runs, a weary bathrobe was gathering the newspaper on the driveway and interrupted the cross section of my pitter-pattering feet and laboring breathing with a "looking sharp runner." It caught me off guard but was a welcome refreshment of encouragement. I enjoy the solitude of running, the peace and quiet my mind and soul acquire when nothing else matters except putting one foot in front of the other. The clarity of thought that allows me to return with a solution to a problem that vexed me when I left the house. Alone in my thoughts, stress and troubles fade away and I often wonder why did Tom Hank's character in Castaway leave the island? Grab the volleyball and run around the island, a perfect storm of tranquility, tropics and unlimited miles.
But my inner circle of support reminds me I cannot and could not do it alone.
Dr. T ran her first single track technical trail 50k race this past weekend. Learning the lesson that if you tumble on the trail, if not for a passing participant there is not a soul around to help you up, dust you off and see that you continue on your way.
Coach Jeff K (outside of still hearing him say, "walk with a purpose-walk with a purpose") always sums up the 100 miler as the front 50 are with your legs and the back 50 are with your mind.
Heather tells everyone to stay away from me during the first 50 miles as I am cussing, swearing and grouchy - no one is safe. All the while swearing to never do another one and questioning why I signed up for this in the first place. The second 50 is the polar opposite. My mind has taken over and in a Michael Jordan-esque state, I am in a zone. Every now and then in a race I can be heard talking to my inner self. I become Rain Man, mechanical even robotic not in movement but in mind. Left, right, left, right, left, right, another mile, another aid station, next aid station, another mile and so on. I believe it is my ADHD or ADD or whatever you want to call it, I like it. I thrive on it. It is an empowering drug that is best stated, "I like to see how far I can push myself mentally when physically I have nothing left."
In the ultra community because of the sheer distance and duration of races, spectators are sparse. Most huddle around the start/finish campground and some trek to aid stations to surprise and support the runners. I will say they are put through a grueling day as well as the runners. They may catch a longer nap but they snap to attention when their alarm goes off indicating their runner is due to check in soon. They gather what supplies they think might be needed, pamper their runner for a minute or two, wish them well, pack up and organize for the next visit. It could be 20 miles down the road or 5 hours later. Whatever the gap before we see a familiar face it is always welcomed. So if you are going to venture into the ultra community, we welcome you with open arms. Embrace the distance, enjoy the race, acknowledge and savor the supportive spectator. Because when you calculate the marathon spectator in relation to an ultra spectator, well...you can figure out that ratio.
Unless you want to run with Wilson.