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Rural Vermont, The Ultra Running Mantra, And Our Perception Of Suffering

Oh hey, Friend.

There are three things that can predictably end your race before your time:

– Your stomach.

– Your feet.

– Your mind.

Your stomach → Figure out your fuel. Know what you can tolerate, and what you can’t.

Your feet → Feet are sacred. Change your socks. Know your shoes. Lube up any likely areas for hot spots.

Your mind → That one is self-explanatory, isn’t it? You let the distance get to you, or the pain in your feet get to you, or where you think you are in relation to other runners - get to you, you are done.

Except today, it’s neither of those three.

It’s the fucking mosquitoes.

I am wearing bug spray - the most poisonous one, none of that organic candy. It’s Deet 4.0 in 456% concentration. Mosquitoes seem to slurp the bug spray off my skin, making nom-nom noises. “Mmmmmm, hot sauce.”

Meanwhile, I can’t take a full breath, because with every sip of air, I inhale mosquitoes into my nostrils. I feel them in my ears. I can’t open my mouth, because when I do, I immediately swallow a handful.

Months of training (however insufficient), hours of driving to get to rural Vermont, shoes, energy gels, gear, lubing up the feet to avoid any possibility of hot spots, and it was going to be the damn mosquitoes that were gonna end this race for me.

We are only three miles into the race, climbing a long gradual hill - up, up, up. There hasn’t really been much running yet - it’s been all uphill almost immediately, and you gotta earn the running.

Want to run?

Climb this damn mountain, then you can run down.

It’s been an hour. Maybe, two hours. We have another seven hours to go (if all goes well). Can I handle the mosquitoes at this level for another seven hours?

Is this the mosquitoes getting to me? Or is this item number three from the earlier list - my mind - getting to me?

Infinitus is a rugged trail race, offering distances anywhere from 9 miles to 888k. Yes, you read that number correctly - a handful of crazies get to Vermont a week before everybody else, and run in (very large) circles, trying to cover 888k in just over a week. There’s been six people so far who have been able to do that.

With that said, running a marathon distance is practically a 5k - a short sprint.

The course is two loops - you start out with a nine mile loop, come back to camp, and then head out on the eighteen mile loop.

Did we finish? Yes.

Did we get lost on the last loop and turned a 42km race into a 50km race? Absolutely.

Was this on brand?

Oh, so much so that when I told a friend I got lost in a race, he asked if it was on purpose.

What I really love about long races is the sense of things constantly changing.

At some point you will be hopeful, excited, happy, sad, angry, frustrated, irritated, tired, energized, surprised, amused, amazed, terrified, and everything in between.

There is less time to do that in shorter races.

Ever ran a 5k? You come out of the gate fast, but not too fast, so you don’t burn out too quickly. You are breathing hard, your heart is beating hard. You are running, running, running. You are trying to hold on to that aggressive pace. Then you hit the halfway mark, and you speed up. This is it - all you’ve got in the last 2.5km. Open up, and hold on for dear life. No time to process emotions, or experience a variety of feelings - you just feel like you are going to throw up the entire time.

Am I selling you on a 5k or what?

I’ve always joked that ultrarunners run long distances, because they don’t have the balls for a 5k. That distance truly tests how much you are willing to suffer.

Ultrarunning is a different animal. You get to live an entire life in a span of one race. You rise with the sun, and head out all fresh and bushy-tailed. You keep moving through late morning and lunch. You are still on your feet in the late afternoon. Maybe you are approaching the finish line in time for dinner. Maybe.

There are moments in the race, when reality blurs, and that’s it - this is what life is.

Life is just hiking / running / scrambling / one foot in front of the other / sweaty / breathing / sore feet / stiff back. It has been this way forever. And it will be this way forever.

“Just wait ten minutes” is the ultra running mantra.

“If you are feeling bad, just wait ten minutes”.

“If you are feeling good, just wait ten minutes”.

We don’t think about suffering this way, you see.

The assumption is that suffering is linear.

That experiences are linear.

The assumption is that if something is good, it will continue being good, be it a race, or a marriage.

The assumption is that if something is bad, it will never be anything else.

If I have a headache, and it gets worse, I panic. Because surely there is only one way to go - worse, worse, worse.

We think of hunger this way. You feel that pang of hunger, and panic. It will only get worse. Except… if you have ever gone without food for an extended period of time - 12, 24 hours or more - you know it’s not true. Hunger comes and goes. In waves, in peaks, in valleys. It attacks, and recedes, it rumbles in the background, it rages, then disappears completely, only to come back two hours later.

The mosquitoes never went away. But they backed WAY off once we got to the top of the mountain. In the suckiest moment, relief was only ten minutes away.

This is what a long race is.

A long exercise in realization that “this too shall pass”.



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