Wednesday, October 20, 2010

to not have been yet was

The singular focus on base necessities that is required to finish an ultra can often blind us to the more subtle hints and clues laid bare around us. A sort of tunnel-vision pervades one's thinking in the days leading up to—not to mention during—the event which can result in poor decision making on anything not blatantly directed towards the goal at hand. This monomaniacal perspective will eventually catch up with you: sometimes in the middle of a race, sometimes near the finish and, occasionally, before you've even started. I should not have started the Bear 100.

The Bear is a race worthy of an epic tale, but I'm afraid I won't be giving one. This won't be a detailed report of either the events proceeding or most of the run itself. Suffice it to say that, like the night before Massanutten, it was an instance of neglected aspects of my non-running life making a last minute wake-up call both literally and figuratively. Sleepless, constipated and sporting an achy lower-back, I began the race with my head completely someplace else. An early attempt to engage me in conversation was met only with, "sorry, not really talkative right now...I guess I'm a bit more thinkative."

The first half was fairly unpleasant. Perhaps, some sort of cosmic justice applied. I'd gone in with a 30 hour goal, but really had no gumption to get after it. I was probably still mostly on target when I came upon Harry after nightfall. However, it only took a few words from him to convince me otherwise. He was struggling, having a bit of altitude trouble. This gave me something outside my own skull on which to focus. I decided to stick with him and together we decided to just make the most of it. Bear was Harry's makeup race for a cancelled UTMB earlier in the summer so he was just hoping to enjoy the time on the trail.

From there on we vowed to take our time. It was a commitment we had no trouble living up to, especially at the aid stations. When we reached Beaver Lodge, a toasty warm cabin, we hung out for nearly 1/2 an hour. At the next stop it was just before sunrise and about 20 degrees. We sat by the campfire. I even took a nap since I'd been falling asleep on my feet coming up the hill. When the sun came up we tried to absorb the warmth, but never pushed the pace. The last two climbs promised to be brutal topping out over 9K feet. It was the "one foot after the other" pace the whole way. For all my troubles early on I actually had no issues with the elevation, but I also wasn't anxious to test it being more than happy to follow Harry's lead.

In general, Harry is a much better climber than me, but I know from my own experiences that when altitude troubles hit, there isn't much you can do except get through it. We made it over the final climb and there was a long descent to the bottom. I figured I would try to push Harry some here because he deserved a bit of a race after all he'd been through. Besides, even when the original finishing goal is given up, there's always the drive to be "done with it." We took the downhills at a good clip, not quite my usual reckless abandon, but we made good time and passed a number of people.

On the road at the bottom we caught up to Dan with whom we'd run through the night. The three of us stuck together on the final road to the finish, crossing that way as well. Considering how much time we'd wasted—some from necessity and some pure folly—our 31:34 was not so far off. A reasonable, if not spectacular, time  for three guys living at sea level.

In the end, I felt I'd managed to make something of the race, found some meaning in the experience beyond the shoulda's and coulda's. I was glad to have finished with Harry since I was the one who convinced him (gave him no choice really) to sign up for the race after his disappointment in Europe. This is the second race that I've finished side-by-side with a good friend and, while it wasn't a case of pushing each other to the finish like at Bighorn, it was satisfying in its own right.


olga said...

Finding "some meaning off the race" is why we do it. I am so far beyond going after any type of time goals, even as I set them, it's not even funny. In fact, if for some weird reason I had hit the time and haven't attained the "meaning" - the race won't be a success. Luckily, that hasn't happen yet.
Hope your non-running crap has a meaning too. Oh, how well I know this kind of shit...including right about now:)

Drs. Cynthia and David said...

You did great! It's the journey that matters, not the time goal.


Ric Munoz said...

Your finishing time may not have been spectacular, Steve, but I trust the experience was yet ANOTHER prime example of your other-worldly perseverance, especially when circumstances were not the cheeriest. I am, once again, in total awe of how you push through the bleakest looking situations and finish anyway -- CONGRATULATIONS -- and best of luck at Javelina!