Friday, March 08, 2013


Despite the pithy tone of my last post, the true reasons for tackling something like the Iditarod Trail Invitational are a bit more elusive and much more personal. Without diving into some sort of psychological self-analysis, it's difficult to discuss the forces that drive me to take on such things. However, I can try to explain some of the feelings that come out of the undertaking, the lingering effects or "what I get out of it" -- so to speak.

When hearing of these types of races, I think that all most people see is the difficulty. Certainly, the raw physical and mental challenge is an important aspect, but it has to offer more to me than that. I tend to be turned off by events that are mainly just about a specific difficult challenge (i.e. timed events). Also, if a race feels like it has been made hard just for the sake of being hard, I find it detracts from the experience. For me, something intrinsic about the event itself has to capture my imagination in some way, to provide an experience that is both unique and compelling. It has to offer the possibility for a sense of fulfillment. 350 miles on the Iditarod trail seems to have done just that.

I will write more about the race itself. I've stories in my head to sort through and many photos to upload and organize. Right now, though, I am still engulfed in absorbing the experience. Going from running 100-mile trail races to 200-mile treks through The Alps to, now, a 350-mile "sludge" across frozen Alaska, may seem like the unending pursuit of ever longer and harder events, but that's not the perspective I have.  For me, the specific events themselves are self-contained experiences that leave a lasting impression on my psyche. Each one, a place to which I can return again and again as a source of inspiration.

I'm sure even some of my closest friends may find it hard to believe when I say I've always believed that, at some point, one of these experience will turn out to be "enough". That's not to say, I'd be done with trail running or give up long, multi-day treks. It just means that I won't be driven to find something bigger, harder or "more" than what I've already accomplished. It seem to me that the unbounded pursuit of ever more difficult challenges can only end in a breaking point and I'm not really interested in finding where that is. I respect, admire and even, to an extent, understand those who are compelled to such a path. But, personally, I like the feeling of satisfaction that comes at the completion of an event with nothing more on the horizon than rest, recovery and reflection. If I can make that sense of completeness last, I'll embrace it as long as possible.

So, to the inevitable question that's been asked as to whether I'll go on to Nome "next time", I have to say, right now, the answer is "not any time soon." Though I think it unlikely that I won't want to, at least, return and repeat this event some time in the future. For the time being, walking the 350 miles to McGrath, the time spent alone on the trail, the hospitality of the lodges, the sanctuary of the checkpoints and people opening up their homes in the Alaskan bush, have all provided so much fuel for thought and imagination that I don't find myself wanting more. The part of me that needs these things is presently fulfilled.

It is enough.


Olga King said...

Beautiful, Steve.

Mark Paley said...

Who knew you were so reflective?

Danni said...

Hmmm. I want to do this maybe but if it makes you say enough that makes me worried...

Gravityh said...

Steve, I enjoyed reading your reflective comments. I share some of these but can't quite articulate them as you have here. Fine job at capturing the thoughts. Congrats on the journey..

Jill Homer said...

I'm bummed I didn't come see you before you left Anchorage. I would love to hear more of your thoughts.

I had a similar thought-stream after the Tour Divide. The idea that I could no longer go on one-upping myself. My reaction was to quit racing, in my mind. It lasted well through the winter, this idea that I would never enter a competitive race again. Then a friend talked me into signing up for his snow bike race in Fairbanks, and another friend talked me into becoming his partner at TransRockies. And even though I had still quit non-social racing in my mind, I showed up to volunteer at Danni's Swan Crest 100 with the partial ulterior motive to learn more about ultrarunning. And life goes on.

My thoughts on the matter: There is no enough. In a way I envy those who feel they can reach satisfaction, but given the choice, I would still choose to always be hungry.

Steve Ansell said...

Jill, I am in no way saying that I am "quitting" anything. Especially since I sort of gave up competitive running a while ago. I haven't really "raced" an event in the past 3 years.

I think we all go through transitions and perhaps this is one for me. However, I'm not saying I'll never want to go to Nome, but for the time being I just don't feel driven to take on anything bigger than what I've done. To use the "hunger" analogy, maybe I'll just be satisfied with a few great gourmet meals every now and then rather than feel the need to eat everything in sight :-)

I note that you have yet to return to Tour Divide or taken on any event of quite that magnitude since. Is it possible that was "enough" for you or at least sufficient for a certain number of years?

Chris said...

Hi Steve. First of all, congratulations on completing this race.

You make some excellent points here. These are questions that I've asked myself, and I think I largely agree with your assessment.

For me, the important insight is that these races don't just take; they give, and they keep giving, long after the bad parts are forgotten. Not for bragging rights, but as a source of personal inspiration, as you point out.

That said, I just signed up for TdG again, after I had told myself a while ago I never needed to go back there anymore. Life would be dull if we never changed our minds ... Take care. Chris

Jill Homer said...

Hey Steve... sorry, it took me a while to come back to this. But I have a better understanding now about what you mean. Part of the reason I haven't returned to a Tour Divide magnitude event is opportunity. The time and financial commitment alone is prohibitive. But that's my own fault; I have shied away from pursuing these kinds of all-encompassing-adventures, possibly because I'm currently "full."

But your thoughts have given me some ideas for an "is there enough?" kind of self-assessment article. Congrats on reapplying for the ITI and hope we can do some summer training together soon. For someone of my experience level the PTL is every bit as outlandish and overly ambitious as the Tour Divide was. I could use all the mentoring I can get.