October 6, 2011

Restless Legs

I'm trying to find the words to make this sound more erudite, and suitably epic; but they escape me. I suppose sometimes embellishment distracts from the real magnitude of what ought to be the focus. I suppose this is one of those time.

So here it goes: I'm racing 50 miles this weekend. It's an ultramarathon called "Heartland: Spirit of the Prairie", held in Kansas' Flint Hills. The course consists of dirt and gravel, winding through said hills. It is not technical, but in that way, it is perhaps a different sort of challenge. Focusing on the rock you hope to not trip over allows for an isolated focus, and thus an ability to ignore the scope of your effort.

This race allows for no such delusions. There is only you, the other shuffling feet, and the beautiful expanse. Hills, rolling to the horizon, like waves on the ocean. And you, traversing them. Progress is intangible; perspective is impossible. But progress occurs, so long as you keep picking your feet up.

And my feet feel ready. Too ready, perhaps. To borrow a phrase from Roger Bannister, my legs feel "full of running". I've tapered, or so I think. Mostly, I've just done very little this week. What I have done has been easy. Nothing hurts, or is even sore. This is good, obviously. And though I know that, it's no council to my body. It wants to run, to find the point of discomfort and push against it. But that will come soon enough.

No matter how well one does in such a race, discomfort is inevitable. Things will hurt, maybe even cease to function momentarily. Your brain will protest. Sensing a deprived glycogen store and a mammoth calorie deficit, it will urge you to stop. Self preservation is a powerful motivator, so ignoring that voice will be difficult. Maybe you will; maybe you won't. Maybe you should; maybe you shouldn't. It depends on a host of things. What are your expectations? How did you train? How did you start?

There are too many scenarios. But still, I've tried to imagine all of mine in the last week. I've imagined a debilitating cramp or a sprained knee. I've imagined a crescendo of endorphins and adrenaline propelling me to a beautiful, nearly effortless run. I've imagined first place, last place, and every place in between.

And I've thought, too. I've looked at my race times, compared them to the field. I've come to the conclusion that, by the numbers, I should do well. I should, according to the sign-up website, win. This is, at once, shocking, horrifying, and inspiring. But mostly, it's irrelevant. Once we start running, past times and past places won't influence anything.

And that, ultimately, is what makes this whole endeavor so appealing. It's pure. We all start together. We all run that way. We all come back. First one to finish, wins. No refs, no teammates, no dropped balls or popped tires. No power-lines, either. No buildings. There is only you, the other shuffling feet, and the beautiful expanse.

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