It is common place to be asked after running such grueling races, any ultra-marathon, how it feels to have accomplished the task at hand. It doesn't matter the distance, 50K to 100+ Miles.. people always ask how it feels to have accomplished the goal. This goes beyond your typical questions involving, "How is the recovery going?" "So..What's Next?" etc etc.. its a deeper question. It's a matter of someone putting a hand on your shoulder, looking you in the eye and saying, "So how are you feelin'?" They are of course trying to tap into your emotional sanity/stability, trying to get the juicy details of a mind been worked.
I've had the privilege of running some amazingly tough races these last few years. From 100 miles of shin deep mud (McNaughton) to 100 miles of relentless rocks (Massanutten). I've run at 10,000' of elevation in Wyoming, I've run through humidity so thick you might have an easier time running through the Vermont farm land with an oxygen mask. I've run 125 miles across New hampshire.. on all pavement... but nothing.. nothing is comparable to how I've felt in these last few days after the Barkley Marathons. So what I'm going to do is try to walk you through the mental picture before and after the run to try and answer the question, "how are you feeling?" as clearly and succinctly as possible.
I had a flurry of mixed emotions heading into Barkley. Those of you who have followed my blog, know that I ran each and every one of the 31 days of January in an attempt to re-ignite that spark in my running. February went OK. I missed eight days that month, 6 of which were in the final week. The rockiness continued into March. I remember sitting down at Book #10 with Steve Durbin at Barkley and we all talked about our "lack of training" for the event. I heard the boys talking about having run 150+ miles in march, etc etc.. and then I looked at Steve and said that I'd "run only 90 miles in March, thirty of which were the week leading into Barkley, and twenty was during the actual loop (50)." His face dropped. Yeah.. no kidding Steve.. I went into Barkley completely under trained, as always.. and unsure if I would even find one book never mind all ten.
Before each race I set a series of three goals. The first goal is completely reasonable. In this case, it was find 1 book. The second goal is tough. Attainable but tough and something I'll actually have to work for. Barkley Goal 2 was to finish one loop. In all of my other 100's the goal has been to finish with a specific attainable time goal given some effort. Goal #3 was far fetched.. the "yeah right buddy." To finish the fun run. So yeah, I don't train as much as I should or as much as I'd like to but after the Barkley and in looking back at my running history I've come to a pretty definitive solution. I am a low mileage runner. I am one of those folks who are lucky enough (stubborn enough) to be able to accomplish great things without having to train much. I atone this to my solid base fitness level given my years of running and nearly two decades of hiking.
I went into Barkley with my goals set and a wheelbarrow load of self doubt. I wrote in my report that I felt like I didn't belong there. I stand by that sentiment. I finished one loop and right now, right this minute I feel like I don't even deserve to have done that. I'm not a great runner by any stretch of the imagination, at least I don't think so. I'm a mid-packer, a lover of life and a lover of the sport. I'm in love with the adventure, the allure of the risks.. pushing the envelope, seeing how far I can go and possibly some day.. actually finding the limit.. and seeing what it looks like, daring to push on the true wall and seeing if it stands firm or falls down.
The morning before I left for Tennessee I opened my e-mail and found out some amazing news. I had applied to be on PowerBar's Team Elite back in October. I finally got the answer I was waiting for.. Welcome to Team Elite. That would be enough to make any athlete happy and don't get me wrong.. I was. But I was also terrified. It is amazing how doors open.. with a little effort, persistence pays. It really gets yo thinking about how indeed what you learn from ultra-running you could easily transfer into your "real life." This was probably the only piece of good "running news" I'd had going into the race. 2 weeks ago I voiced my opinion about White Mountain Speed records. I was open and honest.. and in turn I was removed from a running team for being too out-spoken. This didn't bother me much in the end, because I had a run with someone who knew some of the "real stories" about Acidotic Racing and their ethics on scoring snowshoe races and their recruiting practices.. and in the end I was more disappointed that I had been associated with a group whose practices I really don't agree with. Bottom line is, I went to Tennessee a mental mess. Unsure of myself, trying to find the drive to run, to train.. wondering if I even REALLY want to be a part of this sport anymore. Thinking it's more trouble then it's worth to maintain this blog, maintain my integrity, maintain my level of honesty... and in turn maintaining my level of excitement for a sport I've literally married.
Someone left me a comment saying that in reading my Barkley Report, they felt like I was calm cool and collected the entire time. The fact of the matter is that I was. I love being outside. All day, all night, it's really why I am so at home in Ultra-running. It's why I've chosen Outdoor Education as my major at UNH. To be able to work outside, everyday, sharing the outdoors with so many others.. thats a dream that I know will come true. But at the Barkley I went into thinking that it was just a really long day hike, not unlike any of the hikes I regularly do in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Yes I was in Tennessee, traveling over rugged terrain where copperheads and rattlesnakes live however it is much too cold for them right now. The thorns on the course we a nuisance and mainly just unfortunate. I expected them and I welcome them. Sure the climbing was steep but it's not the steepest bushwhack climbing I've ever done. I welcome you to read past reports like Raymond Cataract and countless other whacks I've done over long days.
However, this leads me to the post race and the real "how are you feelin?" It's really hard to describe. When you consider everything. Past experiences. Events leading up to the run. Including having someone tell me I'll never succeed this year and accomplish my goals given my level of training... I feel damn accomplished and beyond proud to have survived Barkley. The shirt says enough, "Sometimes Success is measured by getting your ass out alive." Not only did I get out alive, I got out smiling, euphoric and ready for the next race of Project 2010. Running and the word TOUGH has a whole new meaning to me. There is "tough" and then there's "BARKLEY TOUGH." I was there, I saw it first hand. I learned indeed that for once.. I showed up and ran a race where the pre-race description was not over-exaggerated or down right outrageous. (I think of those who warn about the rocks at Massanutten). The Barkley descriptions.. the legend.. is spot on. It's tough.. and not only was I out there but I found ten books.. TEN BOOKS!
I've never in my life wanted to run so much so bad. Training is now an honor and a privilege and not so much a drag as it has been. I'm mentally straight and ready to take on all challenges I've set forth for this year. I finally made the PowerBar Team. I LOVE sharing my adventures with folks as is hopefully evident in my report writing and knowing that my Barkley Report has all ready entertained more readers then anything I've ever written has me stoked and jazzed up about writing more, sharing more and inspiring others to discover their own true Human Potential for a long time to come. I can't help but laugh at the naysayers... because I've been "out there," I've seen tough. I've smelt fear, I've seen that empty face in my fellow runner who wants nothing more then to quit and curl up under a rock... and I've seen them push through that feeling... and I've done it too.
This is what I live for. How am I feeling? GREAT. Bring it on.. Bring on the Grand Slam. Bring on McNaughton in Vermont. Bring it all.. I'm ready. I'm rollin. I'm on it. It's all part of the life I've dared to create. Because when I die there will be much to talk about... much to think about.. and much to be inspired by. Don't watch life.. BE LIFE.. explore your potential. Make the dare, take the dare. It's only what you make of it.. and this year it's all on the road to That Big Birthday Run in October.. which will prove to be something else this year... something else indeed.
(Note: John Price didn't want to pay me $300 for my Barkley Bib number and get himself off the waiting list last weekend. That being said... I'm still trying to find a way to pay for Leadville, the last race I need to apply for for the Grand Slam. Now accepting donations.)