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A thanks and what I learned from my first race ultra-running and how does it apply to the rest of life.

In Books, business, Community, culture, exercise, faith, family, food, Friends, Fun, humor, quote, Reading, running, Spiritual, Sports, Theology, Uncategorized, work on October 28, 2012 by mstevensrev

Yesterday I participated in a twelve hour race less then a mile from house called the Carkeek 12 Hour, which is marketed as the worst race in the world.  It is twelve hours of a two mile loop on poorly marked trails and approximately 400 vertical feet every loop.  You begin a six in the morning in the complete dark with headlamps and go until six in the evening.  And now the results, I WON, okay I didn’t win the most number of loops, I’m not even sure if I won the costume contest (I was Waldo from Where’s Waldo, pretty clever if I do say so because it was easy to run it).  I am certain I WON the prize for most smack talking in the race, I think I met every runner and had a blast getting to know them, in addition I accomplished my goal for the race and finished with a smile on my face, clearly I was the day’s winner.

Before I start talking about what I learned from the experience, I’m sure some of you have some questions:

Q. Did you run the whole time?

A. Depends on what you call running.  I averaged about 4 miles per hour over my race.  So my questions is how fast do you run? I kept moving and other then some adjustments to my costume throughout the race I kept moving, there were laps I completely walk these laps often were when I was eating.

Q. Did you say eating?

A. Yes, I ate good.  One of the sponsors of the race was Seattle Biscuit Company, @SeattleBisCo and it was amazing.  I did tell them if I had a Biscuit Truck I would have a picture of someone’s butt in the logo and an African-american woman named Flo serving them…perhaps for their second truck SBC will do this;)  
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They offered us food included in the cost of the race, so I took full advantage I 
had two eggs, bacon, and ham over grits, and two biscuits.  One biscuit with jam the second with Apple butter.  It was amazing, many runners stick with Goo and other sports products that make me want to puke.  The candy they provided was great initially but I noticed that I would crash from the sugar about in the second lap after eating it, so SBC was my savior and was one element of the race that made my experience unforgettable.  Very grateful for the amazing food and wonderful service from these guys.  They even laughed when I told them that, “If I crap myself or throw up I won’t blame you guys..” That is a line that could really be taken poorly by the wrong person.  So if you are in Seattle find this food truck, you will not be disappointed.

I’m glad to answer any other questions related to the race, my experience, and my training for it (actually I didn’t train specifically for this race, I’m currently preparing for my triathlon season next year…this race was just for ‘fun’).  As I ran there were a few things that came to mind that I wanted to share, principles that I applied that I thought applied to both my personal and professional life, check it out.

The Plan

Going into the race I spent a good amount of time mentally planning, I don’t just hop out and try to go running for twelve hours without thinking it through.  The course record was 33 laps, approximately 66 miles and 13,000 total vertical…keep in mind Mt. Ranier and Pike’s Peak are 14,000 vertical feet.  I knew if I ran the race of my life the best I would do is 30 laps, so while that was in the back of my mind it was not reality.  I set an achievable goal of running 15 laps (30 mile), which would be the longest distance I have ever run (6,000 vertical feet which is two trips up to Snoqualmie Pass) this was a goal I would be completely satisfied achieving.  Since the trails are only .5 mile from my house I spent many training runs exploring and enjoying the trails so they would seem familiar to me for the race, I did not run more then two laps for any training run because I didn’t want to get sick of the course before I even got to the time of the race.

During the race I executed my plan.  Some ultra runners are so remarkable they can push their bodies to run an entire course like this one for the entire distance of the race.  That is not me.  I knew for me to survive the day walking was important.  The course was marked the opposite direction of what I had trained and there were a few areas that I had never run and was unfamiliar with.  Thankfully at the start of the race in the pitch black I was able to run the first lap with a few people including ‘Big Bird’, an extremely gifted woman ultra runner who had completed the race the year before.  This lap was much faster then I had anticipated starting but it was worth it just to have someone take me through the course, honestly it was tough for me to keep up that first lap but I knew in the long term for the race it would be to my advantage as getting lost would have discouraged me from the start.  After that lap I was able to reorient my mind going the opposite direction from what I had anticipated, the parts that I thought I would run downhill now became areas to briskly walk, the hills I anticipated walking now were opportunities to bomb down, within the first hour of the race I had completely adjusted my thinking and honestly I think it is one of the factors that kept me mentally fresh.

Most of my life I have lived without a plan, only in the past five years has planning enter the equation.  Having a plan with stretch goals and achievable goals is important, otherwise as Yogi Berra famously said “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you going, because you might end up there.”  This applies in my personal and professional life, plans for the next month, year, and years into the future are important.  These plans are not set in stone but they are the maps for the trails of my life, I can always vary from them if I want to see a view or if a hill seems too difficult to climb at the time, but at least I know (on some level) why I am where I am at in any given moment.  Even when wandering because as someone once said, “Not all who wander are lost.”

Winning and being competitive

The reality is there are amazing ultra athlete’s in the Pacific Northwest, I got to witness these men and women first hand yesterday.  And yes I’ll admit many times during the day I fantasized about what it would mean for me to finish with the most numbers of lap, and in my fatigued state I may have even thought it was within my grasp.  So I ran competitively, at the point in the race when these amazing athletes began to pass me I played a game with them, though they had no idea.  They would come up behind me and as they got closer I would incrementally speed up, this had two advantages as I saw it.  Here were people already working harder then I was early in the race, this meant they would have to work even harder perhaps even harder then they had anticipated.  Once you see someone often you determine regardless of your pace to pass them, so you do what is necessary to get by, this meant I could ‘fool’ them into using more energy then they would prefer.  Also it improved my time, even though I was not racing at the same level as these folks I was able to benefit myself and my time by being competitive with them even if it was only for five or ten minutes while they passed me.  Again this was a complete personal secret that improved my time and kept me mentally fresh, it also made me better.

In life there will always be someone who is better then you.  Your chance of winning often is dependent on whether they show up to the race or not, because you have no chance of beating them head to head.  Whether they show up is not in your control, but if they do show up it is an opportunity for you to personally improve.  Take the opportunity to make yourself better and perhaps one day you will end up being the person that everyone hopes doesn’t show up to the race.

There were two ‘official’ ways to win at the Carkeek 12 hour, most number of laps and the costume contest. While I would have loved to win both or either of the honors, I created a third way to win “Best Trash Talker”.  For me this meant that I would talk with anyone where every on the course regardless of how bad or good I was feeling.  While alone on the course I would imagine what fun conversations to have with others and I created a catch phrase that I stole from work “Gitty up!”  When I would be passed by the most serious of runners for the second of third time I would accuse them of using their car or cutting the course short. Knowing the truth, that they were just better then me, I didn’t let a little truth get in the way of me connecting with others on the course;)  This created a bond for me, one that I began to enjoy seeing these folks even though they were kicking my butt, and my hope was that they were enjoying seeing me because they knew they would get some entertainment value when they passed the guy dressed up like Waldo. At one point I came upon the aid station and said to the crew of people who were assisting us, “I don’t want to be a tattle-tail but unless Hippie Runner is a costume I don’t think anyone ahead of me in the race is actually dressed up in costume, can you disqualify them so I can win?”  It lead one runner who overheard me say this say that he was dressed as Lance Armstrong and has a blood bag full of horse blood that he was going to run with later in the race.

Chris McDougall in his epic book Born to Run, discuss the evolutionary theory that humans were pack animals and each member of the pack plays an essential role for survival.  At the core of the ‘pack’ theory is that we are created for connection with each other, frankly I believe connection is key for our existence as a species.  Yes, my trash talking talking was a means of connecting more deeply with my pack yesterday.  One more popular example I relate to this has to do with trash talking and the NBA.  Rumor has it that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were/are two of the greatest trash talkers in the history of the game, not only two of the greatest athletes every to play basketball.  I draw a connection here to their athletic performance and their connecting with people.  Just to clarify, trash talking is not merely swearing at people or telling them the are worthless pieces of trash.  Trash talking is connecting more along the lines of “your mother dresses you funny”. Clever thoughtful words used to engage your competition mentally.  You don’t have to be a great athlete to pull this off, you have the opportunity even if you are average to make a deeper more ‘human’ connection.  Since none of us are machines operating through life we have the chance to enter into another reality through engaging conversation with people. Take this opportunity today, if you have the skills in an area to back it up then the world is your oyster.

Gratitude

A few months ago I read with a book club Chris McDougall’s Born to Run, and it was the inspiration to participate in the Carkeek 12 Hour. I am grateful both for the book club and the book itself to have provided the soil for me to grow as a person, I could not and would not do something so insane without others.  We do not change the world (or ourselves for that matter) alone.  I have hard people say, “Even the lone ranger had Tonto.” Yesterday the people that made the race possible were the race organizers (Sam and Brock) and the folks that volunteered to run the aid station.  Many of these folks probably would have preferred to be running the race themselves and instead they made it possible for me to enjoy the day and have an experience of a lifetime.  During the race my goal was to show my gratitude by keeping these folks entertained.  Somewhere around my seventh loop I came by the aid station to check my time and laps.  When they told me how many I had run I said, “Crap I am going way too fast, if I keep running this fast my intestines will fall out my asshole.” While they were still laughing I added, “I know because I’m a doctor.”

Regardless of where you are in life you did not get there on your own, I don’t care what any politician tells you.  People help people and often especially as Americans we forget the fact and continue to move forward.  Make sure that you find someway to say thanks, a grateful heart leaves no room for bitterness.  I am so thankful for my family, friends, co-workers, race organizers, and crew that made yesterday possible and make everyday of life possible.  Each one of us has dark seasons, during my darkest times I have taken to the intentional practice of gratitude.  At the end of the day I will light a candle and reflect on all that I am thankful for starting with the beginning of my day and working through until the end, often I will do that twice because it is very hard for me to think in a linear manner for any length of time.  Once your mind is oriented in this way go out and practice acts of gratitude.  In our family we emphasize saying the words please and thank you, showing others their proper value.

C.S. Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.  We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, is fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”  Yesterday was not without me being flippant or superior toward other, therefore I know I have a long ways to go before ever achieving this goals.  Regardless I am grateful to Sam and Brock and the crew who made such a wonderful event possible.

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8 Responses to “A thanks and what I learned from my first race ultra-running and how does it apply to the rest of life.”

  1. Wow!!! Glad to hear the details of your race. Love you! Mom

  2. Aww shucks, thanks Mom!

  3. Did I mention that I won!!! Update: @mstevensrev Thanks, and you rock too! Also great blog post…And big news- you did win! Waldo gets a free SBC tshirt next time you find us! from @SeattleBisCo

  4. thanks so much for sharing mike…I am inspired

  5. Garret, You are welcome! Amazing day, amazing process. We need to talk soon!

  6. yes lets talk real soon

  7. Very funny and reminded me of other “ultra” conversations I’ve had over the years. Many of which occurred only in my head once I realized the wasn’t actually someone next to me.

  8. […] signed myself up for the Carkeek 12-Hour race which I ran a few years ago and wrote about here. There are a few other races I’ll compete in, but for the 12-hour I’d like to complete […]

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