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Monday, October 12, 2009

New River Trail 50k... sweeping it all in

The lasting feeling from my view of this race is just how supportive all of these (you all) crazy runners are.

We each go into these efforts with our own goals, our own plans but end up supporting each other through some very difficult steps... sometimes, on the most important days we wonder if we can go any further, or perhaps more importantly we ask why we would ever go any further. This is the essence of the long distance run.

For each of the effortless, flow-style runs we have 2 or 3 efforts of pure drudgery. When the big A (adversity) is pushing us around so subtly that we believe it is "just a bad day". This is the time when the warrior runner emerges from each of us.

On Saturday morning in Fries, VA at the New River Trail 50k I was fortunate enough to gain a new perspective on this running fad. Acting as sweep for the race I was able to see from the front to the back, the entire field of runners. Not at the aid station where everyone has a smile to lend, but out in the muck, where the battle is fought. The battle against doubt. We all have this opportunity of course, but what makes this different this time for me was that I was not racing... I was able to enjoy the scene without any urgency of my own to move forward.

So, there I was bringing up the rear with a group of three working together consistently about 400m ahead of me. Around 10 miles in, I began to see the runners on their return. The leader was flying. Finishing in 3:25 he had already opened up a 5 minute gap on the field. From what I gathered from other volunteers the top 3 runners had entered 11 miles around 68 minutes. Meaning, Timothy Driscoll (overall winner) had put this large gap on relatively recently and he was still adding to it. He was moving relaxed, the only way to move, but I could see that he was right on that edge, knowing what was possible, what was at risk... and NOT knowing where the closest competitor was. What I call the curse of first.

The top 20 went by and by. They all looked really strong, focused. Understanding they had their focus in full swing I just offered small encouragement. Up there, it is you and your next step and that is essentially it... simple movement, manipulating mass. Enjoyment is subtle, but make no mistake, there is bliss in there, even if masked by that calm outer demeanor. Something great is happening in every runner.

As the run went on, I encountered the bulk of the field. Patiently moving along and exchanging encouragement with those on their way back home. Some fully engrossed in their goals, some with smiles to rival the sun! What was most striking to me were the words said to me.

"keep on going! Battle for it!"
"You can do this!"

And while I was really just enjoying my day as a volunteer I found these comments helpful... (but I have to admit it was difficult at times to not get at least a little competitive; especially when those leaders went through.) These folks, some of whom were just beginning to encounter the struggle; were urging me on. Me, at the back of the field and forgetting about their impending despair (which arrives at some level for all of us, in every race). They were taking their positive energy and lending it to me. I did my best to reflect it and let their smiles shine back to them. After all, they took on this challenge and were accomplishing their goals!!

The front runners ran amazing times on a perfect day. The leaves in full autumnal splendor set a wonderful backdrop for an epic kind of run. 105 began at 8 am and all 105 finished the full 50k distance... while we all have different ability for speed, levels of physical fitness, mechanical efficiency... we each ultimately are testing our capacity for enduring emotionally, spiritually. We are faced with doubt repeatedly as runners. It is this battle which brings me back. On Saturday it was seeing this courage spanning the pack, the ability to overcome demons that lifted my spirit and which I hope to keep at the front of my thoughts and at the core of my heart each time I toe the line.


  1. Wow, 100% finisher rate!? That is awesome.

    The curse of the first is interesting...... I never even (had the need) to think about that.

    Great perspective from the volunteer point of view. I hope to get this a lot over the coming weeks.

  2. Hi Sean,

    Thanks for being the sweep at the New River Trail 50 km! All of the volunteers at the race were so nice and friendly including yourself.

    I am looking forward to running this race in 2010 and plan to pace myself alot better to enjoy the tasty cookies and homemade bread at all the aid stations:-)

    Happy Running,

  3. Very nice report from the sweeper's point of view. Good on you for working the course.

  4. I loved this piece. It is so true that "we each ultimately are testing our capacity for enduring emotionally, spiritually. We are faced with doubt repeatedly as runners." Likewise, this is the struggle which brings me back as well. How much courage do I have each time I decide to race? How much pain can I endure? Do I have the guts to endure the pain that will inevitably set in? How much courage do I have to go beyond what I feel is possible in my realm of possibilities? Sometimes I surprise myself. Am I ever satisfied with my performance? nope. It is the contstant is completely personal. Thank you for putting it so beautifully.

  5. Really enjoyed your comments! While it sounds like you don't spend much time at the rear of the pack, I am usually one of the last runners at every race.

    As a back-of-the-packer I do feel like a second class citizen, but that feeling is NEVER caused by another runner! No . . . it come only from me because I know that I'm just training to finish a race and to not finish the race as fast as I can. I used to . . . not no more. Not sure why. But at every race where the course doubles back and I get to see the other runners I am always humbled by their encouragement of me. I just wrote about this same thing as I finished the Laurel Run Ascent in TN this weekend.


  6. thanks for an excellent perspective, Sean, and for your efforts at the NRT50k this year.

    in my opinion, one of the most admirable characteristics of the ultra community is the sense of togetherness. from first to last finisher, everyone pulls for each other. and that's how it should be, in running and in life.

    glory is not found in beating others, but in conquering your own inner demons.


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