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.