This one will be a bit deep…
And, this will be one of those blog posts where I just shoot from the hip and post, so pardon any typos, of which I am sure there will be several. And, if any of those typos include inappropriate words, I have no idea why auto-text would think I’d type such a word.
I’ve been asked many times why I run ultra marathons and take on extreme endurance challenges. Heck, I ask myself the question from mile 50-100 of any 100 miler I run. My usual answer is that I enjoy the challenge and enjoy taking on something that I should not be naturally good at. That is true. However, it is only part of it.
Tunnel Hill 100 Mile Race
This next Saturday, November 13th, I am running the Tunnel Hill 100 mile race. It’s technically a trail race, though not at all a challenging course. I’ve run it twice. I have failed twice. There is just something about this race.
Three years ago, it was under 20 degrees for most of the race. At the start, my hydration pack leaded all over my back, that water froze, my clothes froze, and it was a challenge from there. I made it past mile 50 actually well under my expected pace, but hypothermia had set in, and then my heart started failing me. I went to a medic tent at mile 75, collapsed, and left the course in an ambulance.
Two years ago, once again it was cold. I was coming off of a 100 mile race finish on a much tougher course just.a few months prior. Though, I’d done little between that race and Tunnel Hill and my weight had gone well up. Still, I felt prepared enough. I went out much slower than the previous year. I was feeling great through 40-45 miles. However, uncharacteristically, I started having problems keeping down food. I went around 4 hours without keeping food and water down, and then when night came and the temperatures dropped below freezing, I again struggled. I once again made it to mile 75, and well under the cutoff time. But, I was again in early hypothermia, nowhere near as bad as the previous year, but I was also dehydrated and unable to keep food down. I also had lost the skin on a large portion of one foot. My race was over.
One month later, I ran and finished the Daytona 100.
Then COVID hit.
Since Covid, I’ve not done much. The Daytona 100 was my last 100 mile race. I did a few virtual races in 2020. This year, I’ve completed a 50k and 50 miler, both on very challenging courses. Both the 50k and 50 miler I’ve done this year were a struggle. I probably had to dig deeper to finish both of those than any 100 miler I have done. I picked each of those because of the unique challenge each course would be,
I’ve not trained much. I’ve been injured off and on for two years. I got into weight lifting and I am carrying far more weight and bulk than I should. Here I am, one week away from the race, having absolutely no business running in an ultra marathon.
The Drive to Finish
It is not hyperbole. In previous races, I had a limit I’d go to. A limit far beyond most, but there were races I had to call it quit. I pushed past that in my last two ultras. Now, there is no limit. If I am alive, I keep going, no matter what, until I finish or get timed out.
In some ways it is liberating to have no limit. There is no mental energy spent on if I should stop if things get worse. There is no stopping. No matter what. But, there is no trophy in it for me. I won’t win or win my division. I have no sponsors to appease. And, I have far more people who’d rather see me not push my limits and stay safe and healthy than I do people who’d be inspire by me finishing. But, I can’t not finish. I will finish.
Certainly competitiveness plays a part in me pushing to finish. Extreme competitiveness. Ok, let’s call it competitiveness with a strong dash of stubbornness. But, there is more to it.
Nice to Finish Something
Here is where it gets personal.
When my ex-wife and I were separated and on our way to a divorce, in my early 20s, I took up marathon running again. It had been a few years since I had run a marathon. I did not tell anyone. I just signed up for a local marathon, and ran it. I had been so distant from everyone for a while to where the only person I had to tell about it was her.
When I told my ex that I had finished the marathon, she said, “well, its nice to see you finish something for a chance.” It is funny how one comment can’t stick with you. I hold no grudge against her for the comment. She was frustrated, and said it because she knew belittling my accomplishment would hurt me. It did. Now, she did not mean it, and she apologized later for it. We had said much worse to each other over the years. Yet, that stuck with me.
It was True
What my ex said was true. I had gone through a several year period where I had quit on many things. At the time, I thought of it as me trying many new things and being young and finding my way. But, truth be told, I was a bit of a quitter there for a little while. I did not like that fact about myself, and a fact I did not acknowledge until recent years.
Being called a quitter stuck with me. I did picture the moment when she said that was I finished my run across Ohio. But, I thought of it more as: calling me a quitter, we’ll I will show you! Though the mindset was never logical. I don’t think my ex even knows I’ve accomplished all I have. But perhaps it serves still as some motivation for me.
However, in recent years, I accepted the truth. I was a bit of a quitter in my early 20’s. I’d given up on some jobs. I’d given up on some degrees. I’d quit on some relationships. I would tell myself that I was really just changing directions or pursuing what was best for me. I’d convince myself that moving to a new place or new city pursuing a different career, or just making big life changes in general was me moving forward. But, in my cases, it was me quitting.
I was a quitter.
I am a Finisher
Since then, I have become a finisher. I’ve stuck with things. And, its not always been to the benefit of me. In fact, some times its been bad for me. I’ve held on to clients longer than I should. I hung on to a business longer than I should have. I have, and still do, hold on to friendships because I don’t want to quit on the people, even if they’ve quit on me. And, physically, athletically I don’t quit on challenges, no matter how extreme.
Perhaps ultra marathons are a living embodiment of my battle to overcome any notion of being a quitter. There is some healthiness in it. There is some unhealthiness in it. But, for better or worse, as I have matured, and become the man I am, I just can’t quit. Maybe it is part of me that things doing so, just once, will push me back to the immature quick to quit young man I was. I think a bit of that irrational thought creeps in. But mostly, it is that this is who I am.
I won’t quit, even if quitting would unquestionably be better for me in any measurable way, I won’t quit.
I hate the moments in my life when I did not give my all. I hate when I quit. I am bothered by any time I did not finish.
Most of all, it is who I am, for better or worse, it is me.
So, as I head into the week of my Tunnel Hill 100 Mile race, being nowhere near in shape for it, it is fully expected that I will face extreme adversity and pain in my attempt to finish. Encouraging me to stop, to focus on my health, or any thing of the sort, would be to encourage me to not be myself. Instead, implore me to finish, because,
I am a finisher.