Monday, September 15, 2008

Why I Ran Reach the Beach

From the subject matter contained on, you might guess that I pal around with some active people- which is true. And, you might also guess that we do athletic stuff together, like take yoga classes, go hiking, or hang from lamp posts on Comm Ave. while cheering our other friends toward the finish of the Boston Marathon.

Every once in a while, however, I wonder if some of my dear friends have crossed a threshold from extremely athletic to clinically insane. Case in point: For the past couple years, no less than three pals per year have invited me to join their teams for an adventure relay in New Hampshire called Reach the Beach, which sounded intriguing, initially, until I learned specifically what it entails: 200-miles, run by a team of 12 (or 6, for the super crazy, err, adventurous) within a 24 to 36-hour period through the mountains, over the hills, alongside the highways, and down the country roads of New Hampshire. See, you're intrigued, right? Now, hear this . . . when you're not running, you're riding or driving in a van with your team. No showers, no sleep to speak of, no legitimate restrooms. Port-A-Johns abound, peanut butter and bread for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, if you're really lucky, maybe you can sleep on the gymnasium floor of a local high school for an hour; if you're not; you're running 9.1 miles, uphill, at 2:30 in the morning, with a scant headlamp to light your way.

After having the race details outlined for me by people I love dearly, my response was something along the following lines: That sounds utterly miserable. Not only am I completely uninterested in such a cockamamy idea, but given our clear differences of opinion on this matter, I may need to re-evaluate my ability to be friends with you moving forward.

Then came om gal E., a former longtime yoga student of mine but a fairly new friend, who apparently has powers of persuasion beyond those of mere mortals because when she asked me to run the same race that several friends had tried and failed to sell me before, I responded, "Um, sure- I'm in!"

In the days, weeks, and months that would follow, I would occasionally ask myself, "WHAT have I gotten myself into?" However, I made a commitment; I'd surprised myself with my willingness to join virtual strangers on an overnight running race requiring me to run much more mileage than I was accustom and subjecting me to much less sleep and sanity than I care to endure. Still, there was something exciting about the level of insanity, the brashness of my snap decision, the potential to do something waaaaay outside my realm of comfort and capacity.

By now, you can surmise that I survived the race (see photographic evidence above). I dare say I even enjoyed it. While relentlessly daunting, the 2-day experience was also exhilarating, a tangible reminder that the whole is, indeed, greater than the sum of its parts. Here's a cursory "rundown" of some other lessons that I learned this weekend:

1.) Go with your gut. If you want to say YES to a particular question in a given moment, do it (even if you'd say no to it in 99 out of 100 other circumstances). There's power in accepting your intuition, and it's far more potent than the matrix of rationalization through which we typically make decisions.

2.) Fear doesn't deserve the bum rap. For one thing, the terrified pitter patter in my chest was a valuable asset in helping me pick up the pace while running 5.5 miles down a dark highway at 4 a.m. How often I curse fear and recoil away from it, when instead, I might try to embrace it more often? Imagine how it might propel me, if I could say, "Ok, Fear, I see you. I know what you're about. Let's do this thing anyway."

3.) Darkness is necessary for there to be light. In times of darkness, we often find ourselves asking, WHY. Why me? Why now? Why does it hurt so badly? But, after seeing the elated and illuminated face of one of my teammates after she'd run 7 miles, uphill, in the rain, around midnight, I had to rethink this assumption. To her, the darkness was a blessing. "I never would have been able to run those hills in the daylight [when she could see how looming they were]," she explained. Fair enough. Lesson learned: We sometimes conquer the unthinkable in times of darkness- because light would only be a distraction.

4.) Appreciate simple pleasures. It's amazing how quickly we can reconnect to our true essence in a condensed amount of time. Without my usual, creature comforts, I became enamored with the natural comforts of the world unfolding around me. Suddenly, a blue sky put my mind at ease; crickets on the side of the highway down which I was running were music to my iPod-free ears (headphones are strictly verboten on RTB), and making someone else a PBJ sandwich gave me a sense of purpose. Fancy job titles, cars, nice clothes, showers- they're all less essential than we think, and we're well served to seek experiences that remind us of this.

5.) Let others lead you. Sometimes it's hard to take input, advice, or help from others, but it's absolutely crucial to our happiness, nay, our survival. During the last leg of my race, a fellow runner, overtook me. We exchanged pleasantries as he passed, at which point, he motioned to a gal ahead of us (whom I'd been trying to catch for the past mile); "Let's go get her," he said firmly. I obeyed, and we quickened our pace. Once we'd overtaken our target, my running companion made it his personal mission to keep me on task (perhaps he'd heard the voices in my head losing focus or the sound of my steps losing confidence). "I'll talk, you listen," he called over his shoulder. So, there I was, a fatigued, near delirious runner staying in the footfalls of a quicker, more seasoned expert who would talk me into the finish. When he urged me to sprint the last 1/2 mile, I couldn't match his steps anymore, but I maintained a steady stride and finished with a final burst of energy that I never would have discovered had it not been for the help of a stranger.

Please feel free to share some of your own lessons learned through challenging physical activity and/or teamwork.


Elizabeth said...

I love this. You captured it perfectly.

dfg said...

I'm marathoning in a month (something I also said yes to on a whim). As each run lengthens, I have a trickle of fear, "is something going to break?". This focuses me on my body, similar to yoga in a sense, and I'm in good shape, so I'm gaining more confidence in myself.

The greatest lesson I'm learning now is how to get out of my own head. Several hours of running and I'm sifting through all my trials and tribulations, strategizing this and worrying about that. It becomes wearying in and of itself.

I've had to adopt a mantra of sorts, "just let it go". Interestingly, this is carrying over to other aspects of my life. Slowly, I find, I'm beginning to shed, more and more, the daily thoughts that don't work for me.

chris said...

I enjoyed reading your post. You write well and the insights from the race ring true. I ran it too this year for the first time.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you got to experience the insanity of RTB! I am so grateful that I did it a number of years ago - for the experience alone. I always say you can do just about anything ONCE! Best way to move thru life is trying new things & taking chances - hold nothing back!! Congratulations on the accomplishment.

JMoore said...

I could not have said it any better! Congratulations on this awesome accomplishment! Very proud of you. I only wish I had the power of persuasion that Six Degrees clearly has! Next year ;) And for the record, RTB is hard knock brother to the Boston Marathon.

See you in the corral in April??!