“If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.
But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to feel meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.” – Donald Miller in A Million Miles In A Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing…
I came across this quote a couple of weeks ago I have not stopped thinking about it. For some reason, it struck a chord in me and I haven’t been able to let it go. It is funny how we can inject meaning into just about anything. We can take a car or computer or cell phone, something that lacks life, blood and any natural beauty and spend most of our life embracing such a machine, inject meaning and importance into an object that could care less if we were dead or alive.
On the other hand, maybe what I really should do is sit at this keyboard and write till there is nothing left to say. Seems like I’m stuck in a state I’ve not been in before. Ever since before RAAM, I’ve been tired and it’s not the tired that a good night’s sleep will fix. I remember going into RAAM wanting to be rested but I felt the opposite, lack of sleep, the unfinished list and the demands of emails and phone calls pulling me down. Since that time I think I’ve been stuck in this rut and keep hoping tomorrow will be the day I break through, that morning cup of coffee, that new feature, that run through the woods, that dinner with the family will bring me back to life.
Lately I’m finding it harder to take risks I would easily have taken not so long ago. Being comfortable can be a dangerous thing and I need to push myself outside my comfort zone otherwise the years will pass and I will not have faced the challenges I should have. This can’t be more obvious as we watch our own Dylan grow and try to learn new things.
You can’t learn how to ride a bike by reading about it in a book. You have to take the bike outside, fall down a few times, get some scabs on your knees until suddenly it clicks and you are rolling along. But first you have to fall down. And that is how we learn. And how proud I am that our little boy rides his pedal bike with me on these summer evenings, as we chase each other up and down our street At 2 1/2 years old, he has graduated from his Strider to a bike with pedals and no training wheels. Soon the Chariot will be retired and he’ll riding next to me on our Overlook and Courthouse route. When we found out we were having a boy, I thought I wouldn’t really connect with Dylan until he was 4 or 5 years old but we’ve been able to connect with him since day 1.
Sometimes inspiration is right around the corner and that was the case this past week when I had a front seat to Bob Shebest’s 3rd place, sub 20 hour finish at the Tahoe Rim 100. Bob came into this race ready for anything the course was going to throw at him. And a change to the course added a 2000′ climb in less than 2 miles (think > 20% grade at some points). The two of us went over there the Sunday before and ran about 9 miles of the course and I forgot how much I enjoy running on the Tahoe Rim. As usual, on a perfect Sunday afternoon, we didn’t see a single runner on the trail (a couple of hikers) and I cannot explain why more people are not out enjoying these mountain trails on the weekend.
I was back to work during the week. Bob stayed up in Tahoe to acclimate to the altitude and taper for his assault on the course. Saturday morning quickly arrived and Bob, Amanda and I made the dark drive to Spooner Lake and pulled up to the starting line at 4:15 AM and soon the 100 milers were off.
While Bob ran up and down the mountains, we went back to the cabin and enjoyed an hour or two of sleep and then pointed ourselves in the direction of Diamond Peak to meet him at mile 30. Even though Bob was pacing conservatively, he came through Diamond Peak ahead of schedule and Nicole, Dylan and I missed him by a few minutes. We cheered some of the other runners as they trickled into the aid station and as they left for the 2000′ climb, again a climb straight up a double black diamond ski run.
We drove back along the shores of Lake Tahoe and stopped at Sand Harbor beach to play in the water and then met Amanda back at Spooner for the 50 mile point. We ran into Chuck Godtfredsen who just had finished the 50K race only a few weeks after completing the Western States 100. Overachiever! Bob came through a few minutes after the leader and in contention and had a big smile on his face. A good sign!
Later it was back to Diamond Creek and I laced up my shoes and strapped on my backpack and made the lonely climb up the bare and dry ski slopes of Diamond Peak to catch Bob at Bull Wheel. Not long after reaching the summit, Brett and his pacer, running in 2nd place, rolled through and about 5 minutes later Bob came around the mountain and we headed north towards Mt. Rose and the Flume Trail back down to Diamond Peak. Bob can fly downhill and made up about 4 minutes on Brett during this section. He was pushing pretty hard and my stomach started to complain about the pace and jarring. I’m thinking Bob’s going to drop me in the first 9 miles! So I made a quick pit stop and then raced along the single track to rejoin Bob. We arrived at the Diamond Peak aid station just as Brett was exiting. Bob had knocked 4 minutes off Brett’s lead. The race was on.
Pain. Pain is the way our bodies communicate with us and pain is the body’s way of saying please stop. “Hey! I mean it. That’s enough.” The ability to endure pain and ignore the body’s pleas is a trait many top athletes share. You might think that those running up front are in much better shape and it’s easier for them. But it hurts for them too. Once the body starts complaining and you ignore the pleas, it will start to complain louder and louder and pretty soon it’s screaming at you: STOP! The champions are the ones that drown out those pleas with mantras that propel them forward. Watching Bob run those last 30 miles was a firsthand lesson on the mental side of things. His stomach twisting and turning and not in a pleasant state those last 10 miles. The soles of his feet blistered and raw. His toes banging the rocks hiding on the path in the dark. We were chasing 2nd place through the dark, up and down the mountainsides, not sure if 2nd place was just around the corner or on the other side of the mountain. And as we ran to Tunnel Creek and then to Hobart, there were still so many runners coming the opposite way, still needing to do the Red House Loop and another climb up the Diamond Creek mountainside. For many runners, it was going to be a full night and another morning of running.
One of my favorite sections to run is from Snowy Peak to the finish. It’s about 7 miles starting above 9,000′ as you run along the edge of the ridge, jumping over rocks, the wind in your ears, the moon to your right, the lake below your feet. It’s an awesome section to cover under the stars. We arrived at Snowy Peak around 11:40 PM, needing to cover a little over 7 miles in less than 1 hour and 20 minutes. Bob pushed hard those last miles and it felt like the miles kept getting longer and longer. I kept thinking mile 98 was just around the corner and it seemed like it took forever to reach that point. Bob still had a little gas in his tank for the final leg around the lake and crossed the finish just before 1 AM, earning 3rd place with an impressive time of 19 hours and 57 minutes.
Not more than a few minutes after finishing, his body went from overheating to ice cold and we kept piling blankets on him as he huddled around a propane heater. It was a scene all too familiar to me when I stopped at Tunnel Creek a few years ago during my own 100 mile race and suddenly couldn’t get warm. It’s one of the reasons in an ultra to avoid finding a chair at an aid station. Once you sit down and stop moving, the body goes from running mode to recovery mode and the effort to resume the pace proves all too difficult. We shared some laughs on the way home and marvelled about how much Bob resembled a drunken old man after we pulled over on the road and he staggered out of the car. The glory of running 100 miles will stick long after the aches and pains have dulled. Well done Bob. You can read about the race in his own words at www.pointpositivecoaching.com.