“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
― Marcel Proust
That's right: I'm quoting Marcel Proust in a goddamned running blog, in the process hitting a new pinnacle of self-serious pretentiousness.
It had been 3 years since I'd completed an ultramarathon race. Rewinding the clock, I had bilateral achilles surgery in November 2016. Recovery was more prolonged than anticipated, culminating in frustration, then an avowal to never run again, then a re-devotion to the bicycle. A couple other big life changes included having kid #2, moving to New Zealand for a year and turning 40. Along with other various and sundry details, these factors led to a relative de-prioritization of endurance pursuits, at least insofar as athletic variants are concerned. I lasted 9 months of no running and then started up again very gently without much expectation. We returned to Utah this past September and I gradually increased my running for a couple months before taking off the whole winter to focus on Nordic skiing. I resumed running in late March/ early April and finished the Bosho marathon, my longest run in 3 years. This run plus two 20 mile runs were the longest efforts I did in preparation for the Bighorn 100. This fact didn't sink in for me until about 2 days before the race when I realized I might be in trouble.
I reassured myself with facts:
1. I'd completed some of these things in the past, including some hard ones.
2. Pretty much anyone can walk slowly for surprising lengths of time given sufficient will.
3. There were no big ambitions at stake here other than to notch a finish at this one.
The Bighorn 100 mile involves a spectacular and remote out-and-back route through the Little Bighorn and Tongue River areas of the Bighorn National Forest. Of organized races I've taken part in perhaps only a couple can rival this event for pristine wilderness ambience. The difficult route was made even tougher when 2 heavy rain falls early on in the event turned the entire course into shoe-sucking mud, making even the most runnable sections frustratingly slow going. I had gone out solo with no pacers and no crew support.
Contrary to - well- every other race I've done in my life, I took my time here deliberately: stopping in every aid station to sit down, get serviced by aid station volunteers, eat noodles and watermelons and chips, the works. Previously the only scenario where this would occur in a race situation was when the wheels had fully come off. While I felt the dispositional capacity to have competitive thoughts, or inhabit a competitive attitude, that possibility remained remote and seemed frankly silly.
Like every other long distance endeavor I've done I experienced several circumscribed moments of emotional intensity. Call these transcendent moments, peak experiences, flow states, what have you- several things are clear: 1. these moments seemingly come out of the blue and take your breath away with feelings of awe and gratitude, and 2. these moments inevitably pass, to be replaced with the more predominant sensations characteristic of ultra running centered entirely around foot pain, nausea, complete dreadful attention to distance to the next aid station, when you should eat another awful gel, and a general sense of ambivalence as to whether this activity- slogging slowly and absurdly through the night at 20% aerobic capacity for no apparent reason- makes any sort of sense if you are not driven by (albeit equally arbitrary) time goals or performance goals. There is a deep lesson here about our own minds and about our attachment to certain kinds of experience.
In any event, the time passed, as it always does, and I finished the damn thing in 25:44, 11th place overall.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
― Marcel Proust
All photos courtesy of Mile 90 photography.