What a difference a year makes on the memory. Since I ran The North Face 50 Miler in Bear Mountain last May I had forgotten the many details of why this race is so difficult. This past weekend, while I was in the middle of being put through the wringer, it slapped me in the face as it all came back to me. Only two days later though, the reality of the situation has begun to fade exponentially. To be a consistent ultrarunner one must have an inconsistent memory. Already I’ve begun to romanticize the run: Picking my way along the loose rocks and gnarly roots. Kneeling down to splash cold water on my face and neck to cool off as I crossed one of the many streams. Running past the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail, seeing campers cooking breakfast outside of their tents in the early morning and having my mind wondering what it would be like to continue on this trail, or the other great American trails like the PCT or the Continental Divide Trail. One year I will thru-hike the AT I promise myself as I look around to a 360 degree view of the rolling northeastern deciduous forests. And running down the finish chute while being cheered on by my friend Cherie and getting that long-awaited glorious medal placed around my neck all seem more than worth it.
What happened to cursing the terrain and agitatedly swatting flies away from my ears as I hiked up a steep ascent of loose and jagged rocks? Where’s all the worrying that I might pass out while running because I only got 2 hours of sleep the night before? No more stomach troubles that slowed me down as I constantly tried to suppress the desire to vomit for fear of losing all my calories and hydration and getting into REAL trouble. Gone is the uncontrollable crying at the sight of an older man with determination on his face and the care in the eyes of his wife and kids surrounding him about to send him off for his last 10 tough miles. Blowing out my quads a few miles later while picking my way down a steep and technical downhill and weakly asking myself how in the world am I going to finish Leadville are now only viewed as a dream. Moments that seemed dire have been transformed into delight, like getting passed by a guy around mile 46 doing an 8 minute pace saying he just wants to hurry up and finish so he can go home and eat, then catching up to him sitting on a rock a mile later at the top of a brutal climb as he vomited off the trailside, then being passed by him again another mile later with a smile on his face saying he got his second wind and we should have a beer at the finish.
This is the spirit of the ultra. And although I remember telling myself in the moment that this is the last ultra I was going to run and I don’t have to do these things anymore, I’ve lost the desperation behind those words and it all doesn’t seem so bad now that I sit on my easy chair typing this. It doesn’t seem justified anymore. I know that I run these because they are not easy and the lower the lows get, the higher the highs seem to be. So bring on the Cayuga Trails 50 in June, the White River 50 in July and the looming Leadville 100 in August. I’ll be sure to have forgotten every reason not to run them by then.
And PS...after the race Wayne and Cherie gave me a ride back to Brooklyn where I performed Ferapont in Chekhov’s Three Sisters alongside an awesome cast who I really respect. It was one of the strangest and wonderful stage experiences I’ve ever had, acting after running 50 miles, being completely in the moment and too tired to over-think anything, just do. I highly recommend it to any actor:)