I've found that I don't write about successes nearly as often as failures. In truth, I don't like the successes as much--they're not as inspiring as the failures. Failing means I stuck my neck out; I tried something beyond what I "should have" tried. Failing means I pushed my boundaries, not just beyond what I perceived I was capable of, but beyond what I actually was. I like that.
“The Edge...There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others-the living-are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still Out there.” -- Hunter S. Thompson, Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible SagaWhen I succeed, it means I didn't think big enough--that I wasn't willing to find the edge, I only know that it's still Out there, somewhere "further"--and all I've done is figure out that I need to find something bigger to fail at. But everything Out there takes so much time, or carries some deeper intrinsic risk, so instead, I try to make the old stuff just a little bit harder.
Which is all a way to say that I'm not training much.
I mean, I never trained much to begin with, honestly--but now I train even less (Scott Kummer and I talked about this in our nearly-4-hour nobody-will-listen-to-the-entire-thing episode of Ten Junk Miles). The surprising thing: I haven't found not-training to be overly burdensome. To the contrary, it's quite freeing--enjoyable even.
2017 was my year of no training. I don't know that I can push it much further. Granted, I failed at Zumbro 100, but I finished Tuscobia 160 (twice, technically), Superior 100, and the Barkley Fall Classic--none were easy, but they weren't supposed to be.
'Postmen of the Wilderness' by Arthur Hemming
I've also found that every Calvin & Hobbes sledding strip is directly applicable to winter ultra events.
The best and kindest people I know have all suffered--be it voluntary or involuntary, physical or mental. I think suffering (voluntary or involuntary) makes people more attune to others' suffering (voluntary and involuntary). (Anecdotally, there are more vegans/vegetarians in this sport than other cross-sections of society.) I often say that, to finish these events, you have to find meaning in the suffering. There's a race (that shall not be named) with the motto, "Needless suffering without a point"--but maybe there is (or always was) a point. Maybe we're all better for it. Maybe the suffering makes us better people; not better than others, but better than our prior selves (or prior notions of self).
27 people started the 2017 v.2 Tuscobia 160 on foot. There were 47 registered, but the forecast turned cold, and a lot of people didn't show up. 6 finished.
Dare I say--it was a bit routine.
I never got too cold, or too far down. I could have run if I needed to--but I didn't need to. I could have stopped and eaten warm food that last possible time at Gateway and warmed up inside, but my kindred companion was too low to leave the trail, fearing never coming back out, so we kept on.
The thing I didn't expect: my deep and still-growing appreciation for these fellow sufferers, gracefully persevering right along with me--for seemingly no reason at all.
Why did we climb it? Because it was there.
But really, Paul Schlagel was in front of me, and not only did he do the Order of the Hrimthurs last year (and is 2/3 through again this year), but he did Moab 240, with ITI 350 as his reason for doing so (I too have ITI 350 in sight, but I doubt I want it more than Paul--the event, and the required time off from work, still scares me--maybe another year). I was in no hurry to try and catch him (not that I could have). And when I caught Dominique LaSalle after he stopped for 2 hours to take care of a biker in trouble at -25F just before the third morning, I wasn't going to leave him. That's my race. Simple as that. Dominique and I got 2nd. (I love that man. He said he's going to volunteer next year, but I don't believe him.)
You first, Paul.
The highlights of the race for me were arguing with Dominique and Logan Polfuss the first morning of this pointless thing--Logan and me screaming back and forth about tyranny, human behavior, and the common good--listening to Dominique belt out "I am the Model of a Modern Major General" at -20F in the middle of the second night, and Logan taking a 3+hour detour on his way home, just to have lunch with us. It all runs together--as if time floats away. We remember the highs and forget the lows, much like in life. We wrestle with our existence, and our reason for being. It changes us, or rather, we're the same people--the world is as it was--we just see it differently.
"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." -- Maya AngelouI think what draws and keeps me is the suffering, and the time devoted to a single task, where everything else in life doesn't matter--it all disappears. I only want to see my people, not because I need them, but maybe just to know they exist--that they're still here--that I'm still here. Because there is no guarantee they will be, or that I'll get there.
I've had this same conversation with Alex, but lying on the back of her sled.
You can't lie to yourself in these events. I know I've said that you should lie to others about how you feel ("When people ask you how you feel, and you actually feel horrible, lie to them. Tell them you feel great."), but I don't think that's actually lying to yourself--it's more just shifting your perspective. We have a normal range of comfort, and these events don't fit in that normal range--which actually means that, in your daily life, what you find uncomfortable probably isn't discomfort, in the grand sense of comfort. It's not that others have it worse, or have suffered more, but that your perspective is incomplete. These are paradigm-shifting events, and we're better for them.
We're better for the suffering--that shift in perspective expands your capacity for compassion, for kindness. Do enough of these, and your ego will be beaten down to the appropriate level of nearly non-existent. The hard, cold truth of the matter is that we're not special--we're not superior athletes, gifted with anything extraordinary--most people could do these things--we just suffered, and kept going. When we fell, we got back up. We've tried things above us, and we have failed. Then, we figured out why we failed, and tried again--and that's beautiful, but it's not unique to this sport.
"When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people." -- Abraham Joshua Heschel
All the best people I know have really suffered.
"What matters most is how well you walk through the fire." -- Charles BukowskiThe better you know it, the more you appreciate the suffering of others. You know that sometimes you can overcome it, but other times it'll be too much, and you'll fall apart. And the harder you hold on, the harder you'll fall.
"Everything I've ever let go of has claw marks on it." -- David Foster Wallace, Infinite JestBecause we didn't fail today, doesn't mean we won't fail tomorrow. There's an amount of arbitrariness in life that we cannot escape. There's only so much we can control. The rest, we give into. We're just along for the ride. Appreciating that, the arbitrariness of it all, is humility. The world needs more of that.
We just get it in 100+ mile chunks.