I am responsible for all the life that ever has and ever will live upon earth but today I’ll take some time off just to screw up your race. It’s easy to take everything personally when you are tired and exhausted, even the motives of the sun.
Today though the Sun was not trying to destroy, it was trying to mock. For the first time we got some decent cloud cover. The Sun was saying “look, I’m making it easy for you and you still suck!”
I did, I really did. It had been another long slow night. My feet were burning, my thighs were bleeding and my eyes sore from rubbing. The usual ultra marathon trifles. These are much easier to handle when you have a sense of purpose with the race. Things start to unravel when this purpose is lost and the suffering becomes pointless. When you just want to be somewhere else.
Often the very things that drive us in these events become the things that hold us back. “I want to race well and get a good time” becomes “I should drop out and save myself so I can race well later and get a good time”. “I want to earn the respect of my peers” becomes “They won’t respect the kind of finish I will do so the brave thing is to pull out”. I’ve heard some people turn “I want my kids to see this and be proud” turn into “my kids would be embarrassed about the state I am in now. Perhaps I should just go home”.
I don’t have kids though, never had that problem.
We staggered into a small town called Pearson, I find it hard to distinguish between some towns and groups of houses at the side of a road. The roadbook said there was a cafe coming up, Jeremy and I were going to stop there and eat as much as we could.
Jeremy was suffering physically too, his itb and knee were hurting so that he has to stop and stretch every 10 minutes. From what I could gather he probably had worse physical damage than me but was not suffering from any of the “purpose” issues. If one of us were going to call the meat wagon from that cafe you’d bet your life it wouldn’t be him.
What the hell am I doing here?
Everything was a chore, stepping up a kerb or watching out for a car passing, a fly or branch in the road. I was having an extended stay in that odd place ultra running takes you. The place where you genuinely believe that no one on earth has suffered like you have. It is a dark and deluded place, when you stop to think about just how deluded and self centred it is you just feel much worse.
I don’t belong here.
I would like to think I am usually friendly to people but on entering the cafe all I could think of was “I hope the waitress doesn’t ask me any questions, I just want a fucking breakfast”.
The cafe was nice, it was a Monday morning, I think it was Monday morning. There were a few families and a group of bikers making a start to their day over breakfast, it all seemed so perfect.
We had a few looks, or it might have been smells. Both of us reeked of sulphur and ammonia. I guess that’s what happens when you run 260 miles in the same clothes in saturating humidity. And when you only discover after 250 miles that you should rinse the salt off your clothes as much as you can otherwise it eats into your skin. The salt had well and truly pac-manned into my groin.
I’ve done some tough races like this before, I know the drill. You start off in great spirits as yourself, racking up the miles. You hit a series of walls that at some point will force you to change your approach, your goals, your outlook. You might have to deal with this in a novel way, thinking on your feet in times of stress.
If you finish you can derive satisfaction from the trinket and the notch of “another ultra marathon finish”, but the most valuable part is knowing that you had to become something different in order to get to the end, that somehow you became an improved human and you can take that improvement forward in your life. Ultra marathons change you, but the changes usually happen near the end.
But what if that change happens before the race even starts? What if you have to approach the entire race as the “new” you? That’s what happened to me here, at first quite empowering, now it was just disorientating.
I felt the need to justify to Jeremy why I was so miserable, aside from the 250 miles I had just run.
Sat down at our table waiting for our food I waited for a buzz to be provided by the other patrons so not to draw attention to what I was about to say. I then said to Jeremy “The day before this race started my wife told me she was pregnant” and then barely audible through a shrieking sob I added; “and now I really don’t want to be here anymore”.
So much for not drawing attention to ourselves.
Jeremy was very good about it, congratulating me and reminding me that what I was doing was pretty epic and draining. He said the Vol State is “like we all just dive into hell and then it’s a race to get out”. I thought this description was perfect and Laz himself thought it was good too.
Just over 5 days ago 75 of us plunged ourselves into hell, a few have escaped already, Jeremy and I are almost there, many have a long time left.
The hell thing struck a chord though as I looked up at the long straight road ahead. The highway out of hell. I hoped that this time tomorrow I’d be out of it. I had been cursing myself for making such a meal of this race but hearing Jeremy’s comments made me realise that running 314 miles in this way is not a predictable sequence of linear steps, it is a journey in every sense of the word.
But right now I wanted to be somewhere else. I had not seen Gemma since she told me that in less than a year’s time we’d be a family. She'd told me 6 days ago from 10000 miles away and since then I've done nothing but shred my body along a road wishing I there. It seemed like the wrong time to be in hell. News like that changes a man in an instant. I wanted to be with my wife and my unborn twins more than anything. All that stood between me and them now were another 50 miles of this horrible road;
and trying to figure out who this new guy was.