it's a somber mood at 85k of a 100k race. where much earlier in the day approaching other runners would warrant a howl or an excited exchange of encouragement, after some 9 hours on the trail a mere smile or thumbs up before returning to grimaced focus will suffice. The festival atmosphere has given way to something more like a funeral procession or death march. While the sun has beat down tirelessly on our aching bodies all day we have made our constant forward progress in this high dessert shadowed by the snow drizzled peaks of the eastern sierra mountains. We started out before the sun rose on sandy planes of sage brush hoping that some muscle strain or ineffective method of training would not keep us from our goal of running the entire distance. After climbing up near the rocky peaks and back down then up and down again seemingly endlessly, we must pull on every ounce of desire to keep one foot moving in front of the other towards the end. It is phenomenal now how many aches we are willingly ignoring and pushing through for just one more step. It takes great willpower to let the mind focus on movement and not collapse into despair or waste energy laughing hysterically. It was so easy at the beginning to do everything in an ideal manner: breath deep, step light, drink and eat, focus, relax, conserve. But on the final climb and descent of the day when it feels as though you are wading through cement after contracting malaria, it's a struggle to remember to smile and enjoy the aw inspiring scenery all around. In those first kilometers glancing over my shoulder to see the sun rising, immersed in the sound of a hundred footsteps, it is unnatural to stop running and be separated from the unity of the herd which has communally accepted this challenge without hesitation; but then as I glance over my shoulder to see the sun dropping towards the western range hoping for a brief respite behind some clouds the only thing that is unnatural is to keep moving. The only sound I now hear over the ringing fatigue is that ever looming mystery that plagues mankind and urges us to answer ... WHY?
The beautiful thing about this event is that it takes a bit of madness to sign yourself up for such a thing and it takes even more to get yourself through it. To feel pain, real pain, and yet still command the body to act. To have sensations one has never experienced and yet remain true to yourself. To reach the remote undiscovered boundaries of what you think you are capable of and refuse to let doubt creep in. This is what makes such a masochistic effort possibly wonderful. The idea that you are winning as long as you are moving forward no matter how deep and dark the struggle has become has fantastic implications for life. That's why at 85k when you see another runner you still nod, smile, or move your arm slightly so that they know and you know - it's worth it.
I panic. Not intentionally, it just happens. On reflection I think that I am afraid I will forget to do something important. That some item on my list of the lists I'm going to make will be ignored or forgotten altogether! Or that some email, or message, or phone call will go unanswered. Ultimately maybe I'm afraid that stopping is dying, and to continue answering every beckoning task will be the end! After a few minutes in silence the urgency fades and soon I am just looking at a bee which is steadily making it's way around the blossoms. 'Busy as a bee' has come to be an admirable attribute today. In wanted ads they ask for 'ability to multitask' or 'ability to work in a fast paced environment'. We're encouraged to constantly check our multiple technologies, while overworking our short term memory on multiple tasks and projects both personal, and job related. While watching this bee in a calm state however I'm more transfixed by it's focus. Yes it seems to be in a slight hurry, but it is not working on more than one task at a time. Vigorously focused it seems almost relaxed going about it's busy-ness. Soon I realize that having this quiet moment each day allows my brain to be clearer, not constantly distracted or looking for the next productive thing I can accomplish to stay on top of it all. Sometimes, instead of watching tv while I eat (which causes me to gulp down large bites of food and then feel like I didn't eat anything when my stomach tells me I'm stuffed) if I eat in silence I am aware of the food I am consuming. I think about it and it leaves me very satisfied. I think about the taste and enjoy it more. I chew each bite completely. I notice that the sun is setting and I start to feel physically that the day is winding up. Most importantly, after these brief periods of 'stillness' I find that the world is still here and I am still alive. The calmness is priceless, and it doesn't cost anything.