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100 Miles



Michael McKinney

6 minute read

 
 

If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.

~Fred DeVito~

 

“So, I think I’m going to do it again.” 

I was talking to my sister who wanted to know more about the 100 mile trail run I participated in not quite two weeks ago. I told her that during those last hours of my first and only 100 mile trail run, I promised myself I would NEVER do this again.  

Running is a buzz, but after nearly 24 hours, I was tired and hungry, my feet ached and my endurance had been severely tested.  I was ready for the experience to be over. I wasn’t going to quit–that wasn’t an option, but once I finished that was going to be the end of it. No more 100 miles for me. 

And I’ve already changed my mind. What gives?

 

Why does anyone run 100 miles?

 

First I’ll try to answer the question–why does anyone run 100 miles to begin with? Lots of people have asked me this, and there’s been many a time I asked myself. I had lots of time to consider this question during my run, and I came up with a couple of good reasons to take on this sort of endurance project. I have to admit, though, I didn’t know these things before I tried. I can only come up with these reasons because I’ve experienced first-hand how it has benefited and changed me.

First of all, you learn a little bit about what is necessary for real growth. And that’s discipline. You can’t accomplish anything without putting in the time, the learning, and the training. Leading up to a 100-miler requires you to log a lot of miles on roads and trails. It requires strength training. For me, this means early mornings and long hours on Saturdays.

As you increase your distance, you have to ramp up the hours you spend training months before the race day. There were so many mornings I didn’t want to roll out of the bed at 4:00AM. So many cold Saturdays when the thought of being on the trail for 4 hours in 20 degree weather was less than appealing. But discipline demands you do it. There simply are no excuses if you want to run 100 miles.

Rain, snow, heat, cold (kind of like a mail carrier), you get up every day because if you don’t, you exponentially reduce your chances of succeeding. Discipline can be freeing though, kind of like ritual. If you do something often enough, if you push through often enough, you are freed from the option of not doing it. The great choreographer, Twyla Tharp, in her book The Creative Habit, contends that, “over time, as the daily routines become second nature, discipline morphs into habit.” 

This sort of discipline ensures that when you hit that trail, knowing you have more than 24 hours of running ahead of you, you feel ready. Sure, failure can and does occur, but it won’t be because you didn’t put in the solid work.

So what else?  There’s the buzz of finishing. Seriously, when you cross that finish line, you experience a feeling of joy that I cannot articulate. It’s powerful enough to make you do it all over again.  But there’s also the joy of getting to know something really well. 

You know what I’m talking about. Running ultramarathons is now in my domain of expertise. I know how to train. I know what gear I need. I know a lot about nutrition and hydration. And this knowledge has gained me entry into a group of folks I wouldn’t ordinarily know. These other runners become your comrades on a journey no one else understands. 

 

Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage. ~Brené Brown

 

Finally I want to give a nod to vulnerability. When you run you are vulnerable. You’re vulnerable to the cold, to the road, to the trail, to the dark, to the heat, to hunger. You’re ready, but vulnerability keeps you humble enough to know you need help.

What does that vulnerability look like? Well, the truth is I couldn’t have accomplished a 100 mile trail run without help. Knowing you need and must have help is a form of vulnerability.

I need my family–that’s a given. When you love people you are automatically vulnerable, but the truth is without my family’s support, there’s no way I could run 100 miles. My wife, Brandy, is always supportive of the time it takes, the Saturday mornings I spend on the trail, the days after work, and the early mornings when I wake her up getting out of bed. 

But it doesn’t stop there–runners need the folks who create the races–the organizers and the volunteers who mark the trails, who put up and man aid stations, who clap and encourage you along the way. These folks are on the trail for long hours day and night, and they tend to the tired, hungry runners with kind words and encouragement.

By the same token, running with other folks cultivates vulnerability. There’s no time to protect your hard shell when you’re sharing the trail with someone else sweating it out to run 100 miles. You find yourself talking about everything from supplies to your kids schooling. You make friendships and swap stories. These relationships created during times of mutual need are based on mutual acknowledgement of vulnerability.

And I can’t forget my crew–my wife Brandy and our friend Kate. They were always there at the aid stations to fill water bottles, to load me up with nutrition, and to cheer me on. Each time I departed (after a kiss from my wife who like a trooper never once recoiled from my dirty, ripe scent) I was invigorated by their support. And Kate–she was my pacer too. She joined me for those last 20 miles–and that helped me meet my time goal, stay hydrated, and keep my spirits up.

 

Why did I run 100 miles?

 

So why do I do it? All of the above. But also because running an ultramarathon provides me with an opportunity to try something new, to tackle the unknown. Each race, hell, each trail is different. I cannot prepare for everything, you just have to be prepared for anything. But here’s what I do know. I’ll  be tired. I’ll be in pain. I’ll  want to quit. But that discipline I cultivated will serve me well during those last few hours when I push yourself towards that finish line and that 100 mile belt buckle (yes, the belt buckle is a thing for finishing 100 mile trail races).

 

“Every pain is easy to disregard; for that which is intense is of brief duration, and those bodily pains that last long are mild.” ~Epicurus

 

The day of my race, my reading from The Daily Stoic, was titled, Dealing with Pain. The gist of Epicurus’ contention is that nothing is unending, that sometimes we just have to be strong enough and gracious enough to get through it. Running 100 miles is painful, so I leaned on that thought. It helped me formulate an idea that sticks with me–the pain of the run would diminish over time, but the pain of not finishing would be with me forever. It was all I needed to keep going.

It became that simple in my mind. Stopping was not an option. There were so many times during that run when I wondered, “How am I going to get through this?” So many times I thought, “I will never put myself through this again.”

But a couple of weeks removed it’s still there, “stopping is not an option.” Like I admitted to my sister the other day, I think there might be another 100 miler in my future.

At one point during the night, I went for two hours without seeing another runner or headlamp in the distance. The solitude was strangely comforting. My world had narrowed to the sphere of light my headlamp put off as I ran. How rare it is for us to be alone these days. How rare to be simply alone in our own heads–no cell phone, no screens, no TV, no Sirius radio. It made me realize how much I crave it.

I want to remember that feeling.

 

If you’re interested in running, and would like to learn more about ultra marathoning or trail running, please reach out. I’d love to talk.  

 

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