2008 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  STRENGTH THROUGH STRUGGLE, PART II:
SEASONS OF LIFE

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 25

 
"So often we read about the success of others, and we don't get a glimpse of the darker days.
It is good to know that we aren't alone, and a reminder that  you need the rain to get the rainbow."
-  Jerri, from Canada, who is one of our faithful journal readers
 
 

I have to share this lovely e-letter that completely brightened my day today:

"Hello Sue and Jim!

I always enjoy your journal updates, and have been reading since you started the AT journal.

Your recent entries regarding your disappointment in your race were very honest and well written. I hope that writing provided some therapeutic relief for you, as well as the inspiration it provided to others. The latest update [the October 18 entry] sounds like you have regained your wonderfully positive perspective.

I recently trudged in the door after a moderate length trail run and subjected my patient husband to a rant that included things like, ďIím supposed to enjoy running. That wasnít fun. Iím not sure why anyone would keep running if it always felt like that, unless something with really big teeth was chasing them. My heart rate was dismally low for the perceived effort!...Ē You get the picture. Of course my next run was MUCH better.

So often we read about the success of others, and we donít get a glimpse of the darker days. It is good to know we arenít alone, and a reminder that you need the rain to get the rainbow!

I wish you both the best of luck in your upcoming races! Iíll be waiting eagerly to read all about it!"

We corresponded several times with Jerri regarding the AT trek three years ago but we still haven't met her. I hope we will someday. Her letters have always inspired me. Thanks so much for the encouragement and good wishes, Jerri!


View of grazing horses along the Wolf Creek Greenway from a bridge underpass (10-22-08)

I think Jerri must have ESP as well as a wonderful way with words. I had already written the first part of this pair of entries about "struggles" but hadn't uploaded it to our web site yet until I finished this one. I closed that entry with hopes that this journal will continue to inspire others to get out the door, move, and stay healthy. She must have been reading my mind.

This entry is a continuation of some of the stream-of-consciousness thoughts I've had previously about aging athletes, particularly runners, but have pondered in more depth recently. The horse photos are ones I've taken this week on the trail I use the most now, the soft, undulating Wolf Creek Greenway in Vinton, VA..

AFTER THE PEAK

One of my thoughts about running and aging concerns athletes who do or don't "quit at the top of their game."

In many professional sports it's almost mandatory to retire before embarrassing oneself, getting "fired," or negatively impacting teammates. I've known or heard of only a few runners, however, who completely stop running at their peak -- not from an injury but by making a choice to "quit while they're ahead" and not suffer the indignity or frustration of seeing their times slow as they get older or they have less time and motivation to train. I more often hear of runners who quit racing at their peak but continue to run for health and pleasure. We know quite a few of those folks who stay in the competitive side of the sport via race directing, volunteering, crewing, pacing, coaching, and/or mentoring other runners.

I've mentioned in one of the earlier journals on this web site -- after yet another DNF at the 100-mile distance -- that I'm obviously not wired like that! I just keep trying to do my best at ultra races (which these days often means just finishing), frustrating as it may sometimes be. Jim's the same way. Neither of us is anywhere near ready psychologically to quit competing in this sport, even though the competition now is primarily between us and the clock, not other race participants. Long gone are the days we walked home with age-group trophies every time we raced.

The top of my game would have been in 1986-7 when I got all my road race PRs from the mile to the marathon distance. I was 37-38 years old then. Jim's numbers are similar.

I was already rapidly losing speed (and motivation to do the requisite speed work) when I began running ultra races at age 43. Jim was closer to 50.We both have some ultra PRs to be proud of, but nothing like they'd have been if we'd started running those distances when we were at our peak running condition in our late 30s.


Three horses along the creek and greenway

We both regret we didn't begin running ultras at a younger age -- but we've never regretted our eventual decisions to get into the sport, even though we were older and slower when we finally did. We've both gained so much from our ultra running adventures.

If I'd completely stopped running when I was at the top of my game in 1987, I wouldn't have gotten all the pleasure or health benefits I derive from the activity. I wouldn't have the same sense of identity or self confidence that running has given me, confidence that improved every aspect of my life. I might not have continued to challenge myself physically and mentally in some other way(s).

Heck, I might even have become a couch potato!! (I do have my lazy moments.)

And if I'd continued running for health reasons at the top of my game but stopped challenging myself in races, I still would have missed out on 21 years of fun and camaraderie. I wouldn't have seen all the beautiful places around this country that I've seen since 1987. I wouldn't have made nearly as many new friends from around the world. And I wouldn't have met Jim.

Every time I get bummed out about my race performances or running ability, I need to remember the reasons I'm still "in the arena." This is one of my all-time favorite inspirational quotes:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat." 

~ Theodore Roosevelt
"Citizenship in a Republic," Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

Through running races (and other life activities) I've known both victory and defeat. I've come up short of my own expectations many times, but I'm still making a valiant effort to achieve the most that I can possibly physically achieve at this juncture in my life.

As frustrating as it is to be a running "has been," it's better than being a "never was."

When I can no longer run ultra-distance races, I plan to be out there crewing for Jim and volunteering at races even more than I do now. I'll also be pursuing other physical and mental challenges to stay in the arena until the day I die. Anything less would be a waste of a good life.

SEASONS OF CHANGE

Here is another recurring thought I have, precipitated most recently by our glorious autumn scenery.

The leaves are beginning to change in the Roanoke Valley and will peak in several weeks, about the time we're leaving town. A wide variety of tree and shrub species, combined with nearby elevations ranging from below 1,000 feet to over 4,000 feet, gives us a long progression of color changes from September to December. October is nearly perfect here: crisp, cool, less humid weather and a beautiful kaleidoscope of greens, yellows, oranges, reds, and browns often backlit by a bright blue sky and white clouds:

It's frustrating right now to not be out there running through the woods several hours a day because of my sore hamstring!

As I run and walk outdoors through the changing seasons, I sometimes ponder their metaphor to human life cycles: spring as youth (rebirth, growth, renewal, hope); summer as adulthood (vigorous, robust life at its peak); autumn as middle age (golden age, reaping what you've sown, hoarding for winter); and winter as old age (hibernating, withering, dying).

You notice the downward spiral here, don't you?? I perceive spring and summer as much more optimistic and full of life than autumn or winter!

As much as I sometimes dislike facing it, I'm in the autumn of my life. I'm almost 60 and I haven't fully grasped the concept of middle age, let alone "senior citizenship." I'm a pretty typical Baby Boomer in that regard. I don't think I'm simply in denial; I'm an optimist. I don't feel that old, goodness knows I usually don't act that old, and most people don't think I look that old.

I like this quote from the perpetually-young Shirley MacLaine:

"I think of life itself now as a wonderful play that I've written for myself,
and so my purpose is to have the utmost fun playing my part."

I prefer to think of the seasons as an annual cycle of life, not just the entire human life cycle. I love to live in a place like Virginia with four distinct seasons -- preferably ones with long springs and autumns because they are so colorful and the temperatures are more moderate than summer and winter. 

I feel the changing seasons in my gut almost as strongly as I feel the pull of the ocean tides. I feel very connected to the sun, moon, and earth. I'd rather be outside enjoying the natural surroundings than inside a building, especially in the spring and fall when Mother Nature is at her peak. Trail runners, hikers, mountain bikers, and other outdoor athletes share a common bond in this regard.


Cody stands in contrast to the changing colors of autumn (10-24-08)

Even though autumn is my second favorite season after spring, it is somewhat solemn because I know winter is coming -- whether I'm thinking in terms of annual or life cycles: I don't want to get old and die (life cycle); neither Jim nor I are winter people (annual cycle).

So right now I'm trying to maximize my time outdoors while it's still pleasant. I believe I have many more vibrant springs, summers, autumns, and winters ahead of me. It's just that I'd like to fast-forward through the winter part and get back to spring sooner.

Meanwhile, I'll be a good little squirrel and hide plenty of nuts for winter (translated into running parlance: I've got lots more quality training to do before ATY). And we'll escape the ravages (ha!) of winter in Roanoke by playing the sunbird game in the Southwest USA.

Next entry: Jim's training for MMTR next weekend

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater (in spirit)

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© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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