Are You In For The Road Or Only For The Finish?
I was in bed with the flu, lungs full of gunk, wheezing and coughing–when a knock came at my door and my teenaged son entered carrying a cup of tea and a book. “Here, Mama, drink this and read this book. They’ll make you feel better.”
I peered closely at this person to make sure this really was my teenager providing such a kind, unasked for service. It was. I looked at the book: Ultramarathon Man/Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes. National Bestseller was written across the top. And I thought, Hmmm, not really my thing. Of course, I smiled and thanked my son. And then, curious, I opened the book: where I joined Dean running through California’s Napa Valley at midnight, hungry and ordering a huge pizza and a whole cherry cheesecake to be delivered on the highway! And he ate it as he ran! The writing was okay, a little rough, but there was spirit there and I was amused and fascinated–he was on a 150 plus mile run!
Ultramarathoners run 50 and 100 plus miles at their races.
I kept reading. Because Dean tells a good story. Because I had jogged on and off throughout my life; it had helped strengthen my lungs and reduce my asthma and balance me emotionally. Because “This is a marathon!” echoed through my head. Words emailed me by a fellow blogger recently when I fretted over getting my writing career going by starting a website and social media sites. “You can’t do it in a day,” he counseled, “this is a long term goal.” A marathon, I said to myself, horrified. I had been a wimp about running all my life–going only short distances and very slowly.
I remembered those cross-country meets in high school–only 1.5 miles–and how I’d stumble around the course, trailing the other runners, and then at the end still have the energy to sprint in. I still hear the coach’s whisper, “Good race, Laura, but you shouldn’t have that much power left at the end. Next time, try to push earlier.”
I turned back to Dean again. Now he is running through the night on his 30th birthday–his first night of long distance running–when he was a yuppie and spontaneously ran out of a nightclub and covered 30 miles in his underwear (for lack of better clothing options). I cough up green gunk and look inside me–at the runs in my life–the wheezing in cool air, the sluggish feet, my will power dragging behind me until the finish line was well in sight. The past 18 years of short jogs interrupted by having children and moving to various countries and periods of poor health.
I read more. People have asked Dean why he runs. This book attempts to answer that question. Part of the answer: for Dean, just following the American pursuit of making more money and buying more stuff was unfulfilling. He believes that Western culture’s idea of comfort being the objective in life is dead wrong and even makes us unhappy. That challenge and pursuit and the road and the dream and bettering oneself is the objective. And academically and athletically, he has challenged himself again and again. He wants to climb the mountain. He wants to inspire and help others with his example.
Thinking of Dean running his mountains, I saw I had forgotten something along life’s path of head winds and rough grass and rocks, that my running patterns showed that I’d never really understood something:
Life is the road, not the finish. Life is the premier ultramarathon.
I could either stay in bed in a pitiful state, and wait for the sprint to the finish line. Or I could stand up and run.
I’m standing. I’m running.
Thanks, son, for the tea and the book. They made me feel a lot better. And a big thanks to Dean Karnazes.
p.s. Further encouragement: I looked up Dean’s first ultramarathon–the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run–and found a link to the list of competitors in June 2015. There were a lot of men and a number of women who finished within the 30 hour time limit. And the last on the list, number 254, was a woman, Gunhild Swanson. How old was she? 70!