The Tree

Yesterday I was running in a park near me. The park is alongside the Missouri River and is an idyllic place. I’m sure that the park has been there for more than a century. I myself have been running there for over 35 years. Some years it floods, but it always returns.

Yesterday, I was noticing how some of the trees grew at an angle in order to get more light and get away from their neighbor. Makes sense. Then I noticed a particular tree that had grown radically sideways and then up. At the base of the tree, there were three trunks, from one tree. Two of the trunks had grown basically up. The third one, went up a few feet, then went sideways for several feet, then the leafy branches were spread out in an open area.

The tree seemed like an analogy of my emotional growth. As a young person, I grew away from my dysfunctional and painful upbringing. I now live in the sunlight, but I still own the sideways part of my being. My roots and the first part of my trunk seem like the noble spirit that I was born as. The sideways part is the twisted emotions. The sideways part is not a problem. I can receive nourishment from my noble spirit, my original being, through the twisted part. And so, I live in the sunlight, receiving spiritual support even though there is a history of emotional problems. I am healthy and soaking up the sunlight directly.

That’s amazing.

You know, psychologists go on and on about how humans are social creatures. but in reality, we each need to grow apart in order to find our own sunlight.

Mental Training

I have epic plans for running events in my 63d year of life. I had to decide between two events that occur in March because their prices go up at the end of December. So I went for a long run yesterday while I wrestled in my head with the decision.

I picked a short course and I had in mind doing miles for over 4 hours. I would need to run numerous laps of the 2.37 mile course. A very important thing happened as I approached the end of lap 7 at 16.6 miles. I wasn’t yet at 4 hours, and 16.6 miles really isn’t that long. It was terribly windy and I was already feeling the sore feet that come with long distance running. I knew that I shouldn’t quit. Nothing was stopping me from quitting. I came upon the idea of just getting past the car and doing a short lap to get above 17 miles.

I started lap 8. after I got over the hilly part and past the turn-off for the shortcut, I found that continuing became easy and desirable. And so, I completed a full lap 8 and got 19.1 miles. This was the crucial thing: get past the stopping point somehow. And this activity is purely a mental phenomenon. I exercised a mental muscle to get that last lap started.

This mental muscle is the whole ball game for ultra training and racing. Doing something epic doesn’t mean anything more than being able to utilize that mental muscle. For me, training runs of greater than 17 miles will take me into mental muscle territory. I think doing laps for those runs also builds the muscle because you go by the car every 30-40 minutes and quitting is an option. Overcoming “quitting” is the ball game. In every marathon race that I’ve ever done ( over 100), I’ve felt the temptation to quit or to cheat by shortcutting the course. Something mental goes on to honestly finish the race.

Today is the first time that I have clearly identified the experience of using this mental muscle. In the past, I rationalized quitting 12 or 24-hour races because I was in pain or energy depleted, but really, not totally done for. In the future, I’ll have to question the mental muscle to determine if it really is time to quit. Humans can do much more than seems humanly possible if they have their mental game together. I’ve been fooling with ultra-marathons for a long time, but never so clearly as yesterday understood what it is that I’m trying to do. I just wondered how it was that others kept going while I quit. I blamed my lack of a crew. The real issue was the mental game.

I play with the mental muscle every day when I make myself go lift weights for 20 minutes, or go to work. Going running doesn’t require the muscle because I want to do it. Going long requires the muscle. Fascinating!

So, this morning, I reviewed my training in January – March of 2021 and realized that I could do it again. Then reserved a not too expensive hotel room. Then clicked submit on a 24-hour race where my goal is to complete 50 miles within the time frame. I am signed up for an event in May 2022 which will be my big challenge of the year: 5 marathons in 5 states in 5 days. In 2021 I did 2 marathons in 2 days. In 2017 I did 4 marathons in 4 days. Now, several years later, I plan to do more. The races I use to do multi-day marathons are short course, many lap races, and filled with people my age or older. In that group, I am not a phenom. Among the general public, my racing antics are amazing. For my own self, I plan to play the mental game.