The Robins

Outside my window is a bush. The bush only recently received its summer coat of leaves. Today I noticed that two robins are building a nest. The nest is hidden inside the bush. I can see the robins with bits of material in their beaks climbing into the bush from the bottom. I can see the bush rustle a bit as the bird climbs into its nesting location. Then I see the bird come out the top, minus the nesting material.

The universe can be contemplated in the silence of my room. I can see the bush go through its seasons of life and death as spring leaves turn brown and fall off in the fall. Then the bush sits in our frigid winter, waiting for spring. I can see clouds cross the sky. I can see the sun come up and go down. I can see other humans walking their dogs.

I take myself on a contemplative journey without leaving my table. I have become as nothing and nobody to the world. Yet the universe knows I am there thinking and observing. I accept that I have spent my life seeking my higher self. I get glimpses of this Self, sort of. The knowledge of my higher self is like the knowledge of the robins in the bush. I can see the bush shake, but I cannot see the bird. Hidden in the bush, new life will spring forth. Is this knowledge enough? It must be. Further knowledge is beyond my senses. Further knowledge can be known with my non-physical senses. Humans have this strange intuitive sense of knowing. Humans have this strange experience of the world through the lens of consciousness. Contemplate. Let go of everything else.

I accept that I am off grid from the world of achievement.

The Pain Cave – The Day After

I ran an ultramarathon yesterday, but only 31 miles.

The day began auspiciously as I woke up one minute before the alarm at 3:45. Sometimes, I don’t sleep or can’t make myself get out of bed. But this time, I bounded out of bed eagerly. The weather is another reason I sometimes can’t make myself go to a race. But the weather for this race was near perfect: sunny but coolish. It was windy but the temps were warm enough that the wind could be tolerated. It was cold enough that I could wear my lightweight cargo pants. A big advantage since I could put the nutrition in the pants pockets and keep my phone in the front of the hydration vest. The race was only an hour’s drive, south of Kansas City.

Before the start
National Anthem

The course was a rails-to-trails trail, pretty much totally flat. You can see from the trees that spring is only starting to spring in Kansas.

Ultramarathons and marathons are two different animals to me. I might train for and race a marathon. I did that last October, finishing 26 miles in about 5:22. An ultramarathon? I just try to survive. Sometimes I don’t survive, quitting instead. But this race was an out and back course. That means that the outbound 15.5 miles were easy. Then the way back must be completed, survived, because that is where the car is. My overall time was 7:32, but that includes five stops at aid stations and three bathroom stops. Moving time was 7:18. I was traveling faster than it appears overall. Pretty happy with that.

I got interested in ultramarathons after leaving the monastery in 2003 because people were writing about the transcendence aspect of ultramarathons. Going into the pain cave and exploring the mental state. I don’t think I have ever accomplished a transcendent mental state during an ultramarathon. Sometimes I cry when I see the finish line, however. I have been amazed at myself. I wonder how I did that. As a 63-year-old, I continue to wonder how I do endurance races.

I didn’t necessarily train for this race. I trained to make it to the turnaround very easily. I knew that the way back would be a struggle. Since I have been working at a grocery store, on my feet for 20 hours a week, I thought that I didn’t have to train that much for an ultramarathon. That assumption proved to be wrong as it leaves your feet in the wrong condition, not ready for the pounding. I jogged the first 12 miles and jog/walked the last 19 in a 3×2 pattern. I kept the pattern going to the end, but the jogging part got slower and slower. Slower because my legs were tired and my feet were a bit in pain.

Around 23 miles, I wished that the race had only been a marathon. My feet began to hurt. My stomach didn’t like the Heed drink that I got at the aid stations. It was becoming warmer. I was wishing I had trained more. I told myself, “just keep going.” “Even though it hurts,” was implied but I tried not to think about that part.

Real ultramarathoners keep going even if it hurts. Just because their Youtube video shows them having a great time and running fast, I know from other sources that their feet hurt too. They keep running despite the pain. I sort of fail at the pain part. 31 miles only brings one to the entrance of the pain cave. In a longer race, I might have cut out the jogging and only walked. During this race, I knew where the end was so I kept going. In 2017, I did a 50-mile out-and-back race. I was able to persevere with that because I had to get back. In a timed/lapped race where there is only a timed end, I often quit. I run out of jogging and start walking. Then I begin to wonder why I am continuing to walk. What am I accomplishing by walking around a course, destroying my feet? Soon after that, I quit. To me, pain means physical distress that could turn into physical debilitation. For real ultrarunners, pain doesn’t mean a real problem. And, I always want to be able to train again within a short period of recovery. Real ultramarathoners accept that they won’t be running again for a few weeks.

At the end of the race yesterday, I think I decided that I don’t need the pain cave anymore in this life. Marathons are long enough for me. I may try 50k again. We’ll see. I realize that 50 miles would be too much for me. I’m glad I did this race because I would never be able to make myself do a training run of more than 22 or 23 miles. Now I know what it feels like to do 31 miles. I know what I am capable of. That said, I have no idea how I will accomplish my next endurance feat. Feet literally. Based on how my feet feel today, how will I do 3 marathons in 3 days next month? Three marathons in three days, in three states, is a different type of mental challenge. It includes a lot more driving. It includes better nutrition for three days. It includes getting out of bed three days in a row. I’ve done this before, but I don’t know how I will do it now. Many people older than me do multi-day marathons. I’ve seen them first hand. I want to do it too.

Just after finishing

I taped my toes for this race. Neither toe has blisters today. I taped my knees. Both knees are fine. My hip doesn’t hurt at all. I will go for a walk today to loosen up my feet. I don’t think they are injured, just a little strained. It is a mystery why working at a grocery store can injure a hip while running 31 miles does not. Starting this week, I have cut my hours at the grocery store and shifted departments to reduce the amount of kneeling and squatting I was doing. Hopefully, I won’t re-injure the hip. I just read my own race report from the 4 marathons in 4 days that I did in 2016 (linked above). Wow! I had some lofty thoughts and wonderful meditations on why people would do something like that. Next month, I have the opportunity to rejoin the family of marathoners.