The Path of Long Distance – An essay on running streaks.
I always thought running streaks were stupid. But now that I’m involved with one, I don’t know how to stop voluntarily.
A strange thing happened to me. It began with a seeming failure, or at least an experience of how my brain works, of consciousness at its worst. Last Saturday, I was supposed to go in a 50k (31 mile) race. I was well trained and ready. But in the middle of Friday night, at 1:30 am, I was awakened by a thunderstorm with severe high wind. It was scary. I lay awake thinking about my alarm going off at 3:30 am. After the alarm went off, I sat in bed and looked at various radars and weather forecasts. I noticed that I would have to drive through a line of red-colored thunderstorms to get to the race. That didn’t seem like a great idea to me. I’d probably get a little wet at the start of the race. More thunderstorms were forecast for the afternoon, about when I might still be ten miles from my car, with the wind turning north so I’d get cold besides wet.
My brain could not come up with any reason why I should go to the race. And, well, I ended up back in bed.
Later in the morning, after the storms had pulled out of Kansas City, I went for a 13 mile run.
That weekend, I had signed up for the “Great Virtual Race Along the Trace” (GVRAT). It is a virtual race of 1000k (about 634 miles). If you finish in 50 days, you get some extra swag. I love swag. I run for bright shiny objects like belt buckles and medals. So, if you average 13 miles a day, you can finish in 50 days. Thus began my running steak of 13 miles a day. Can I do 13 miles every day? Good question. I decided to experiment with it, though the race doesn’t begin until May 1.
Day 7 – Nothing seems too wrong with my body other than I need to watch my nutrition and I’m more tired in the afternoons. But my mind is extended out over a long horizon. What if? What if I do 13 miles a day for many many days? I watched a YouTube video about a guy running across the USA, at 50 miles a day, to raise money for cancer. His life had become nothing more than get up, do the running, get up, do the running, get up, do the running. A very elemental life. I actually like that idea of a life. That idea is actually what I longed for when I had a career sitting behind a computer, in a chemical plant. And now? I have given myself permission to have that life. To run more than is reasonable every day and not feel like I am wasting my life.
Living this way feels like expansion because I am involved with an endless progression of miles, as well as a very now focused activity because I need to decide to take a sip of Gatorade now, or do another loop now. It is mental expansion because you are going to do something hard every day for an endless number of days. No days off. It is an insane thing because it is purposeless, or anti-productive. Like why are you doing this again? Can’t you find anything useful to do with your time? No. My job is to participate in this endless and timeless coverage of miles.
Day 8 went okay. The shoes didn’t feel that great. 13 miles is a good challenge. It’s not too easy and not too hard. 13 miles requires planning since it takes me nearly 3 hours to complete. It won’t generate blisters. The logistics of hydration aren’t too complicated.
The streak has taken over my life.
Day 9 – Wow! I felt good today. The Novablasts felt good. I ran at Shoal Creek. Remembering when I tried to kill myself by running, while I was in the monastery.
Day 10 – This morning, I had a certain ambivalence. I didn’t know if I wanted to keep the streak going. GVRAT begins in a few days. I know that when it starts I’ll be obsessed with getting as many miles a day as possible; and shouldn’t I rest up for a couple of days before I begin that? Or what to do about the races I’ve already signed up for. In the middle of May, there is Mainly Marathons 4 marathons in 4 days. I can’t do a full marathon without resting up before and after. I know the full marathons will generate blisters that will need healing.
The streak however is something positive in my life. It is something I can be successful at. It builds towards my 80th year of life (in 16 years) when I plan to do an ultramarathon. The streak is like sobriety, or being alive. As of today, I’ve been alive for 23,487 days and sober for 13,773 days.
The streak is something I don’t need anyone else for. Something I don’t need anyone’s approval for. No one has power over me. I don’t have to game a system to get ahead. I don’t have to hate anyone while I’m doing miles. I can un-choose hate as my primary emotion. The streak is a way to let go of care and worry, to be a cork floating free. The streak is part of a good death because it is a way for me to live well. The streak is not escaping life but trying to live it. It is a way to embrace Life Itself.
My Inner Being sees far beyond this world, this day, and the three or so decades I have left to live. A streak is one way of gazing into eternity with my Inner Being.
Day 10 complete. Another half marathon in the books. I saw this plaque on a park bench for the first time today.