Earlier this month on April 7, I stood in the predawn chill to begin a 50-mile, all-day race called the American River 50-mile Endurance Run.
This marked my third time entering the race, having finished it in both 2008 and 2009.
Now, at age 55, I wondered whether I could really finish this beast of a run that includes trails and almost 3,500 feet of climbing. Shuffling off into the Sacramento dawn with 850 other runners, I felt at peace as I began the arduous journey toward the finish line in Auburn.
After all, I had nothing to prove. I’ve run many marathons and cycled long distances that have tested my physical and mental resolve.
But here I was again, pushing the limits of my body because I’d made the mistake of suggesting to my friends Bryan Gillette and Steve Sherman that their bucket list should include one day running a 50-mile race—like I had.
What was I thinking? Of course they took up the challenge. Gillette has cycled 300 consecutive miles in 24 hours, and Sherman has competed in two Ironman triathlons. Not to mention these guys are almost a decade younger than I am.
And heaven forbid they sign up for the 50-miler without me. It was my idea, after all.
So, along with my friends and my wife, Pam, who in 2008 also finished the race, I signed up despite my better judgment and a hamstring injury that had been plaguing me for several months.
We began to train in earnest in January. We’re all in good shape anyway, but now we increased our distance, and by March we were running as far as 31 miles on Saturdays.
As we trained, my hamstring improved, but my left knee started to bother me. My wife, unfortunately, had to stop training due to a leg injury as she finished a 27-mile run one weekend. But injuries come with the territory, not unlike challenges in a Hero’s Journey.
Anyway, after beginning the race with my friends, I settled into my own pace and soon found myself alone with my thoughts, doing what I’ve loved since childhood: running.
Yet about 28 miles into the race, as inevitable pain began to take its toll, I started to strategize about gracefully dropping out. This is another given of ultra running, another setback along the Hero’s Journey: the illusion that your negative thoughts are actually you speaking to yourself. In fact, they’re almost never you. Rather, they are hard-wired defense mechanisms designed to return you to safety and the sofa.
The key is to just keep going, and by mile 41, I knew I’d finish. With reports about my friends from my wife at aid stations along the way, I knew we would all finish.
And we did. We finished a run and a day we will never forget.
And now none of us have anything to prove.
Until the next challenge.
Crossing the finish line!
After the finish: Steve Sherman, Bryan Gillette, and Jim Ott
Special thanks to Jan Sherman, Audrey Gillette, Pam Ott and our good friend Jerry Pentin who made the trek with us to provide encouragement and support along the way, and who helped us in our months of training leading up to race day.