I have written before about how much of a mental test ultrarunning is. The more word has gotten out about my soon-approaching first attempt at 100-miler, the more people focus on the physical aspect. I guess not surprisingly, people unfamiliar with the ultra-territory will tend to drift to thoughts of the distance and how much physical strength it entails. However, the most important aspect that will allow you to push your body to places you did not think it could go is mental fortitude. How long can you tell yourself to keep going when every nerve ending in you is screaming STOP? That is what it all comes down to really. Ultras teach you how to live, how to continue when all else around you is crumbling, even yourself. A common theory in psychology is to be known takes community. While I agree with that, I also will say to know what you are personally capable of takes individual rise through struggle. What are you made of?
What helps propel an individual passed boundaries once thought to be unapproachable? The answer should not be surprising: community. I find it every time I venture the trails. Sometimes through my fellow trail runners, others through passersby. Last year, when I went on a double summit of Mt. Si, I was assaulted with encouragement. I recently went back to get some elevation training and the encouragement flowed. I will selfishly admit I expected and maybe even craved it this go round. It had been a long time training in Vancouver without knowing where I stood against my old monsters. I was in a rundown mental state in thinking ahead towards Cascade Crest. One hundred miles is a distance that I do not think my mind has fully grasped just yet and because of that the lack of community/encouragement was giving me massive amounts of self-doubt.
I have never felt so loved by strangers as I have on Mt. Si. I completed my fastest double summit yet (in just over 3.5 hours). My legs have never felt stronger and I was able to run the whole time, no walking. I was cheered on by a crew of about 10 kids, attacked by ‘cougars’ after someone announced to the top of the mountain that I was on my second summit while running (nice confidence boost), given looks which were mixed of awe/disbelief/disgust, had my picture taken as I passed a crew of hikers my age, and heard the following phrases: “most impressive thing I’ve ever seen,” “oh, Jesus, he’s a machine,” “I’ve never seen anyone smile so much while doing something so crazy,” “You are crazy, are you going for a third?” (to which I replied, “No, THAT would be crazy”), “that right there is an all-American badass” (my personal favorite; I did not have the heart or breath to tell him I lived in Canada now).
I think I am pretty loaded up on encouragement for the year. These strangers will help in part to give me the mental edge at Cascade Crest. My best bud just bought a plane ticket to come in from Hawaii to crew me, and I will be paced by my other best friend and training partner. Race day approaches and I am stocking up on ammunition for the demons and doubt.