Over the last several months, we've been running a half marathon here (Rugged Red--Steve), a 10K there (Race for Preservation--Nathan), and a 5K way over there somewhere (Run4Refugees--Steve). This one's not exactly a race report, but an update that's been percolating for some time.
Running was my first love. Deep-rooted in my childhood are memories of the freedom I first felt flying across an open field, clean air in my lungs, feet lightly gliding over the grass as the ground raced by. It was so easy then, so smooth and pure. I can recall qualifying for and competing in my state’s youth track championships in grade school: Stepping up to the starting line in my tennis shoes and loose-fitting gym shorts, I looked across at my competition. All of them were members of various track clubs. They were there to compete, wearing singlets and racing in spikes. I was just there for there joy of the competition and happened to have the speed to make the finals. I wasn’t on the same level as these guys, but I didn’t really care that my chances of placing were next to nothing. I was proud to be there and I loved to run. So I ran.
In high school I discovered Cross Country and my love affair grew to encompass the world of distance running. Here again I barely knew what I was doing, still just running young and free. I showed up to the first day of XC practice in a pair of basketball shoes and refused throughout the day to let the upperclassmen who led the pack pull away from me. The coach told me I showed promise but to throw away my shoes and come back tomorrow in running flats. So I did as he requested, and he, in turn, slowly molded me into a disciplined, knowledgeable runner.
I was learning rapidly, but often this newfound knowledge seemed to constrain what I was capable of. My freshman year I would simply lock on to the more experienced runners and run at their pace, and I was successful. With each successive year, however, as I became more of a leader and set the pace on team runs, my running became more cerebral and less spontaneous. I could go out and hit a given pace on a track to the second, but I hit a mental block when it came to pushing myself in competition. I knew what I “should” be able to run based on past performances and wasn’t able to push through that plateau. I no longer enjoyed running like I had used to, but I felt compelled to continue competing. So I kept going, grinding out the same mediocre times race after race, focusing more and more on the minutia of diet, sleep patterns, and stretching, thinking maybe these would solve my problems, all the while staying inside a mental comfort zone while competing that I couldn’t shake.
Then along came Nathan during track season my junior year. As we trained together and formed a friendship, running slowly regained it’s vibrancy. He helped me to push through my block and to run my best time at District’s my senior year, the peak of my competitive running career to date. After high school, I ditched the watch I had become accustomed to running with and stopped worrying about pacing and distances and competition altogether. I would just go out and run, and once again I felt free. I recaptured the joy of that kid in the field: all feet, and lungs, and sky. And I loved it. Through the pressures of architecture school, running became my outlet, my stress relief away from the convoluted world of projects, professors, and design. I would occasionally sign up for races, but I never really trained for them. I would show up and push myself to a point, but mostly I would just enjoy the high energy atmosphere and the great community of runners. There was no discipline to my running routines; sometimes I would go for several months without running so much as 5 miles, other times I would have multi-week streaks of running daily.
When I landed my first job in Columbus and started living with Nathan, my excitement for this sport grew all over again. I had initially coerced him over to XC from soccer, but he was the one who went off the distance running deep end first, and now he began to drag me down with him. He started telling me of his interest in ultrarunning, which to us was this mystical echelon of distance running reserved for the crazies and the legends of the running world - guys like Yiannis Kouros or Marshall Ulrich whose running feats boggled our minds but somehow captured our imaginations. Witnessing Nathan’s discipline training for his first 100 mile race was eye-opening for me. The grace with which he handled the often grueling training schedule showed me something I had previously considered impossible: a way to train hard and compete harder without losing the freedom, joy, or purity that I loved about running. He was able to stay focused on his goals while keeping the individual runs I accompanied him on lighthearted and fun. Pacing his 100-miler was an experience unlike any I’d had previously, and it was a point of clarity and conversion for me. I decided I wanted to join the incredible community of ultrarunners, and that I was finally ready to compete again.
So here I am, committed for the first time in seven years to training hard and pushing my limits. Come the Mohican 50 in June I won’t settle for going out and just running, enjoying the day and the race atmosphere while shying away from my potential. With my best friend by my side, I intend to race the hell out of that 50-miler. To test myself and see what I’m capable of. And in doing so, I hope to discover the elusive balance point between the childish exuberance of running free and the fulfillment that comes from sweat and hard work and that secret inner strength known only to the crazies, the ones who dare: ultrarunners.
|The ferocious hippo, lying in wait...|
Running through Forest Park, Queens late at night, slipping on the snowy trail that had been beaten to ice by my daytime compatriots, I was taken back to those moments six months ago during the Burning River 100. Although I was not as weary and practically somnambulating as I was during that race last summer, the flashback reminded me how important having a training partner was for every race in 2014. In my short running career, I have been very lucky to have positive running reinforcement--I ran with Steve back in high school, had a college roomie in Chicago who was also a runner, and then shared an apartment with Steve after college. You could say the formation of Somnambulant Hippopotami was inevitable, seeing as our Columbus apartment was a runner’s echo chamber.
In November last year, I took a job in Queens, NY. The decision to end or put on hold this echo chamber was not made lightly. A roommate who drags you out of the house and into track repeats on sub-freezing February nights is not the kind of roomie from whom you willingly jump ship, but when your dream job comes up, sometimes you have to trade in those ice cold Columbus runs. Steve and I had been best friends from the time we ran track and cross country in high school, but sharing an apartment in Columbus while we started our non-running careers made us brothers. The events this blog has documented thus far are small windows into that brotherhood. I can’t overstate how our friendship and brotherhood has helped me grow as an individual and a runner.
Unfortunately, now team Somnambulant Hippopotami stretches from NYC to Columbus and onward to Cleveland. The Hippos still rear their fearsome heads in ultimate frisbee tournaments around Ohio, and will return as a running team at the Mohican Trail 50 mile race on June 20th in Loudonville, OH. This will be Steve’s first 50 miler! I’m incredibly excited to run with him during this race. I camped at Mohican as a kid and have heard tell of that great Ohio race ever since I tuned into the ultra world.
These days I’m getting back into running regularly. I intended to take a three month break after last summer’s little race in order to recover thoroughly, but I had a bad case of runner’s block that only allowed me to run a week or so at a time before slipping back into an extended recovery period. Recovery is good, though! I have another race lined up--3 Days at the Fair in Augusta, NJ. I’m not running with the crazies (those running the 24, 48, and 72 hour races have earned that nickname). Instead, I’ll get a taste of timed running by doing the 6 hour race. I’m looking forward to this adventure, but it pales in comparison to the excitement I have for Mohican. It’s a good thing I haven’t experienced any polar vortex days here in NYC, because I know I wouldn’t be able to run through them without Steve.
As I jump into my new job, I’m also diving into a new running world. My new apartment sits atop a decently sized hill, good enough for hill repeats at least. I live within two miles of a public track and have the Catskills looming a couple hours north of me. Just a hop, skip and jump away (although I usually run) from my apartment is the course where Yiannis Kouros broke the 24 hour world record at the 1984 Sri Chinmoy 24 Hour Race. Also just a mile away is the course of the Self Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, where, you guessed it, Yiannis Kouros set the 1,000 mile record at 10 days, 10 hours, 30 minutes and 36 seconds. Apparently Sri Chinmoy told Kouros, “You will do many miracles on earth.” Even if running on ground hallowed by Kouros doesn't inspire me, I only have to remember how Steve got me out of the house to run and cross train, and how he dragged me from failure at Burning River 100 to inspire me as I look forward to and train for the Mohican 50.