Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dreams, Desire and Determination

When we see people accomplish things beyond our own perceptual capabilities, we tend to mention their talent. “What a talented runner”, “If only I had the talent to swim that fast!”Is it really talent that we can give the nod to or something else? I find myself pondering this very thought. I have run a lot of races, I never win or even place in my division. I suppose I would be called a “middle packer” Am I lacking in talent?

Recently I realized that talent is really Dreams, Desire and Determination. We need these three things to accomplish most goals. Though we all have certain attributes that may allow us to progress beyond others in many categories, they are almost useless without a conscious thought to utilize them. The Kenyan’s have features because of their build structure and environment that allow them the opportunity to do very well when running, yet every Kenyan is not a first class runner.

What this shows us is that even if we are blessed with athletic features, we need something else to reach our goals. To start with we have to have the internal vision (dreams), thus creating desire. When desire is combined with determination, we achieve results. Of course an athletically designed body will offer a chance for greater results.

The point here is, nothing is easy or free, we have to work and train to achieve our dreams. The question is: To what sacrifice and level are we willing to go to experience our dreams? Until this year I was one of those people that viewed great feats by others as something they were probably born with…like some special internal mechanism that I wasn’t lucky enough to get when they were handing out bodies. They were so lucky!

This year I decided to train and run an ultra, specifically the 50K (31 miles) at Pineland Farms Trail Challenge (New Gouucester, Maine). Until I actually ran it, I could not imagine in my mind running that far through the woods. Hey the human body is not designed to run that far. I did my research and found out how to train properly. I was lucky enough to cross paths with The Trail Monsters. These crazy trail runners were bubbling with pertinent information and anxious to help me with my endeavor.

The decision was the easy part (the dream), the difficult part was the massive time commitment needed to train for such a long race. I developed a plan and followed it as best as I could considering the training started in the dead of winter. It was so different than anything I have done. I had to stop thinking about speed and start thinking about time management, fueling for the body and understanding my own limitations.

I honestly had two thoughts when I started training, am I crazy and this will probably be my first DNF (did not finish) ever. I shuttered at the thought of quitting or in the case of running ultras, being forced to quit. Forced because of injury, physical or mental breakdown. Unlike shorter distance running, finishing is not guarantied, it is a luxury.

The training is where desire comes into play. It takes a lot of desire, to set aside family functions, work requirements and personal responsibilities to allow enough time to train for this distance. One training run on the weekend takes a whole day, 4 plus hours of running (basically running until you are dead and the muscles just plain give out) and the rest of the day recouping from the training. Sometimes struggling the next day too because I overworked a muscle or did not fuel or hydrate properly.

Unlike short races, you can’t run the total distance in practice to bring on the mental confidence you need to tell you that you CAN finish. Instead you show up on race day hoping you have some special mental toughness or capability to go the distance. I trained for 4.5 hours on my feet, I estimated 6.5 hours to hit the finish line. I had two hours of running that my mind could not wrap itself around. It was something I had never done……never. I didn’t know if I could do it.

Finally after training for months, running on snowmobile trails, climbing the power lines on snow shoes, tromping through piles of mud and water from the snow melt off, The race was only two weeks away. I did not feel ready at all. Suddenly I felt I required at least two more months to train. Surely I was not yet capable of running 31 trail miles, what was I thinking? Why didn’t I train harder or run longer? Why did I sign up for this? I must have been crazy?

The thought actually crossed my mind (more than once) to find some type of excuse not to show up. I couldn’t fathom having to tell people that I couldn’t finish. My running acquaintances all told me I was ready. They had been following my training and were sure I could accomplish an ultra……yeah easy for them to say. This is where the determination starts. I had to trust my training, trust my physical condition, trust my mental toughness. Besides all that training, all the inconveniences, all the times I missed out on things, would be for nothing. I had to at least try.

Well, surely I wouldn’t be writing this if I hadn’t shown up to the starting line and maybe I wouldn’t be writing this if I had not finished (who knows). So, we all know that I finished and that was the determination part of the equation. The last 2 hours were no mans land and I made it through. I knew deep inside that my body was trained for this endeavor, what I didn’t know and wouldn’t admit to everyone is whether my mind could step up to the plate and push me to the finish.

I could give a blow by blow account but the race took me 6 hours 28 minutes and 46 seconds. I would normally have to write a book to cover that. Honestly, I don’t have much to write about because the whole thing went so well. I had very few issues, my battle plan went like clock work and my mind came through in the end. I split my race into 3x 10 mile segments and ran almost even splits. The funny thing was that the minute the cowbell went off and we started running, I knew I was going to finish, there was no doubt what so ever.

I think there is something magical about the open green fields, the smell of pine needles in the woods, the rays of sun light peaking around trees, The calming sounds of forest creatures reminding you that you are not alone, your own essence blending with and becoming part of nature. Ultra running is so different than road racing, it is not a race, but more like an adventure.

Instead of racing people, you interact with them. I had dozens of interesting conversations during my 6 plus hours of running. I met seasoned runners, first time runners, some didn’t get around to talking about their running. We talked about life, and why we were spending the whole day tromping through the woods. We talked about our families, our jobs, our mutual enjoyment with running. No one was there because they hated nature, no one was racing to beat each other to the finish line. We all talked about meeting at the end and enjoying that final step, the last of thousands that echoed the words “I finished”

This course gave me a dose of everything, continuous rolling hills, spacious open green fields, early morning dew, amazing views, blazing sun, cooling rain, babbling brooks, the smell of “camp”, majestic trees, interesting people and a huge smile when I was done. Oh, and if you finish, you get a cowbell……….yeah how great is that? I literally enjoyed the whole race, It was worth all the prep, the effort and the months of training

I have to give a lot of the credit for my success in this race to the Trail Monsters and the Pineland farms Challenge. What a well organized event and run by people who know what trail running is all about. The atmosphere was fantastic, the BBQ and beer was amazing and every little detail was covered. For all my effort I received a much sot after cowbell, a life time memory and the title of Ultra Runner……what more could I ask for?

In the end I realized, that it didn’t take talent to deliver me to the finish line, what it took was the Dream of running, the Desire to train for my dreams and the Determination to follow through to the end. This is a formula that can be applied not only to running but to any endeavor in life. One other thing I gained from this experience is confidence. I now know that if I decide to run a 50 miler, a 100 miler or take on any type of task, I will accomplish my goals.


middle.professor said...

Kevin - what a great reflection. And an awesome picture.

mindy said...

Well said Kevin - what a great description of what keeps us all coming back to the trails. Well done at Pineland!