There is So Very Little of Man in Where We Go
Bad Marsh 50k
It is always the last quarter mile of a 5k that matters most. The rest of the race is just what got you there. It is in that final quarter mile that we decide who we are going to be. It is the last lap of the race that makes any sense of the whole blessed thing. This is true of all races. It was most true at the Bad Marsh 50k.
We live two lives.
There is the world we are married in, the job world, the home world. And then there is the running world. I have always felt like the running world was the dream. I mean to say, and maybe you won’t agree, but there is something very different and at odds with reality about the space of time we spend running through the woods in the early morning or in the evening. We push with our bodies but we also push our minds, we empty out all measured thought and replace it with the hurried speech that follows hurried breathing, we are drained of oxygen and soon our thoughts start crumbling into moments and then we are left empty and moving.
It is maybe only afterward that we find ourselves doing this, trying to get it down to make sense of it all.
Something has changed for me though. Between all the necessary things I have crammed into my day, I have come to see that world, the job, the restaurants, the driving in a hot car on a hot day, all of that is like a dream now. It just passes between runs through the woods. I think it has always been that way. I was just afraid of what it meant.
There is a dream theory that says our dreams are our minds processing the details of the day. The mish mash, the wild start and stop of details are just our minds putting things together the best way they can. These are the engines behind who we really are, not who we want to be. These engines shift the plates of detail together, smashing continents of meaning against other great masses and these things change the two landscapes, build mountains and gauge rivers.
I don’t want to wax poetic, it’s just I need to explain how I imagine dreams work so as to say, if the world I live in is the dream to the world I run in, than all my thoughts, my efforts are a just reflection of what I saw and did on the trail.
I say all of this to explain how stuck I’ve felt lately, everything around me moving, while I watched it unable to piece together what happened in Beaufort.
I ran a 50k in SC, 7 laps around a 4.5 mile loop in the dark but with less than half way through the race to go, I quit. They offered me a medal. It seems that all you had to do was run one lap and you got a t-shirt and a medal but I waved them off, puked in the bushes and then found a place to think, call some family and sink into overheated slumped and lonely gloom.
The facts: I ate a pork sandwich for lunch that day; I sat out in the heat for 4 hours before the race. I didn’t bring the right gear, the right food, I ran too hard for the first 12 miles. It’s all garbage I tell myself before I pony up to the idea of quitting and then getting real drunk watching everyone else race through the night. Once you realize that you can quit, the chair, the cooler full beer and the shady tree are figuratively and, in this case, literally, just a few steps away.
And if this were all that happened that night, it would be like so many other races, so many other people have had. This would not be a story worth repeating.
It was dark and, like I said, I was drunk – on Gary’s 6th lap – when he rolled in to the start/finish and needed someone to keep him moving for the last lap, that someone being me – the whole night turned around.
Speed walking in the dark while intoxicated is not for the faint of heart. It takes a stout imagination and a fearless gut. Gary was desperate in that way that only a long distance runner can be desperate, completely unaware of how powerfully they’re moving completely convinced that they are on the very precipice of their own demise.
He had the same nausea I had had two hours earlier except his was wrapped in ingenuity. We stumbled and rambled for an hour or so, passed other ramblers straggling in to the finish or the next lap. I was a pilgrim again, as we indecent shambling wrecks stiff-legged it across the finish line. He had saved us both.
We had planned on camping out on the course that night after the race but we both agreed leaving was best done in the dark with the real and imaginary dogs barking us out of the woods. The night drifted on and we finally parked the car beside highway 17, next to a gentlemen’s’ club and tried to sleep.
That last time past the finish, they had offered me the medal, I took it, not to wear but to remember what I had been given. I would need some proof of its ever happening. The next sticky morning I would have to shower off the dirt, greet my wife and talk to people who would not ever make sense of the night before. They were after all, just the confused and muddled gadgets my mind’s storeroom used to make sense of everything that really matters.
It was the best lap of the race. It was the only lap that mattered.