“Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being — a call that asks who they are …”
– David Blaikie

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Stephen King Does Ultra-endurance...


I recently finished reading another wonderfully written and motivational book called The Long Walk, by Stephen King. I know what you're thinking: Stephen King? Motivational? This was my first Stephen King experience, and it was a fulfilling one.

The initial intrigue I had for this story is this : 100 boys are summoned to partake in a walk starting from the northern border of Maine and going southbound as far as they can walk. They must maintain a speed of 4.0 miles per hour or faster or they are warned by soldiers riding on a half-track. After a boy receives 3 warnings, he is shot dead in his tracks. They are offered food concentrates (like GU gels) and can have unlimited refills of water. Charley-horse cramps, stomach cramps, extreme exhaustion, heat exhaustion, pneumonia, insanity are some of the reasons why numerous boys "buy their ticket" out by being shot dead. Now, you are thinking: Okay, you're sick, Robyn! How is this motivating??

After reading about the first boy getting shot, I honestly didn't think I could get through the rest of the book. But I remembered what Marta had told me when she had recommended this book to me before the Keys 100 mile race: Stephen King really describes the boys' psyche as they push themselves to keep moving forward. So, I kept reading and came across some of these great literary gems (specifically for an ultra long distance runner!):

"They (the Walkers) got that way, Garraty had noticed. Complete withdrawal from everything and everyone around them. Everything but the road. They stared at the road with a kind of horrid fascination, as if it were a tightrope they had to walk over an endless, bottomless chasm" (p. 121).
I vividly remember, during the Keys 100 race, a man (I thought he looked more like a helpless boy) walking like a zombie in front of me, crossing over the bridges in the darkness. At one point, he had two crew-members holding him up. He was completely dazed...nutrition must have been a little "off". It seems as if the brain is usually capable of multi-tasking, but when it is that exhausted or under-nourished, it can only focus on the task at hand...moving forward.

"How deep inside himself is he? Fathoms? Miles? Light-years? How deep and how dark? And the answer came back to him: too deep and too dark to see out. He's hiding down there in the darkness and it's too deep to see out" (p. 209).
My tunnel. My cave. The quintessential "zone-out". Forty-six and two. Ultimate zen. Whatever you want to call that intimate place you have deep inside yourself, the place where pain and the outside world cannot harm you anymore until you are bitch-slapped back into reality. This is my favorite place to "run".

"Thinking, Garraty thought. That's the day's business. Thinking. Thinking and isolation, because it doesn't matter if you pass the time of day with someone or not; in the end, you're alone. He seemed to have put in as many miles in his brain as he had with his feet. The thoughts kept coming and there was no way to deny them. It was enough to make you wonder what Socrates had thought about right after he had tossed off his hemlock cocktail" (p. 134).
Take away all the technology that suffocates us these days and you are left with your thoughts, which can be a good or bad thing. Without distractions, we have focus, but in an extreme endurance event, it seems as though if we can wrap our brains around something other than the task at hand, we may have a better chance of being successful in our endeavors. I rely on my thoughts while running until my thoughts start running me. There is a breaking point or "wall" to be hit with any distance. I find that most beginner runners can't get past that 5K mark at first attempt: I get tired at around 3 miles or I got bored! For marathoners, it is around the 18th-22nd mile when the novelty wears off and the realization, and often panic, sets in. For ultra-runners...true do-or-die type runners who run until they are taken off the course by medics against their will, there are many walls. To some, the hallucinations kick in and the"wall" appears to be a group of galloping gnomes, a snail on a motorcycle, or the dreaded smiling Great White Shark who mocks the bridge crossers! Yes, the latter was definitely a personal experience. Thoughts seem to be infinite. Thinking does pass the time...controlling the thoughts is the key.

"Distance lends perspective, they say" (p. 203).
This phrase speaks volumes to me. One way of looking at it is similar to the over-used, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." In context, the character, McVries, is speaking about his crazy ex-girlfriend and about how angry he was years ago over the demise of his relationship with her. He was able to look to the past and gain a different perspective, and, ultimately, attitude toward her. This is especially applicable to any emotional situation, especially under the magnification of a teenager. One can look back at stressful situations and often laugh. Distance measured in time does indeed lend perspective. The irony is this: Distance, measured in miles, ALSO lends perspective. I can truthfully say the logical side of my brain awakens from it's slumber during a run. The funny thing is that my creativity is also enhanced. The farther I run, the more clarity I gain. Taken to heart, one may be able to solve the world's problems just by...going on a run...

"'It's amazing how the mind operates the body,' (Stebbins) said at last. 'It's amazing how it can take over and dictate to the body. Your average housewife may walk up to sixteen miles a day, from icebox to ironing board to clothesline. She's ready to put her feet up at the end of the day but she's not exhausted. A door-to-door salesman might do twenty. A high school kid in training for football walks twenty-five to twenty-eight.....that's in one day from getting up in the morning to going to bed at night. All of them get tired, but none of them get exhausted'...But suppose you told the housewife: today you must walk sixteen miles before you can have your supper'...Garraty nodded (and replied) 'She'd be exhausted instead of tired.' Stebbins said nothing. Garraty had the perverse feeling that Stebbins was disappointed in him. 'Well, wouldn't she?' (Garraty says). 'Don't you think she'd have her sixteen miles in by noon so she could kick off her shoes and spend the afternoon watching the soaps? I do. Are you tired, Garraty?...Exhausted?...No, you're not getting exhausted yet...'" (p. 237).
This was too good not to include in this post. Exhaustion, by definition, it is extreme physical or mental fatigue. The literal Latin translation is "drain out". I have only been truly exhausted a few times in my life. I am in a constant state of tiredness...but just before I hit the point of exhaustion, I hit my 127th wind that drains that last drop! Have you ever been truly exhausted?

What I discovered about myself...
I immediately identified with the characters on the level of the mind/body connection which was a great discovery for myself. I don't enjoy yoga or anything in the stereotypical "mind/body" genre of exercise or new aged thinking. I actually detest it! But, instead, I found that my mind/body connection is achieved only when it is forced to work together to keep my whole being intact, like a divorced couple who only see each other at their kid's birthday party.

How do you achieve that mind/body connection?









2 comments:

RAYRAY4000 said...

I'm going to have to read this book now. Thanks :)

mean mom productions said...

wow cool review