This week - under intense pressure from the Purple Patch team - I am going to tell you about a race that I did last week.
You won’t be surprised that, I believe, it holds plenty of lessons.
As I recount this story of little me, 46, completing a 50 mile trail running race that included 12500 feet of climbing, I think we should remember my sporting background. If you delve into my professional bio, you will read that I was a professional triathlete. In truth, this should likely read something more like ‘born to be in water, with a large engine that carries him to ride the bike well, but he runs like a donkey dipped in cement’. I am 200 pounds, and not what you would call a natural runner, yet here I was facing a journey that was expected to take at least twelve hours. The event was called the Old Cascadia, and took place near Sisters, Oregon.
The first thing we should cover off on is the why. Why on earth did I do this? In truth, I was volunteered for it by Kelli! The husband of Kelli’s good friend is the sort of man to do these events - he is a designated trail runner. With the world locked down in April, he entered this event with skepticism it could even happen. Kelli thought it was a wonderful idea and swiftly volunteered me. I, in turn, persuaded my good mate Peter (yes, of 'Peter minute' fame) to also compete. Neither Pete or I had done anything like it, both with a greater triathlon and riding pedigree.
This, in all honesty, scared the bejeezus out of me.
It was the first time, for a very long time, that I had very serious doubts that I could actually complete an event.
We knew that training for it was a non-negotiable. That sounds obvious, but I do have a small history of entering events with best aspirations, but then put my own training behind anything else. I complete, undertrained, simply relying on my background and physiological wisdom.
This was different. It felt insurmountable. As we got going on the journey, I began to read more and ask people about the event and ultras in general, and it seemed that my race choice was as suitably idiotic as my decision to do it in the first place. Supposedly we had stumbled into an extremely tough 50 miler, that was known to be unforgiving in its desire to test participants.
Despite these factors we got going, and over the last six months I gradually accumulated mileage. Like everyone, we dealt with adversity of Covid-19, business challenges, smoke from fires and more. We tried to maintain consistency, even doing one of our training runs for four hours on a treadmill. Probably 75% of our training runs were kept as low intensity resilience running, with a soul filling element to it.
Both Pete and I used the training and camaraderie as a supporter of physical and mental resilience, and it became the very armour that would keep us stable and adaptable in life over the last months. There is no surprise there, but it was critical.
As event day drew nearer, things were going well, but we did both rely heavily on the expertise of Andy Blow and Precision Hydration (listen to the latest podcast - about 6 minutes in - that highlights Andy’s critical role). We had all the equipment and gear, fueling for a camping trip, and a low-ego plan to manage the distance and finish. As race day drew nearer, the unbroken sunshine of the last months showed potential to shift, with cold and rain circling around race day. With just 72 hours to go, both Pete and I were scrambling to REI for new thermals, rain jackets, warm headbands and even calf guards.
It is 2020. Why did we think we could be assured of normal clement weather?
We arrived to race morning with the special 'gift' of temperatures into the 40s, 25 to 30 mph winds and driving rain. Our next half a day - literally half a day - was going to be spent running in this sh%t?
As I stood on the start line, I had a feeling that I have seldom ever had before, which was to question if I could really do this. It would represent almost triple the time I have ever run before - in freezing rain to add a little spice.
I will spare you the details and blow by blow, but both Pete and I finished. Perhaps due to our Irish and English descent, we both won the battle of attrition that took the scalp of more than 50% of starters. We exceeded each of our own personal expectations, and both ended up truly running hard in the final five miles. It is truly amazing what the body can do.
But that isn’t really the point of this piece. Neither Pete nor I care who was faster, or how long it took us. It was about the journey and satisfaction of completion. I am sure each of you can relate to this in your own endeavors, but it reminded me of the power of sport. The biggest takeaways from my experience in Old Cascadia was this:
- It created an anchor and framework that enabled us to stay on track in broader life as chaos ensued around us. When chaos comes, double down on structure and challenge, even if it comes in a different form than you imagine.
- The journey of the training is the magic - and sharing that journey with others is the most powerful thing possible.
- When you get the two pieces of the puzzle above, then race day becomes a celebration and challenge in which you are well equipped to navigate whatever is thrown your way. The weather made it grim, but special, and couldn’t come close to knocking us off the mental perch of enjoyment.
- My wife Kelli has a tendency to believe that every idea is a good idea. This was her idea, so maybe she is even more right than I think she is.
As we all RESET, I offer a challenge:
Look ahead, set up 2021, dream big - and take a massive bite of a challenge.
We are living in turbulent times, and therefore we need each other. We will thrive on structure and challenge. It will create purpose and a lightning rod, and help you in broader life no matter what happens.
Just don’t do it alone.
I will finish with a quote from my mate Pete, who reflected on the event. For context, before I reveal the quote, when closing my eyes and trying to envision what the event might be like, I assumed that beyond 35 miles I would just be in incredible pain, and have to draw on my inner gumption to survive. It was just going to be a physical and mental battle, no matter which way I tried to dream it. Following the event, Peter mentioned something along the lines:
I was at mile 39, running through the trees with rain hammering down. It was tough, but I also realized that, at that time, there was nowhere else I would rather have been.
Bizarre, but true. The body is incredible. It rises to the challenge when you challenge it, and your mind follows as long as you love and share the journey. I believe this is central to Purple Patch, and feel lucky I got my own Purple Patch moment.
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