“It’s just a run.” – Andrew Miller
A couple of months ago I was with my buddy Andrew during the final days leading up to perhaps one of the biggest and notorious ultra running races in the world, The Western States 100 Endurance Run. He was in the midst of his final preparations, carving up his running shoes, when Betsy asked him if he was nervous and excited for the race. He calmly said to Betsy, “it’s just a run.” Given the circumstances and hype surrounding this race I was blown away at how calm he was.
Over the past couple of years I’ve had the chance to get to know Andrew. In many ways he is a friend that helps me to keep the perspective in place for why I run. He is wise beyond his years and has become a valuable piece to my accountability team.
In 2002, the summer after I graduated St. Lawrence University, I was supremely out of shape. As a graduation present my father gave me a road bike to help aid in my re-discovery of fitness. That summer, while living in Bend, OR, I road for countless hours in an attempt to re-engage with my passions for being active outdoors. My goal that summer was to ride my first century, 100 miles, from Bend up to Mt. Hood, on Route 97. My buddy Ben was crazy enough to embark on this journey with me. Somehow, later that August, we completed the 100 mile trek, which became a complete death march. That experience was the first time in several years where I felt accomplished. Ultimately that ride set the tone for many years to come as I had successfully re-engaged with endurance sports.
100 miles is a long fucking way. Hell, driving for 100 miles is a task in and of itself. Riding 100 miles on a road bike is even harder. I’ve ridden dozens of 100 mile rides in the last 15 years, and each time it becomes a humbling and fantastic adventure. But running for 100 miles, over mountain ranges in the middle of nowhere, are you fucking kidding me? That is insanity.
Next month, on September 10th, I’m going to once again attempt my first 100 mile trail running race at Pine to Palm 100, in Ashland, OR. I’ve trained countless hours over the last 9 months to ensure that I am physically ready for the task. Even more importantly I have adopted several mental practices that I hope to employ on race day, which I hope will help me overcome the tough parts of the course as well as help me keep the perspective as to why I do what I do. I’ve never been more ready, in both regards, to tackle a feat that is far beyond normal to the casual onlooker.
Normally, my default setting, is to get super hyped up for an event like this. I’m apt to comb the registration list and dwell on all of the other competitors that will toe the line, asking myself if I’m faster or slower than everyone else. As a good friend reminded me the other day, I cannot control what happens to others racers, I should just focus on myself.
I’m also susceptible, partly due to my ego, to set unrealistic expectations for what the outcome might be. Could I pull a top ten? Could I drop a sub 20:00 hour 100? Could I this, could I that? The truth is, the furthest I’ve ever run is 64 miles. I have no idea what will happen from miles 65 to 100. Zero idea. I’m heading into the realm of the unknown and I’m excited and nervous as hell to find out what will happen.
For me, I find the most joy in going out for long runs. I’ve done several efforts in the past 9 months,over 30 miles, topping out at 64. Left to my own devices, without the guidance of a coach, I would have probably done too many of these efforts. Each time I complete a run like that I feel at peace, mindful, and accomplished. The allure to these type of efforts for me is the ability to explore the unknown. The more I push a training distance the more satisfaction I get in return, not with the distance, but with the exploration into an area where I’ve never been. These efforts have been my cornerstone, not just for training, but for my recovery process as it relates to life change and the struggles I have with alcoholism and addiction.
Last year was a different story. While having my first 100 miler on the horizon (I was training for the same race, Pine to Palm 100, but suffered an injury in the weeks leading up to the race) I sank every bit of my soul into preparation. I had resigned from my corporate job in June 2015 to focus on training and building my new business, Novo Veritas. With the new-found freedom, away from corporate life, I trained like a mad man, running hundreds of miles without the guidance of a coach. At one point in the training cycle, without any true knowledge of what it takes to race for 100 miles, I told myself I was going to win my first 100 mile race. I actually believed that. My ego told me that I could be like guys such as Geoff Roes, Anton Krupicka, and others, who won their first attempt at the 100 mile distance. I thought that I was unique and that I deserved a good result because I thought I had trained harder and smarter than everyone else. When reality struck me over the head, after I suffered an inflamed SI joint, partly from over-training, I quickly realized that I was not ready to even attempt the grueling distance, let alone achieve a certain result. Last year my ego got the best of me.
This year, with three weeks left to go, I am happy to say that I’m in a different place. I don’t feel the need to obsess about a particular result. Yes, I have goals, but those are just bricks in the wall. Whatever happens that day when I toe the line at Pine to Palm, I’m in a place to anticipate the joy of having the ability to go out for a long run in the woods. Just like my buddy Andrew said, “it’s just a run.”
As for Andrew’s attempt at the Western States 100? He won the whole damn thing and in the process, continued to take on the attitude that he was just going for a run that day, doing what he loves most.