Western States Training Camp: More Than Just Three Days of Running
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine who lived in Corvallis moved down to Cool, CA. While I don’t know the exact reasons for the move, I can certainly understand if one of her reasons hinged on the trails and scenery there.
I had never been down to that section of California before; frankly, the area had never been on my radar until I started searching out running trails. For those who are not familiar with Auburn, it plays host every year to the Western States 100 Mile Trail race, which starts in the Sierra Mountains, at Squaw Valley, and heads west into the canyons of the American River all the way to Auburn. The race is one of the most well-known ultra-marathons in the world. This past weekend, a couple of friends and I travelled south to jump into a three-day organized training camp to run the last seventy miles of the Western States course. Spending time on the trails winding through the mountains, I can see why my friend moved there. It’s simply gorgeous.
The day before we left for camp, a friend jokingly posted on Facebook saying something to the effect of “I wonder who’s going to win the Western States Training Camp #trainingcamp.” That was pretty damn funny, mostly because before I became sober I would have taken a camp like this too seriously, knowing that a bunch of fast dudes were going to be there and it would have been a chance for me to be “noticed” in the crowd. This attitude, I am finding, is generated by my ego’s connection with my mind.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how my ego and mind can intrude on my life’s progress and enjoyment. It seems that when I let my ego take over my inner thought process, my mind can go awry. This past weekend at Western States camp I wanted to focus, during running, on holding my ego at bay so it wouldn’t affect how and who I ran with. I will admit that anytime I run with other people, my ego drives my incentive and I automatically start measuring my fitness in relation to that of fellow runners. This is a habit that I formed as a teenager, training for XC skiing and years later as a cyclist. I was constantly comparing myself to other athletes, never truly being in the moment to appreciate the pure act of physical motion.
On day one of the Western States camp, while making the descent from Robinson flat, a faster group of runners caught up to me. It was the perfect chance to test my resolve to keep my ego in check. Once I heard them catching up to me, I let my ego take over for a second, on purpose, to recognize the thought and emotion. Then, as they drew closer, I began to ask myself: what is the narrative running through your head that is kicking the ego into motion? What did it really matter to you that they were going to pass you? After I moved aside to let the faster group pass on a steep downhill, I began to ponder the root of the narrative that was tempting my ego to push me to run beyond my means in order to stay with them.
Here is my conclusion: As a Junior XC skier living in New England back in the 1990’s, I was surrounded by some of the best athletes in the country, some of whom went on to be Olympians and US National Team skiers. This XC skiing talent was born into families whose last names are Whitcomb, Molyneux, Freeman, Gallagher, Spina, Lemieux, Hamel and Woodbury… to name a few. While I could hold my own on the New England ski circuit, I never quite believed that I had any sort of talent. The idea that I wasn’t good, fast and worthy enough to be mentioned in the same conversation as my fellow junior skiers pervaded my thinking.
Even though my parents and friends thought that I was talented as a skier, I believe now, as a practicing athlete, that this is the point where I developed the debilitating narrative that still runs through my head when I am surrounded by other athletes, regardless of their talent levels. This constant mindset continued to haunt me during my time as a cyclist through my twenties and early thirties. If I was dropped during a hard training ride, I would immediately convince myself that I’m not good enough ever to ride with some of the best riders in town which, in this case, was Bend, OR . On some occasions, I would experience a bout of depression, and, ultimately, I adopted an excessive drinking behavior.
If I put all of these years together starting from the age of fourteen, when I began XC Ski racing, to today, that totals twenty-one years of hearing a persistent narrative in my mind that I’m not good enough as an athlete, period. That’s twenty-one years of having my ego and mental projections drive me to be successful as an athlete, whatever success might mean. Sure, I had some great times just skiing, riding, or running during those years, but, when it came down to it, all I wanted to know was if I was faster than the next guy.
There it is: my confession as an amateur endurance athlete. I have an ego problem, and it’s going to be hard to contain it. Ultimately, I want to, for there seems to be more enjoyment in sport when it’s all about just getting out the door every day, focusing on the process of improvement and simply being outside in nature. I believe that I had a glimpse of this new outlook on my behavior this past weekend in California.
I’m discovering that the ego is a funny thing. It’s fickle, nimble, unpredictable, and certainly continues to rule many of the thoughts I have each and every day. The win that I’m taking from this past weekend is that I stopped my ego from affecting the remainder of my running experience. So, my practice that I’m implementing on a day to day basis when living life, part of which is training, is to sharpen my awareness and always ask myself: What is my ego doing and is it fueling the narrative to manifest itself even further.
Edited by Lyn Horton