I’ve never written one of those “my year in running” reviews. I thought I’d give it a shot but as I was looking over my writing I realized I had essentially done that already with the posts I wrote around Javelina so rehashing my races felt redundant. I did, however, set a Personal Record in terms of the number of blog posts – ten related to running and one obituary to a cat. My previous PR was five in 2013. Considering it takes me much longer to write a report than it does to do the actual race, writing has become a significant part of my overall running experience. I thought I might try and throw a spotlight on that instead.
The Evolution of a Blogger
I wrote my first race report in 2011 after I did the American River 50. It was my first 50 miler and I thought that milestone was deserving of something. I posted it as a note on Facebook. There was a finite quality about it that makes me think I intended it to be a one and done sort of thing, not about running ultras, but writing about them.
It was more than a year before I’d write another one, this time about the Brazen 12 Hour, which was my first timed event. Again, it was posted as a Facebook note. I didn’t think I’d be doing this enough to set up an actual presence on a blogging site. It wasn’t until December 2012 after I ran the epically muddy North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile that I transitioned to a formal blog.
I was enjoying the company of friends in San Pedro Valley Park in Pacifica. It was the week after North Face and we were all sharing our stories about the race. When I finished mine I could tell Margaret was touched by it. She encouraged me to write it down and share it. I couldn’t really see why. It was a difficult experience made bearable by moments of kindness. Still dubious I started writing anyway. It didn’t go the way of most race reports I’d read – no minutiae about what I wore, ate or where I placed. No enlightened race strategy or heroics. My opening line contained the word “pancakes” for crying out loud. No, it was just me trying to get through a rough day. But I do remember it flowed out of me, as if it needed to exist, and I couldn’t get it out of my head fast enough to turn it into words on a page.
After it was finished, I was hesitant to actually make it public. It was written in a much more personal way than my first two reports and I questioned its relevance. Who writes like this about a race? Who would even want to read it? I knew at least my family and two other people would find it interesting. Despite serious reservations I hit the publish button.
Why run ultras? It’s a question I hear and I don’t have a tidy answer for. Then why write about it? Sometimes I do the latter to answer the former. There are certainly more pedestrian reasons around ego and validation but I’m also willing to present myself in a less than flattering light if it serves the story. Since cavemen have gathered around a fire we have wanted to tell stories. I suppose I’m fulfilling a basic human need to share an experience. I just swapped out flames for flickering screens.
Antelope Canyon was hard for me to write. Not the process of creating it which felt almost effortless but how uncomfortable I felt examining my demeanor during the race. I felt weak, at times like a petulant child, and there was nothing uplifting about my experience. I had to lean on so many people just to drag my sorry, uninspired ass across the finish line.
I could have left the post as a draft and no one would have been the wiser. But I felt compelled to share it because it’s important to me to be genuine even if I don’t particularly like how events unfolded. I remember cringing when I hit the publish button then walking away from the computer. I didn’t want to know what kind of reception it would get. It’s still painful for me to read but I can now draw a measure of pride from it, like treasuring a scar from a wound because there is a good story behind it.
It’s Not a Spectator Sport
A race is a race is a race. After awhile things start to blur. What engages me enough to want to write about it? What would compel someone to read past the first paragraph? What is the point I’m trying to make? These questions and more are always at the forefront whenever I’m faced with an empty page. Regurgitating the experience in military fashion doesn’t suit me. Between the desire to write and a finished story lies a chasm to be crossed. Sometimes it feels effortless and sometimes it feels like the other side keeps moving farther and farther away.
Summer Solstice was one of those reports that almost didn’t see the light of day. I struggled with writing it and scrapped countless drafts. What could be written about running one mile laps for 24 hours that anyone would want to read? On the surface it sounded about as interesting in the re-telling as watching paint dry. There was no grand adventure in a beautiful wilderness yet I was utterly engaged during the whole event. But I couldn’t pull together the words to adequately express that in any compelling way.
It felt like a futile endeavor trying to write this beast. I put it aside for a while. I wanted to let this one go but it had a grip on me that I couldn’t shake. When I picked it up again, writing the umpteenth version of the race report, I was surprised to find that it almost wrote itself. Given some time and space I had somehow found a way to externalize what had been a rich but deeply internal experience. It has become a story very close to my heart.
It’s All in My Head
I don’t usually know ahead of time if I’m going to write something. I seem to remember an incredible amount of detail but I don’t consciously think during a race – oh, that’s significant, I must remember it. In fact, the one race where I made a concerted effort to remember, the 2013 New York City Marathon, I can’t write about because I have very little recall of the experience other than “it was awesome” which is pretty lame. It’s like I fell into a four hour and twenty-four minute black hole with only the most vague, disjointed images as memories to show for it. The only report I knew for sure I would write months before it happened was Javelina for the simple reason that it was my first hundred miler.
However, The Hay Is in the Barn, the pre-race report for Javelina, was something I never intended to write. I am uncomfortable discussing future races and training in a public forum so writing a story regarding what I did to prepare was of no interest to me. Then I read Lazarus Lake’s response on the Ultra List to an undertrained runner a month away from their hundred miler.
“Just go do the damn thing. Anything that happens, you deserve. Maybe it will teach you something.”
His reply beautifully and succinctly cut to the chase. It made me reflect on my own readiness and rationale for all the choices I’d made in the six months leading up to the race. The decisions we make to participate in this sport of ours can be thoughtful, questionable or down-right foolish. Only when it’s over do we know which ones they are.
“I hope you keep writing. I really like your race reports and you’re a good writer,” said Debbie. It was a completely unsolicited comment a few minutes into a conversation I was having with her at Sports Basement. Then she quoted something from one of my stories.
“I want MY Advil!”
I laughed. Geez, that was from Lake Sonoma. People really do read these things. It would be disingenuous to say that I wasn’t flattered. Of course I was.
As long as I have thoughts and ideas that insist on living outside my head, I’ll write. The muse must be satisfied. If not, I won’t. Perhaps this post is a bit like drawing the curtain back on the Wizard of Oz. I am neither great nor powerful but I wanted to show a little bit of my process, such as it is, through these three stories that came to be in the beginning, middle, and end of my year. Whether it works or finds an audience may be beside the point. It wanted to exist and that’s enough.