I call it the “why point”. That point in every race where the hurt becomes a burden, the pace starts feeling unsustainable, and my confidence begins to slip, and I ask myself “Why?”.
It’s that point, and my reaction to it, that makes or breaks a race. If I can maintain my faith, my focus, and my positivity, I can push through and have a great day; if not, and things start spiraling, it can be really hard to recover. I eat, drink, and look up from my feet, taking a second to absorb the views, and smile. Sometimes it works.
(Hundred mile start in the twilight)
On Saturday, at the Coldwater Rumble, the “why” came early in the last short loop. The temperature was climbing, and we’d run about twenty-three miles, nine to go, and little things started to go wrong. I’d forgotten my bottle at the lap point, and so I was running without water. My visor had been left as well, and the sweat was dripping into my eyes. A hint of tightness in my quads messed with my head, the last gel twisting my stomach in knots. My left hip had begun to ache, and, for the first time in the race, I began to doubt.
I’d planned to run the first lap, twenty miles, at a comfortable pace, and then try to pick it up on the last half-lap and finish strongly. A great idea, but a the plan only counts for so much, and my motivation was flagging in the rolling sandy trails. I needed a little jolt, something to kick me in the side of the head and interrupt the cerebral death spiral that sometimes traps me, and that something came from an unexpected source: my friend Jack Pilla.
(Cleaning out the sand…Pederson AS, 8am, day 2)
Jack and I used to run together when I lived in Vermont, and he was both a inspiration and a competitor. We are similar runners, both in our build (neither of us would be accused of being tall) and our style, our successes built from careful pacing, good planning, and simple stubborness. He was about to turn 50, was one of those special runners who could beat me at any distance, from 5k to 100 miles, and he always ran with a smile, quick to support everyone around him. Jack was, and is, a genuine nice guy, as well as an animal on the trails.
(Runners fueling up at the Pederson Aid Station)
I still remember the first time we met. It was a 30k trail race out at Catamount, in Burlington, Vermont, and I was running in the top five about halfway, feeling good and starting to think I might be able to push my way onto the podium. A spectator, cow-bell in one hand and Magic Hat in the other, looked excited and commented “You’re still a minute up on Jack!”.
(Twenty-four hours in and still moving well)
Jack? I don’t know Jack, I thought, and why would I care about how he was doing? I soon found out, as a small, muscular guy with grey around his temples blew by with a smile and a kind word, then went on take a minute a mile out of me in the last seven or so. That was Jack…tough, smooth, smart, and patient. I started to pay attention.
In 2010, at the age of 51, he won the Vermont 100 overall.
(Jen the medic on foot repair duty)
Saturday wasn’t his day, however, the heat of the Valley a strain after the cold of Vermont, but it was great to see him and run together, and it was just what I needed to pull out of the proverbial rut. We chatted, briefly, about mutual runner buddies Aliza and Norm, old favorite trails, and the winter, and I moved on feeling refreshed.
(The final morning at Pederson AS)
It’s amazing how much the mind effects the legs, and I was lucky to have my friend out there as I hit my “why point”, someone to pull me out of my own head and back into the moment. I take myself too seriously at times, so an occasional reminder of the simple joy of running, and all the friends I’ve made and places I’ve been because of the sport, is important to staying healthy and happy on the trail.
(Farris, myself, Carson. Good friends that don’t make me feel short.)
So Jack, if you’re reading this, thanks. And don’t worry, I won’t let it go to my head – I’m about 1 for 20 against you now, and I have no illusion of adding to that total anytime soon.