What I learned about running in 2021
When I think back on this year in running, two images stand out.
In the first, I am flat on my back with a hat full of ice and my hands covering my face to hide the look of anguish from my family. In the other, my arms are raised in triumph, like a boxer celebrating a knockout.
These two reaction shots, taken from races three months apart, couldn’t be more different. I know of no other activity besides running that is capable of producing such a range of emotions, all of them revealing essential truths about ourselves that we otherwise keep hidden from view.
The first race – the Catamount Ultra 50K – was the one that left me lying flat. It was brutally hot and I overheated, short circuiting my competitive drive and will to continue. There were moments during the final miles when I was miserable, whiny, and full of excuses. In simpler terms, it broke me.
The other race – the Vermont 50 – was far more difficult on paper. It was longer, hillier, and did I mention longer? Never before had I attempted to run 50 miles in one day, but never have I felt more comfortable and at peace. Whenever things got tough, I got tougher. And in the final stretch, I felt invincible.
A question has lingered ever since those races: Why did I feel like a world beater on that day in September, while that race in June turned into such a sufferfest?
After much soul searching and careful review of the many thousands of words written for this newsletter, I’ve come up with the following reasons.