There are two types of people of which I look at through my ultra-running lense. Those who reply, Stop. 100 miles?! All at once? And those who simply don’t bat an eye-lash. It’s as if I’d told those people or that person there were clouds in the sky that day. I wonder sometimes if it’s a quality we’re born with, to feel compelled by the things that seem impossible and the desire to go about achieving them. All of this to say that those who don’t think twice about the prospect of running 100 miles aren’t not ambitious, I just think of the dichotomy of responses as being similar to the left brain right brain scenario. The aspiration(s) changes for the individual, and it’s fascinating to see what in fact makes humans interested in anything at all.
But this story isn’t about me. After watching my partner struggle through his sixth 100-mile, I was perhaps the most proud of a human being than I ever have been previously, and I was proud because it wrecked him.
There was a moment during the twenty miles I was pacing Elan to the finish where he turned back and told me he needed to stop for a moment. With a heavy sigh, he let his bodyweight fall against a tree, knees ready to buckle beneath him, motivation falling even lower. In the time we’ve been together as a couple, I’ve only ever seen him as composed as the tree to which he was now relying on for support. He has a candor to his personality that is tremendously honest and pure, barely faltering and always so determined to do his best. Seeing him in this remarkably vulnerable state was jarring and complexly humbling at the same time.
With more courage than could fill the entire pacific ocean, Elan straightened up and continued forward. While we were together for six long hours on our way to the finish line, that single moment saved his race. He didn’t give up, though he very well could have. He told me how much his body was hurting, how the downhill sections were just as tough as the uphill ones, how exhausted and drained he was. And will all of these admissions, Elan kept moving forward, as if each explanation was never to be confused with an excuse.
I love ultra-running for this one reason alone. It is extremely telling of the nature of the human spirit. 100-mile runners (hell, every kind of runner) face a discomfort so disgustingly unbearable that sometimes stopping is the only healthy option. And while we fail constantly, ultra running is the spine to which holds us up right; ultra running has given me an outlet to be brave and a permission to bring that with me in all the aspects of my life. Seeing Elan challenge himself in this same way, boldly persevering despite the lead in his legs was a tremendous experience to be a part of. Pace any runner through the night and you will see what I mean!
Being a part of Elan’s 100-mile experience was intensely motivating, and not just in the fact that I registered for a 100-mile race myself the night we got home. It was motivating because he reminded me that in a single instant, while contemplating the fate of his race leaning against a tree that you don’t have to go fast to go far. He reminded me that being brave is often the most telling in the moments that are grossly unglamorous and often very quiet. Elan reminded me that if we hold tight to the sliver of optimism occupying the corner of our minds telling us we can, that all there is left to do is prove it right.