I know what it’s like to fall asleep while running.
I’ve rested my hands on my knees as I trudged up a rugged trail, 90 miles from the starting line, wondering where the race had gone wrong.
Stumbling over roots and rocks in the dark, I prayed the sun would offer some renewed energy to my footsteps.
I remember crossing a wide, concrete bridge and seeing signs of the impending finish. Chalk art teased my imagination with promised relief from the pain and discomfort. Cars -civilization- hurried about in the morning sun.
I remember the emotions as I waddled toward the finish line of my first 100 mile race; it was a high that lasted for days.
And I’ve reached the summit; I ran 100 miles.
My ankles, feet, hip flexors, and hamstrings deeply ached for rest; it was muscular pain I hadn’t ever experienced before.
I remember the awe of the whole ordeal when I saw the spectators and race staff, and my own crew, waiting. With barely 8 minutes to spare, I received my belt buckle; it wasn’t the way I had envisioned my first 100 mile ultra marathon.
I didn’t think I would have to race the clock for 30 miles, fighting pain and frustration the entire way. Or that I would spend 6 hours on a technical 16-mile stretch of trail. I didn’t think I would be projected to miss the cutoff at mile 92.
And I didn’t think the finish line of the Burning River 100 in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, would offer the most incredible view I’d ever seen.
So, Why Run An Ultra Marathon?
I didn’t see snowy mountains or lush valleys or a small mountain town coming to life to celebrate the finishing of an endurance race. It wasn’t a sunrise or sunset over the fall colors of a forest.
In fact, it was hardly scenic.
People milled about, but as stragglers and the final battered who-knows-if-they’ll-make-it runners appeared over a concrete hill, the life of the party faded. The brewery where the race ended became more of a final aid station; runners laid about in various stages of recovery.
I closed my eyes and saw what I had been running for, the incredible view.
As I faded between consciousness and a deep, calm sleep, I kept seeing, or dreaming about, a Taller Peak.
When I opened my eyes, it was gone. I was again surrounded by the quiet hum of a brewery-turned-aid-station.
“Do you want a beer?”
I closed my eyes again and began to examine what lay before me, this Taller Peak, this incredible view.
That Taller Peak was a mountain of opportunity; what’s next? What else can you do? You’ve summited the mountain of your first 100-mile race. There is much more out there. Start climbing.
The Burning River 100 had been my goal, my peak to summit, for quite some time; I didn’t know that in finishing it, I would only realize how small a mountain it was.
Never had I climbed such a mountain, accomplished such a feat; I hadn’t before had the view I now entertained as I lay in the parking lot.
I opened my eyes and saw a blue sky and heard the sounds of spectators and runners mingling.
With closed eyes I was on top of a beautiful mountain, the peak of my accomplishment. I looked around the mountain and saw many other mountains through the clouds and trees.
There is so much more out there. What else am I capable of?
Where I sat now, the finish line of my first 100-mile race, took from me what I didn’t know I had and showed me what I didn’t know I was missing.
I was missing this view. Many people are missing this view.
You should run an ultra marathon because you’re missing the Taller Peak, this view from your mountain of accomplishment.
The Realm of What If
In the 6 weeks before the my first 100 mile run, I only ran 7 times; none of those 7 runs were over 5 miles. [Read more about this: How Not To Train For An Ultra Marathon]
You can’t even call it training, but it kept me from wondering What if?
What if I hadn’t suffered the last 30 miles?
Or what if I hadn’t even started, citing my poor training?
What if, when I was projected to miss the cutoff at mile 92, I had stopped climbing the mountain?
Should I have given up and left my goal for another day?
What if I hadn’t Dismantled My Wall at the Burning River 100?
Who would I be right now?
I had a choice to make. As I lay there on top of this metaphorical mountain, this peak of accomplishment, I wondered how many people stayed here. Out of the small percentage of people who commit themselves to the mountain of their goal, who climb until they reach the top, how many stop when they arrive?
How many people crush a challenge, or stumble across the finish line of a monumental endeavor, and rest in their victory?
Are there goal-crushing, adventure-pursuing, unrealistic-living, badass individuals settled on the first, second, or even third peak? What if they’d kept going?
How much potential and opportunity is lost on those who reach a goal but fail to look around, to take in the view, to see the Taller Peak?
I didn’t miss it; I saw it looming in the distance, towering over the forest.
It was many miles away, down a dark and twisted Wicked Trail. Adventure and much challenge lay ahead. I didn’t want to exist in alignment with those who summit their own peaks, accomplish their goals, and rest in victory.
The Taller Peak is too far away!
Look what I’ve accomplished; that’s enough!
Now life will be easier and kinder to me!
Let me rest here!
I had to get back on the Wicked Trail.
That’s what ultrarunning, especially jumping in and running your first ultra marathon, is all about: attaining a vantage point that allows you to see all of the opportunity the world offers you.
Few people climb the mountain, reach their own peak, accomplish their own goal; it’s not easy, and it’s not supposed to be.
To those that do, those who venture down dark trails and explore twisted forests, those who pursue their passions and reject comfort: find the Taller Peak.
Close your eyes and examine your vantage point; the world is full of opportunity.
You are uniquely qualified to experience greatness.
Climb the mountain. Find a Taller Peak.