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June 22, 2008

Affirmation (Western States Diary)

“Over and in, last call for sin -
While everyone's lost, the battle is won -
With all these things that I've done.”
- The Killers, “All These Things That I’ve Done”

I don’t know what it is about tapering that makes me turn into Hamlet – but invariably, whenever race week rolls around, I become the most irritatingly melancholy and philosophic guy you’d ever dread to meet.

The combination of forced rest and impending challenge are a natural time for reflection, to contemplate the larger meaning of both the trails that have been traveled as well as the task that remains ahead. For me – for better or for worse, I haven’t quite decided - it also stirs up feelings of second-guessing and remorse over whether the reward of the accomplishment is worth the various costs (in time, effort, mental focus, etc.) of the preparation which precedes it.

Part 7 of my Western States series for the Monterey Herald started off in precisely this fashion – me bemoaning all these things that I’ve done, wondering if there was some crucial component missing from my life that compels me to chase after one crazy goal after another. The Don Quixote analogy I used in my
pacer article seems more appropriate with each passing week: some delusional guy charging faraway windmills, to triumph in some imaginary crusade of no importance to anyone but himself (and even that part is questionable).

But as I was polishing off the article, I had a change of heart. All things considered, the good people of Monterey County probably don’t need to hear about the impact this Western States buildup has had on my family (which, for a newspaper article, felt too intrusive), or hear me lamenting a lifestyle that I’ve enthusiastically pursued for several years now (seemingly hypocritical).

So I quickly changed direction, and wrote one of your standard pre-race countdown articles, trying to maintain an upbeat vibe throughout the entire piece. And since by this time I was about 2 hours from a deadline, I ended up rehashing part of a blog post from last week to conclude the piece. The result is what you see below.

Finally - I hope to have one more post this week before heading off to the race, with my race number and information about athlete tracking and post race follow-up. Assuming that I’m not too jittery to sit for long enough to type, that is.


Journey of 100 Miles: A Western States Training Diary

Part 7: Affirmation Bombardment

Western States is right around the corner – by this time next weekend, I’ll be somewhere in the vicinity of Auburn, CA, recovering from the efforts of what promises to be the longest, most difficult effort of my life.

Hopefully, I’ll have a belt buckle in my hand to show for it, but that’s almost a secondary concern. When I initially sat down to map out my goals for this race, the list looked something like this:

1) Survive
2) Finish the 100 miles
3) Earn a sub-24 hour belt buckle

Needless to say, priorities come into sharp focus when preparing for an event like Western States. What’s especially worrying is that from this point on, there’s really nothing more I can do to help attain those goals.

The last week before a major race is always quite nerve-racking. All the training has been done, and the hay is in the barn; any strenuous workout efforts from this point on would simply be counterproductive. These last several days of rest allow the body to recover from the hard training it has endured, and to stockpile energy reserves for the challenge ahead.

So as race weekend draws nearer, the number of miles I run gets progressively smaller. Unfortunately, in that same time frame, the number of hours I spend thinking about the race grows exponentially. And with my normal mechanism of releasing nervous energy – namely, running – eliminated as an option, I inevitably become a bit of a basket case counting down the days and hours until the event starts.

It’s somewhat ironic, in that I’ve always felt that ultrarunning isn’t so much about the races themselves as it is the process to get there. The manner by which the body and mind is gradually built up to attempt something once considered unfathomable is a remarkable transformation to experience. Like many other things in life, there’s as much satisfaction drawn from the journey as there is at the destination.

In fact, by the time we stand on the start line, most of us are already fully aware of the physical ability and psychological resolve we’ve forged within ourselves. Race weekend is simply when we put those qualities on display for the rest of the world to see.

The funny part is that, as a general rule, I don’t give much thought to who might be watching. But over the past several weeks, I’ve realized that there may be more people watching than I ever imagined.

From the beginning, this series has had the working subtitle “A Western States Training Diary”, and for the most part, that’s exactly what it felt like: a place to write my thoughts about where I’ve been, where I’m going, and what I have to do to get there. And like any other diary, I figured that the things I said wouldn’t be of much interest to anyone outside my immediate circle of acquaintances.

At least, that’s what I figured until all of the well-wishes started pouring in.

Recently, and with increasing frequency, I’ve been on the receiving end of e-mails and comments with words of encouragement for Western States. What’s more, many of them are from random people I’ve never met before, or who I hadn’t realized were following my little adventure, either through these Herald articles, or via the Internet.

Several years back, I participated in a high school ministry program. One of the coolest things we did occurred whenever a senior left the group for college; it was something we called “affirmation bombardment”.

The student sat in a chair in front of the whole group – then one at a time, each person in the room told that kid something he (or she) liked about him (or her). The comments typically started with trivial thoughts, like admiring the kid’s haircut - but as the session continued, the sentiments invariably grew more profound, speaking to the person’s personality and character, and his or her ability to succeed in the larger world after leaving the comforting surroundings of home.

It never failed to be an incredibly uplifting scene: some anxious kid preparing for an unimaginable adventure, having his spirits boosted by a group of people who care about him, gaining confidence for the journey ahead. Those nights were my favorite part of the ministry – and they’re a memory I’ve been reminded of with all of this Western States business over the past couple of weeks.

Soliciting encouragement from others was never an intent of this series – but now that it’s happened, I admit that it feels pretty darn cool. With a challenge of this scope, it’s definitely nice to know that a group of people are cheering for you.

So if you’re one of the folks who has unexpectedly dropped me a kind word lately: thanks very much for the affirmation. You’ve boosted my spirits in a hundred tiny doses, and given me increased confidence for the journey ahead. All of these things will definitely come in handy on June 28th.


Gretchen 6/22/08, 10:54 PM  

Here's one more affirmation for you then Donald. You've put in the work. Don't forget that. Go live your dream.

Jamie 6/23/08, 3:52 AM  

Almost game time! Hope to run into you out there. Kick some arse.

angie's pink fuzzy 6/23/08, 12:41 PM  

good luck good luck

have fun - we'll be cheering you on!

angie's pink fuzzy 6/23/08, 12:41 PM  

good luck good luck

have fun - we'll be cheering you on!

Annette 6/23/08, 1:23 PM  

How cool to be "bombarded" with encouragement right now. Hopefully that will give you some distractions during your down time.

I can't believe your ultra is just days away! It seems like you just decided to go for it not long ago.

Good luck and enjoy! I can't wait to read the post-race report. In fact, I should probably schedule a couple of hours to do that. ;)

triguyjt 6/23/08, 2:47 PM  

as you said...the hay is in the barn....
time to realize an incredible dream, so few people have the cajones to even attempt....

maybe you should have mri's the cajones??? nah, forget that suggestion

Rainmaker 6/23/08, 8:01 PM  

Personally I think you need to add a goal 1.5: Take a photo of every food table you pass and put together a monster food table montage. That honestly seems like a pretty valid high-pri item to me.

Anne 6/24/08, 1:48 AM  

I can't believe the weekend's almost already here. And to think you're going into this with a healthy heart, uninjured body, sound mind and hairless chest. Does it get any better than that, Donald?

RunBubbaRun 6/24/08, 3:42 AM  

Go get-em Donald, I'm sure you will meet all your race goals and come out there with alot more than that...

Look forward to seeing the result of your journey, and a journey it will be..

209Mike 6/24/08, 10:50 AM  

Hey Don. Good luck this weekend. Don't forget to enjoy every second of it. I know you're ready.

olga 6/24/08, 2:50 PM  

I'll see you in a few. You don't need my "wishing well" really, do you?

Coach Tammy 6/24/08, 5:55 PM  

You are going to do great! Hang in there, it's almost time to shine.

the Dread Pirate Rackham 6/25/08, 7:41 AM  

dear donald, I think you should remove priority #1 from your list, because I think survival is a given! Doing 100, getting a belt buckle - those are the true variables (though I am pretty confident you'll do great).

I'm rooting for you!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) 6/25/08, 10:40 AM  

Like Greg Soderlund says, training is the main course and the racing is the dessert.

Remember, I can run 100 miles, but doubt if I could eveer do that underwater 50 thing, so you can do this, and pretty well.

Kick some butt! I'll be tracking you on-line.

21stCenturyMom 6/25/08, 12:22 PM  

I went over to the house of our club's runner yesterday and witnessed him preparing his gear for the race. I was just at IM CdA but the fact that you have to prepare for T1, T2 and special needs times a factor of 10 had just escaped me. Lots of prep, lots of strategy, lots of training. But now you are there and the big day is close and I cannot WAIT to see you at mile 85. We will take a picture and say "It happened" and then send you down the line to get the belt buckle.

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