Just beyond the finish line at the Deception Pass 50km, I was sitting on a picnic table texting my friends to let them know I was still alive, when an older runner who had just finished staggered over and sat down at the table. He sat there massaging sore muscles in silence for a while until someone passing by recognized him and struck up a conversation with him. As I recall it went something like this:
<Passer-by> Hey man! How’d you do?
<Runner> Great! Personal best for a 50km!
<Passer-by> *Shaking his head* I can’t believe you even finished after the ride down. Your legs weren’t too shot?
<Elliot (thinking)> *Wait. Did I hear that right?*
<Runner> I don’t think it was the ride that got me, but the weight of about 50lbs in the panniers.
<Passer-by> Damn. Are you riding back today? How far was that?
<Runner> No no. I’ll camp the night again and then ride back in the morning. Eh, it depends if I cheat and ride the Skytrain once I get to Surrey. That cuts out a big chunk then it’s not far to keep going to North Van.
This ranger cycled 160km, with camping gear, ran a 50km ultra, and was then planning on riding 160km back — assuming he didn’t cheat by taking the Skytrain across the city.
A little while later I was warming up in the lodge by the finish line and recapped the conversation to a friend: “What!? That guy is way over the line! I mean, I know most people think we’re over the line, but that guy actually is!”
A couple of weeks earlier I was talking to some co-workers and trying to explain how the reactive lighting system worked in my awesome new Petzl Nao headlamp. One of them was looking like he was deeply focused on what I was saying, as if he was really trying to think about the engineering that went into the headlamp’s design. But then he held up his hand as if to stop me and said “Wait. Wait… Why would you wear a headlamp? Aren’t those for miners?”
It’s funny how what we think of as “acceptable” is so elastic. A few years ago I thought running a marathon was bonkers — now they don’t even seem that far. I used to think Ultra’s were for the clinically insane — last year I did two. I thought Ironmans were for dentists having a midlife crisis – now I consider them options. It’s only been about twelve months since, despite being terrified at the thought, I started running in forests in the dark. Now I do it almost every morning and don’t think anything of it. What used to be a mid-range run for me is now what I do as a short run when recovering from an injury. I used to avoid running on back-to-back days to avoid injuries, now I run almost every day and sometimes twice. On the flip side, in 2013 I swam less than 35km — in 2005 I did more than that in my easiest week of taper.
If you set a steady course and hold it for a while, it can be quite surprising to see how far you’ve come. Assuming of course you remember to turn around and look.
Mid-afternoon on New Year’s eve I walked out of the Sports Basement store in The Pressido in San Francisco. It was a gorgeous day, cloudless and warm. I decided to cross over to Crissy Field and take some photographs of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Along the sidewalk some runners shuffled by. They had racing numbers on. The way they were moving I assumed they were back-of-the-packers at the end of a 5km. But then a much faster, more efficient, runner passed them. That wouldn’t make sense in a 5km race — the faster runner would’ve been in front of them the whole time. Something was up.
A group of three other runners trotted past me at a pace some where in between the last two runners I’d seen. They looked very fit and were chatting away like school children, as if the pace wasn’t taking anything out of them at all. This didn’t make sense. I looked at their shoes.
I’ve never seen anyone wear Hokas outside of an Ultra. This must be some kind of weird Ultra! I turned around and saw another runner and instantly knew he’d answer all my questions.
Every running race ever has an extremely cheerful old man in it. This jolly jogger just loves being out there, loves the atmosphere and loves being with the people. He either found running late in life and is a living embodiment of how amazing the human body is if you listen to it and treat it well. Or, he’s been running since they decided just how long a kilometer was and has run every race under the sun.
Judging from his tan, I think the runner I crossed paths with was the latter. I started jogging along with him:
<Elliot> You’re in the race?
<Leather Face> Yeah!
<Elliot> How far is it?
<Leather Face> There’ s a 6-hour, a 12-hour and a 24-hour
<Elliot> Holy shit! Which one are you doing?
<Leather Face> *Looking grim* The 24-hour
<Elliot> *Laughing* When did you start?
<Leather Face> *Looking even grimmer* 9am
<Elliot> *Laughing even more* Well, uh, you’re almost a quarter of the way done! You’re doing great! Where’s the course?
<Leather Face> *Back to looking chipper* We just keep running around this pond! It’s a bit over a mile each lap.
The race was the New Year’s One Day. And while over the years my perspective might have changed about what’s an acceptable way to physically challenge myself, anyone that runs loops around the same pond for an entire calendar day is way, way over the line as far as I’m concerned… for now.