In an image obsessed world, how well do we really know our bodies?
Someone once told me that our bodies are capable of doing 50% more than our minds realize. Runners seem to understand this fact very well.
That someone was Tamara Johnson, a good running friend who I have been training with since last August. She is a marathon runner, with more than 25 under her belt, and to challenge herself more, she is getting into ultra running. It was her first 50 mile race and as her pacer of the last 23 miles, I can say that she kicked some a** out there.
A pacer is someone who runs with the person running in the race to hold their energy powders and water bottle and to encourage them along when they become so exhausted finishing seems utterly impossible. I ran in front of Tamara encouraging her along, reminding her to drink water and eat, and chatted her ear off.
You know the saying rain or shine? Well, when it comes to racing, they certainly aren’t kidding. Saturday morning 500 runners lined up in the dark and rain in for the American River 50, a foot race that goes from Sacramento to Auburn. The times ranged from 6.5 hours straight for the winner, about 9-10 hours for the average runner, and up until 13 hours for those struggling along. Tamara finished in 9.5 hours, which, as one of her reasons for running, qualified her for the Western States 100 mile race next June. (The Western States is a whole other story…) Her other reason for running is “because I can.”
I accept that as a great answer because, though I’ve never run 50 miles, I’ve felt that fatigue and kept going during marathons and numerous training runs. It’s an amazing thing to realize what our bodies are actually capable of. Running is about ignoring your mind trying to hold you back and to surge on using all the physical force you have. It’s about feeling your legs come to life as if they have been injected with springs, to feel your breath run through you, to watch your muscles become stronger and your body change to be capable of taking on so many miles.
It’s crazy on so many levels, but it is fun. All those people wouldn’t be out there putting themselves through that if they didn’t enjoy it. Technically, they’re all addicted to the endorphins, but they are also addicted to the accomplishment that they alone did something unthinkable. They overcame a challenge that seems physically impossible to most people and walked away smiling (and it’s not because they were all handed a nice fleece jacket from North Face). No one runs 50 miles just for the jacket and no one would do it if there was a trophy involved either. All those runners accomplished something for themselves that they knew was great. And that’s why they do it.
Sloshing through the mud, getting drenched with rain, running along a trail with the American River by my side, and feeling pretty tired but strong at the same time, had me thinking about the human body. Not in the way our culture has trained us to think but in a way that made me realize that we can always do more than we think. Here was an event where it didn’t matter that everyone was covered in mud and sweat because when they come through the finish line, no one’s expecting anyone to look good. They praise what you did, and that’s a refreshing reward.