The Best and Worst

Can you image running 100 miles in 48 hours? My knees ache to think about it.

Three weeks ago I took part as a volunteer to help with a local ultra marathon (100 miles) known as The Magredi Mountain Trail. Four of us manned a mountain hut located around the 60 mile mark of the course. It’s the fourth year I’ve helped at this spot and the fifth year of the competition.

Ultra marathons are testament to a person’s ability and desire to push themselves to and past their limits. Not so long ago more people had summited Mount Everest than had run an ultra (marathon). That’s changed.  Easier to plot out new 100 mile routes than build another Everest. There’s some tough races out there too, check out this WEBSITE. Many of these races, being non-profit, depend on volunteers to run the various restoration points and life bases. Most of them come from running backgrounds.

It's amazing, really, to watch these folks as they test their bodies and mental fortitude against difficult circumstances.  They are willing to endure pain and suffering in search of a goal that usually does not include winning the race. I would like to be able to do it, just once. To know that feeling. But, it certainly isn't for the weekend warrior. Oddly enough many run several of these ultras a year. More than a handful I spoke with just came off another race two or three weeks earlier. Talk about punishment. My feet got sore just listening to them.

But for all this awesomeness I am just as easily brought down by the pettiness and bickering amongst the volunteers. For crying out loud folks, the runners don’t have time for that; they are concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. I find it funny how everyone thinks they have a better way of doing things. I'm not any different, but I certainly wouldn’t voice it (unless asked then I'll deposit my 2 cents). After all, I’m a volunteer. You tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it; I’m there for the runners. I figure it’s their show not mine so tell me what you need me to do; I’ll shut up and do it.

I’m not there so much to work anyway, I’m there for my English skills. A full one third of the runners are foreigners and English is pretty useful. So I stand on my feet for sixteen hours serving hot broth and tea and making sure that people are okay, physically and mentally. Liberally serving words of encouragement and being inspired myself. It's pretty cool.

Even more surprising is the median age of these runners. Thirty to forty years, with quite a few in their fifties. I shouldn’t be surprised. The real difficulty in these races is not the physical aspect but the mental. Our bodies are tougher than we think. Navy seals prove that to their trainees time and time again. It’s difficult not to give up when things get rough and most of it is a mental game. I find it funny that our bodies can deal with the physical aspect easier in youth, but our heads don’t have the experience. Then you get older and they switch places. It’s a fascinating juxtapostion. I’d love to try one an ultra (probably smarter to start with a mini-marathon first and see how that goes) but my ability to keep up with my list is outpaced by the things I keep adding to it. C'est la vie.

What if you could still do those things though? What if you could, at any age, do what your heart desires? Probably the biggest reason we don’t is our desires change with time. What we desire today won’t be the same tomorrow. Maybe its a built-in bypass, a work around so we don’t go blowing our fuses. My knees, hips and shoulders already think I’ve blow a couple. Maybe it’s just my mind but the radiograph from the MRI shows evidence that is hard to contradict. The desire is still there though. That’s not always so bad, having a 20 year-old head on a 40+ year-old body.  It's been said many times that youth is wasted on the young.

This probably applies more to the male population but I wonder what would happen if 40/50/60 years olds were given back their 20-year old bodies for a week or more?

I’d like to think we’d be a little wiser but the truth is there wouldn’t be enough chairs in the emergency room.  What do you think?