PREDICTING THE FUTURE
Running is often about predicting the future, about establishing goals and believing that you can achieve them. We draw upon past experience to determine these goals, but often set something that is out of our reach, that has never been done before, and that WILL be done. We certainly don’t run a 5k in 17:00 minutes and say, “Ok, now let’s do it in 17:30!”. We reach beyond our previous abilities…with measured reservation…most of the time.
We establish goals that aren’t a given, that our body has yet to accomplish, if only because our mind can imagine doing so. And that is where the problem begins…and where I ended.
I predicted the future with the Because We Can ultra run benefit, drawing upon past experience to envision running 50 miles a day for 7 days straight…in my mind. And I did everything to prepare for it. I slowly increased my mileage and intensity within the timeframe I had to prepare, did various test runs of long distances and adjusted according to how my body responded. I took the stroller out fully loaded to mimic the weights I would be pushing each day and practiced fueling, slowing down, taking breaks, and gently increased the confidence I needed to get into the first day of my ultra running streak. I was ready.
The future, however, is an imagination. It is a vision, a hope, an abstract. The body, on the other hand, is concrete, physical. It is bones and muscles and joints and tendons, and those can’t be imagined into an accomplishment. They are what they are and nothing else. You can envision lifting three hundred pounds, but the forces of your muscles can only lift to their capability without breaking. Running is, of course, no different.
I was ready, but my readiness was mostly an abstract hope. Mind you, I didn’t go into this run with complete naivety, because like I said, I prepared. I worked on the physical elements as much as I could, to make the hope more and more real, but the reality of your hopes and the developments of your physical body are only realized when you put them to the test. And where my mind was ready…my body was not.
Sort of. My body was ready to do things it had never done before. I set out the first day as charged with hope as I was with strength…and I ran…and ran and ran and ran. Slowly I began to break down, but I ran and ran. The sun beat down, but I kept running. The fatigue built, but I kept running. The rain came down, and I kept running. Down endless stretches of isolated farm roads that were the loneliest of lonely, without visual end, I ran until I found one. When I faced oncoming traffic, I ran. When semis blasted forced air into my body, causing me to drop my head and lean forward, I kept running. When the edge of the town I was trying to reach seemed stuck in the distance, I kept running until I found it. When my muscles screamed and tightened and seemed threatening to snap and detach from ligaments, I kept running. And finally…I made it. I completed 60 miles to the hotel where I would lay my weary body down and hope to recover for the next day. I had, in that first day, reached a new physical boundary past anything I had ever run before. I had turned a momentary future prediction into a reality, and although I felt like death, ultimately throwing up three times, fighting off cramps all night, and wondering just how deep of a hole I had thrown myself into…I rested with the satisfaction that I did something pretty awesome. I had predicted the future.
I wasn’t done…as on day 2, I started down the road again, seeking that longer term future prediction. Expectedly, my legs were destroyed. Every bit of muscle that sat below my waist was felt with each step from the second I pushed my stroller ahead of me. My hips. My quads. My knees. My calves. My feet. EVERYTHING. But it didn’t matter, I had a future to make a reality and hoped for the best as I knocked the rust off and got deeper into the day.
I repeated the day prior, running and running and running. Into oncoming traffic, into a rising sun, into a deeper and deeper fatigue, into mile after mile after mile. I tried to put the suffering of the previous day behind me and pretend this was my first, running on empty, and thinking only of the finish. But the idea that yesterday was only a vision, was not the reality. The reality was that my body sustained a lot of damage that couldn’t be repaired in such a short time and that became more and more apparent as the day wore on and reaching each mile marker slowed and slowed. No matter, I was moving forward and continuing to eat up the distance.
Soon, however, the abstract, hopeful vision faded and the physical reality set in, when the muscles around my knees weakened to nothing and the continuous swinging of my joint grew to a powerful pain. I was in trouble. I tried to place the weight on my left leg, to no avail. I leaned on the stroller for support, but that didn’t help. I slowed down, and nothing. I sped up, and nothing again. I exaggerated my leg swing, but absolutely no adjustment would take the pain out of my leg, would adjust the physical reality of my body’s deterioration, would save me from myself. And so I had to stop…at 45 miles. I was done..for the day..for a couple days.
My predicted future had fallen apart by the weight of a physical reality. My body couldn’t handle the vision in my mind.
My dad drove me home the next morning after I couldn’t make it 50 yards without knee pain, leaving me to readjust, recover, and figure out how to alter my predicted future. I wallowed in embarrassment (which I’ll get to in a bit), but quickly found my determination soaring again, unwilling to let this be the end.
Long story short…I recovered for the two days, getting necessary massages, eating, and doing everything possible to get back out there and have another go at it. That was this morning…when I made it 5.5 precarious miles before it all fell apart again and my body couldn’t meet the demands of the mind.
And in that…my predicted future was done.
It’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to say you are going to do something and not do it. I mean, come on, I called this the BECAUSE WE CAN run…which I COULD NOT DO. There is no getting around that. I COULD NOT run 50 miles a day for 7 days straight. I couldn’t run it for THREE days straight. I couldn’t run it for 2, take 2 days off and then try again. I couldn’t do any of that…and that’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing, in part, because I believed I could and now I’m left to consider whether my perception of reality is way out of touch with what most people would call grounded. I can’t help but wonder how many people were like, “Uhh..50 miles a day, for 7 days? Yeah right. You’re an idiot.” and are now quietly patting themselves on the back to say, “See…told you so…idiot.” And I wouldn’t blame them, honestly.
It’s also embarrassing because I had been saying I was going to do this for over 5 months now, to as many people as possible. I sent out press releases. I did media interviews. I set up an itinerary for people to meet me along the way, to help me celebrate at the finish. Social media shared my build up, my videos, passed around all the media stories coming out. Many, many (I don’t want to know how many) people were watching. I had put it out there as a fundraiser, bringing people, friends, organizations, sponsors, and strangers together so I could tell them, “Hey, I’m going to do this. Watch.” Only to say, “Hey, I can’t do this. Sorry.” So yeah, that’s embarrassing.
It’s embarrassing to get the support of so many people who believe in you, who believe that you ARE going to do what you say, who contribute resources to your stated efforts, only to be left unable to fulfill your promises, your visions. It’s hard not to feel embarrassed, not to feel like you let them down, not to feel like you inadvertently used them in a way.
And I’m sorry about all that. I’m sorry because over my maturing years I’ve come to never want to be the type of person that talks big and doesn’t follow through. I’ve done that in the past, I know. I’ve become excited by projects without thinking through the logistics, brought people in to help out, and then suddenly dropped them when I realized it just wasn’t going to happen…not because it COULDN’T happen, but because I was unwilling to push through the obstacles. I wanted it to be easier.
It’s hard to shake that feeling now, though I know this “failure” isn’t the same. I truly believed I could do this. I truly prepared to make it a reality. I knew how hard it was going to be and was ready to push through…and when it became difficult, even seemingly impossible, I kept trying. Still…it didn’t happen.
It’s also the BEST KIND OF EMBARRASSING. Yeah…I’m embarrassed, but I’m actually not emotionally crushed over this. I’m actually feeling pretty good about it all. I’m disappointed, absolutely. I’m frustrated, definitely. I’m embarrassed…but in the most satisfied way possible…because I ATTEMPTED this. I tried to predict a future that seemed doable, but also difficult, and I prepared for it, and I felt ready, and I did everything I could to accomplish a goal that seemed past my previous boundaries…and I attempted it. So in that embarrassing failure is an undeniable accomplishment, both in what I did achieve, but also in the attempt itself.
“I often think about how I get disappointed or embarrassed when I try something and it doesn’t work out. And I remember that I only get to feel those things because I tried something new, something hard, just something. The alternative is doing nothing and feeling nothing.” – from a friend
It was one thing to have attempted this goal, only to come up short. It would have been another thing to have said I was going to do it, and then backed out in fear. But it would be entirely something else to not even imagine doing something outside of my boundaries. I don’t fault anyone for trying something that might seem a little fantastic. I don’t fault anyone for even considering something a little foolish. It’s when an individual doesn’t even allow themselves to believe that a different reality is possible that I can’t get behind. It’s when one stops themselves from testing physical limits with a completely abstract, arbitrary mental restriction that I can’t support.
The physical world is our boundary, not the mental one. So, although I’m still somewhat embarrassed that my physical limits couldn’t reach my envisioned mental limits, the fact is that I at least tried to reach them. And in some way, I found the ceiling…for now.
“The important thing in Life is not triumph, but the struggle; the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well. To spread these principles is to build up a strong and more valiant and, above all, more scrupulous and more generous humanity.” Pierre de Coubertin
Runners always seek the limits of their abilities, trying to hit the elusive ceiling of what they can accomplish at various points of their lives. When I started competitive running again as an adult, I quickly found myself trying to discover my limits…which seemed endless. As far as I was concerned, I was going to run until I was breaking the sound barrier. Of course, the times started peaking along with the distances, and I could hear my labored breathing echoing off a nearby ceiling. I was pushing against all reasonable limits, which I soon realized was an Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier. I knew that, if I could achieve it, that was my ceiling..that it was highly unlikely I could run faster than 2:19, and so I had to go for it. Of course, I never reached that ceiling when various life obstacles got in the way, but I tried, and for that I’ll never have regrets.
This ultra run, in retrospect, was no different. I had never run 50 miles before this past Sunday. (It sounds foolish, I know, but trust me, I was more measured in my preparations than that.) Still, I believed there was a different kind of ceiling I could reach, a ceiling of distance, a ceiling of endurance both mental and physical.
And I reached it.
At this point of my life, between surgeries, after a year and a half of chemotherapy, with the various obligations I have…I reached that ceiling. I reached that ceiling because I accomplished something I had never done before and I was stopped only by my physical limits, not the mental ones.
Believe me, if there was a mental reservoir I could tap into that would divert me from the pain I was experiencing on the second day…I found it, but it wasn’t getting past the muscular pain of running that stopped me. It was the impossibility of movement. It was my body saying, “That’s enough. Actually, that’s TOO much. We’re done.”
But in that physical ceiling, I reached the accomplishment of running further than I ever had, and following that up with a second day of long distance running. It took a friend pointing out the obvious numbers for me to really help me grasp what I accomplished and be ok with it in the moment. I was too wrapped up in not reaching the original goal to look back and see what I had just done in relation to all my years of running accomplishments up to that point.
To be specific, I had run over 100 miles in less than 36 hours. That’s a lot of miles. It’s by no means unheard of, but admittedly, it’s not the most common (or advisable) running accomplishment either. But I did that. No, it wasn’t my ultimate goal…but it was still an accomplishment, and because my body had stopped itself in the attempt, it was also a ceiling. I simply could not keep going, no matter how much I wanted to.
And oddly that’s an accomplishment. I’m satisfied with that.
I still fell short, however, and that will probably eat at me for awhile. I didn’t make it to Kokomo, or Indy, or Bloomington, and so on. That will eat at me because I was so excited to complete those runs. I had so many imaginations of what that was going to look like, feel like, but it didn’t happen. I have fallen short of that predicted future.
It was suggested that I ride my bike the rest of the way, or set up a relay, or another number of ways to complete the run, but honestly, I just didn’t have that in me. I didn’t have that motivation. I set this up to run, by myself, all the way (or at least some version of it)…I didn’t come to ride my bike down the state (been there, done that), or have anyone else do it for me. That wasn’t the point. I came to run, and even though I didn’t make it all the way, I did as much as I could, which was the personal point of this run in the first place.
My goal with this run was to see what I could do with my running body between surgeries. I wanted to see what I could do with some semblance of continuous training before my body’s proverbial slate got wiped clean by the next cancer treatment, but that was personal. That was my selfish goal.
More than anything else, I wanted to bring attention to the financial needs of cancer patients (beyond just health care) and an organization that addressed those needs. Family Reach was that organization and I was driven, even more than my personal goals, to raise as much money as I could to help the families they serve. I was proud to work along side them, to promote their mission, and get to know the many employees of the organization that I now can call friends. They backed me from the moment I called to explain my vision, believing that I would do what I said I would, even to now when I was stopped short of completing my trans-state run. They have been incredibly supportive and I’m trying my best to focus on what we accomplished rather than the disappointment I feel from not being able to physically carry through.
And here’s the thing…above all else, I’m most fulfilled and most rewarded knowing that the mission of Family Reach is now recognized by so many more people than it was prior to the run. I’m rewarded knowing that more people recognize there are other ways to directly support cancer patients rather than simply buying pink plungers and water bottles with ribbons printed on the label. I’m rewarded knowing that we raised, so far, over $21,000 that will help pay for rent, car payments, child care, food, and so many other needs of families that are facing the mounting financial pressures of cancer, helping them keep their lives together through cancer treatments. THAT IS A HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT.
And I don’t say that as, “I ACCOMPLISHED THIS!” I didn’t…I was the spectacle. YOU accomplished all this. You are the ones that financially sacrificed what you could to give comfort to those that couldn’t. THAT IS HUGE. Honestly, I know most of you won’t get to talk directly to the families that benefit from these funds, to understand how important your contributions are to their financial and emotional stability, to feel that overwhelming emotional satisfaction that comes with knowing how much you’ve helped others, but if you ever want to know…send me an email and I’ll do my best to explain. I’ve been on the receiving end of similar aid and the value is truly immeasurable.
And again, my run was just the spectacle. My run was just trying to compete for the attention against all the other distractions of our days, to help cut through the crazy and fund a bit of the good in the world. We need more of that. MUCH more of that. I was glad to do my part for Family Reach, but I’m most proud that you did your part.
BECAUSE WE CAN, BECAUSE WE DID
Since this idea came to me, with all it’s different motivations, it has been a fantastic experience. From the people I’ve met, to the running accomplishments I’ve achieved, to the funds raised, to the future connections made (see you in Indy, Dylan!), to all the unknowns that might come from this, I feel absolutely ecstatic at this point. The personal frustrations I feel with not being able to complete my stated goal pale in comparison to the value of the communities I’m connected, to the heart of the people willing to offer encouragement and financial support to those that most need it, to the happiness and determination of those who have found themselves at the mercy of cancer by no fault of their own.
To repeat the sentiments above, life is not about perfection, about reservation, about being able to always do what you say…but about attempting it. It is about saying, “I believe I can do this…and so I’m going to try.” We may “fail” in ways, we may be stopped by unforeseen limitations, we may never create that new world we’ve imagined or reach that finish line or surpass our physical boundaries or outlive cancer or any of those abstract, predicted futures, but if we don’t even try, then what’s the point in imagining?
I didn’t complete the run I imagined, but if I had never imagined it in the first place, I never would have run 60 miles the first day. I never would have run 45 miles the second day. I never would have surpassed all my previous running distances. I never would have reached the ceiling of my abilities. I never would have discovered what I was capable of doing at this point.
And we might never have learned about Family Reach. We might never have raised over $20,000. Some families would have potentially gone financially unsupported and risked losing their home, their transportation, even their lives if they couldn’t get to chemotherapy treatments.
In these accomplishments, I can’t spend anymore time fretting about the ceiling of my physical abilities, about what I hoped would happen, because what I couldn’t do was more than made up by what you DID DO.
And for that I thank you.
(PS – the fundraiser is still open if you want to donate or share it with others)
Specifically, I want to thank the following people, knowing I’ll be leaving out so many I’d rather write entire posts about. So, without any hierarchy of importance, thanks to the following:
Laura, Everyone at Family Reach and Reach Athletes, Chelsea Butler, Dylan Berry, Patricia Jackson and Family, All my sponsors – The Bike Line, Gu Energy Labs, Ugo Bars, Saucony, Dad and Mom, everyone who donated to the fundraiser, everyone who commented, shared, etc. on social media, Emma Huddleson, all the journalists who wrote stories about my run and cancer experience, Shaun Evans and the Evans Family (go follow their unbelievable story – Ainsley’s Angels & Power To Push), and so many more. Again, I apologize for not naming you all individually, but there are so many hours in a day. Just know I appreciate you with more gratitude than I can express.
Take care friends. Look out for each other and I’ll see you back on the road…as soon as my body lets me.