(Un) Comfort Zone…. C+O Canal 100

Mark asked about my blog.  “It’s about comfort zones”, I told him.  “Do you have one?” he asked deadpan. 

In the world of ultra-running, there are many things that can take me very uncomfortable.  It’s probably why I am drawn to it.  The night before a 100-mile race is always very lonely for me.  This is compounded when I am at a race site far from home and alone.  It makes me crave a hug…just a moment when I don’t have to be strong.  Not knowing anyone at the C+O Canal 100, made getting that hug out of reach, so I had to put on my big girl panties, suck it up, and take care of what needed to be done.  And, after having a good cry, something I usually reserve for the first few miles, that is what I did.

I believe one of the reasons I have such an uncomfortable time before big races is that the race itself is so uncomfortable. I’ve heard it said many times that ultra-running is 90% in your head, and the rest is mental.   I have seen time and time again, runners suffer unnecessarily, because of what goes on between their ears…myself included.  But, the percentages are off.  The body takes a beating in an ultra.  Not only is the training aspect is formidable, but  every portion of me will hurt, during the race and for days after.  I will be both on top of the world and knocked on my ass.  Echos of those physical pains seem to come back to my mind as I prep my stuff the night before the race.  How can something I love to do hurt me so much?  Why do I do this?  This is stupid.

On the trail, sometimes it can seem like you’ve left the planet.  The only comfort zones available are friends who are on the journey with you, either physically or in thought, and aid stations, which are like small patches of heaven.   At C+O they had an all-vegetarian aid station that served black bean, rice and pineapple wraps and ginger/corn chowder.  Nirvana!  It really is the little things that are the big things.  Small acts of kindness offered when  you are hurting are magnified in intensity,

Spending hour upon hour by myself, while pushing my body through running, is daunting.  My thoughts control my mood, which controls my performance.  I’m training myself, albeit it’s still a work in progress, to simply be present.  To simply focus on what is in front of me.  To release my thoughts, or to work through them.  I like to say I only want to “control the controllables”.  The seven hours of rain was not under my control, but how I handled it was. 

I have a yoga teacher, who has said, while I was in chair pose for a very long time, “if you lost a leg, you would give anything to feel the muscle fatigue you are feeling now.  Be thankful for it”.  I tried to remember that message and incorporate it.  I take comfort that I am blessed enough to do these races and that suffering through them has given me strength. 

Getting an “I love you” text  (thank you Noah), a "you are my hero" text (thank you Natalie), a hug from a fellow runner (thank you Jim L.)  a well-timed and much needed message of support (Rog, Peaser and Russell…talking to you) or a picture that reminds me that I am loved and thought of, these are the things I find comfort in.  It is awesome how a simple act of kindness, a smile or knowing that you are cared for, can help lighten the loads of both physical and emotional struggles. Not only are these acts of kindness, but they are fuel to carry on.

There are some things that are so outside of my comfort zone that they are unattainable.  Mistakingly grabbing a maple bacon energy gel packet is at the top of that list.  But, most other things are within reach.

So, yes, I do have a comfort zone.  It is feeling close to those I love and who love me in return.  It is in facing challenges, sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding.  It is in self-discovery.  It is in being comfortable with being uncomfortable.  

I used to say I was “obituary building”, but I don’t anymore.    I am simply living my life.  It has helped me appreciate small kindnesses, remember to offer them to others, recognize what is important and what is not, and that I can feel a hug, even if it is sent virtually. 

In the end, I hit a 2-hour personal record at 50 miles, and a 2.5-hour personal record on the 100 miler, coming in under 25 hours.  I’m pretty comfortable with that.


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