This race report of the Morgan Hill Meat Grinder trail marathon was originally sent as an e-mail to Brian Harner the day after the race, on September 20 2020 at 10:47AM. This is the 28th e-mail message I sent to Brian, and the 59th message in our conversation. I have made a few edits to the "post-race notes" section.
This e-mail is about the race I ran yesterday, on September 19th.
I told you that I wanted to put a quote from you on my back. I put that together at the very end of Friday. I found a large white cloth that was the same size as my T-shirt. I pinned it to the back of my T-shirt and wrote down two quotes from your e-mail on September 14th. The first full quote is,
“True ego death is very difficult to achieve. It's a bumpy road of personal sacrifice and penance on levels people are extremely unprepared for.
I pared that down to,
“Ego death... Is a bumpy road of personal sacrifice and penance on levels people are extremely unprepared for.”
The second quote is,
“The lesson is, NEVER sell your soul, no matter what.”
Apparently at midnight I interpreted that as, “The lesson here is...” I'll have to take and send a photo.
Yesterday was unseasonably cold: the first frost occurred, about three weeks earlier than usual. When I started the race at 7AM the temperature was 28F, and when I finished at 11:30 it was just under 50F. Last year it was 80F when I finished, and the race was held on the same weekend. Because of the cold I wore a long-sleeve shirt overt my T-shirt for the first 16.5 miles, so the quote was visible for the last 10 miles. The race was a trail marathon. I passed three people while the quote was visible, so they are the only ones who might have seen it. I put a jacket on shortly after the race ended, so I did not show off the quote post-race either.
On one hand, I did want more people to see it. On the other hand, by pinning the quote to my T-shirt I got to run with it the entire time. That kept it in the forefront of my mind, and that was important during the the last few miles.
The top four women ran together for the first 16.5 miles. While the pace was what it ought to be for a race, the atmosphere was more cooperative than competitive. That was very different for me. I usually run alone the entire time and feel more at odds with the other runners. Navigating this race is somewhat challenging: the man who should have won ran about five extra miles because he got lost. The four of us benefited from the collective effort of figuring out the right path. In contrast, if we had run alone then we would have spent more time deciding which way to go and being on the wrong path. These miles of the race are also rather technical, which means that there are many natural obstacles to be careful of. It's the opposite of a smooth road: instead there are many roots, rocks, stream crossings, fallen trees, steep climbs and descents, and even a few man-made footbridges and stair-steps. Ever since I injured my knees last year, tripping and falling has been in the forefront of my mind while running on hazardous terrain. Even so, I made it through all of this rather smoothly. One factor in that is recently changing my running form. For eight years I was a strict forefoot striker, meaning that I would land only on the balls of my feet and never let the rest of the foot touch the ground. Now I lift my legs from the hips and lower glutes, keep the legs beneath that point relaxed (instead of micromanaging how the knees and feet move), and allow the entire foot to touch the ground when the terrain allows for it. I could tell that this manner of running is much safer on hazardous terrain, compared to my old running form. So that was a big success over the possibility of having another trail-running incident.
At the 16.5-mile mark the pack broke. One woman fell and slowed down. Two of us stopped briefly (I did to change clothes, drink water, grab food), and another continued running. So I fell back to third place. Now that I was alone I was more subject to my own thoughts, as opposed to the momentum of running as part of a group. One thought that repeated itself in my mind was, “Stay with your maker, no matter what happens.” The day before the race I heard a song called “Say it Right” by Nelly Furtado. One line from the song is, “Either got it, or you don't, either stand, or you fall.” In the chorus she repeats, “You don't mean nothin' at all to me.” I interpreted that as, my maker very nearly does not give a shit what happens. What counts to him is that I stay on his side. What occurred to me around mile 18 is that all I have to do is maintain an awareness of my superiors every second. I had started to become sore at what is basically the junction between the glute and the hamstring on the right leg, so you could call it either “the very bottom of my butt” or “the very top of the back of my leg.” Having the awareness of my maker seemed to stave off the pain. It also kept me from feeling badly about having lost my position in the race.
The last aid station is at mile 20. I drank water for the last time, and could see the 2nd place woman ahead of me. I said, “This is going to be a good race,” and started off at a pace faster than I had been running while alone. The last section of the race is split into roughly 2 miles of stone/jeep road, 2 miles of trail, and 2 miles of normal paved road. This is where things started to really get interesting. I thought of you, Jesus, Maria, my maker, and the Nine Principles. I thought to myself, “You extended this timeline. All eyes are on you now.” Centered in this, the next thought that came to me was, “Oh yeah, it's time to become a divine energy vehicle.” I sped up considerably and in a smooth manner. Just as before, this particular awareness/mindset/frequency held off the soreness in my upper right leg. I considered that when I “feed” my maker spiritually/psychologically, he “feeds” my body. I saw imagery of fuel cells being provided to the sore lower-glute area from which I lift my legs. One reason this area gets so sore is that, as I said, I have only recently started to run in this way, whereas in the past I made little conscious use of the hips and glutes. Any instant where I lost awareness of my maker, the pain returned and I felt that I was running in a harsher manner more prone to degradation.
A pickup truck heading towards me stopped unexpectedly on the road, and the driver got out. I wondered what was happening. When I got closer I saw it was another runner I know, who was volunteering for the day. He told me the 2nd place woman was 1 minute ahead, and the 1st place woman was another minute ahead. Within 5 minutes of that event, I caught up to the second place woman. Just before I reached her, she suddenly stopped running and started walking. When I passed her she said, “You got it. Go.” Later she told me she was exhausted. Within another 5-10 minutes I caught up to a man. I talked to him briefly. During that conversation I thought to myself, “I think they (my maker) want me to win.” But the 1st place woman was not in sight. Almost immediately I heard a high-pitched voice in the distance. The second time I heard it, the man yelled back to take a right. The voice was that of the woman in the lead, asking which way to go. Once we reached the right turn she had made, it was clear that was not the right way. That meant I was now in the lead. I wondered whether I was really going to be handed victory that easily...
No. She realized her mistake and flew past me on the stone road. I gave chase and we left the man behind. To make this easier, I will tell you that my competitor's name is Rhonda. I first met her at a 6-hour race in October 2019, where she beat me for the win by two miles. Since then I have looked forward to racing her again, and throughout the marathon yesterday I was excited at finally receiving this opportunity. Anyway, at this point there was no more than half a mile remaining on the stone road, and about 3-4 miles left in the race. Here, things became serious. I thought about your quote on my back. I realized, “I CAN win, and it will take the absolute best that I have.” I knew I would have to stay with my maker every second. A few minutes after we arrived at the final trail section, I realized the implications of your quote. I had subtle fears of overworking my body and being in pain. I knew I had to stay with my maker in spite of that. The essence of the “personal sacrifice” of ego death is that you can no longer be afraid for yourself. You can't escape into the comfort of holding yourself back, nor the perceived safety of letting yourself wallow in suffering. In my mind's eye I saw an image of Jesus holding a whip and a serious look on his face, almost angry. It was akin to paintings of him driving the money-changers out of the temple. I interpreted that as, “It's time to set aside the petty fears, be the way I am meant to be, and do what needs to be done.” In other words, “Grow up.” When I took on that seriousness for myself, the effort of keeping up with Rhonda suddenly went from feeling very tiring to almost easy. Initially that made me anxious. I thought, “If this is so easy then I should try to pass her.” There were not many opportunities for passing since we were on narrow foot-trails. I fell, my knee hit the ground briefly, and I let out a small groan. It did not hurt, and I recovered quickly. Why did I fall? “Too much self-doubt,” is what came to mind. Similarly, getting ahead of myself seems to be at odds with connecting to my maker. I need to be present and respect his timing. So I set aside the need to pass her at that point.
We arrived at a section that has many foot-bridges placed right on top of the ground. They are meant to help people evade mud. The bridges are covered in criss-crossed wire to make them less slippery, but I still always slow down on them. Many of them bounce under the movement of runners. I noticed I had fallen behind Rhonda somewhat, but I knew I had to stay with my maker no matter what. Finally we reached a point where she was not sure which way to go. I did, so I was able to both catch up and lead the way. At this point there was no more than two miles remaining. I led us through grassy fields which end in a steep descent that returns to the paved roads. I maintained the lead. When we turned on to the final road I had to deal with the uncertainty of when exactly the end would arrive. The road is a straight path at least half a mile in length. I was able to recognize a barn in the distance that I knew was across the street from the finish line, so I just had to stave off anxiousness regarding how far away the barn is each second. I had some concerns that I was moving slowly. I knew that to speed up I had to focus on lifting from the hip quickly as opposed to lengthening my strides. I had some success with this, but I still did not feel the usual intensity of the final stretch of a race. The soreness in my right glute was really catching up with me. I also had the usual pain in the arch of my left foot, as well as some blistering on the ball of that foot. Maintaining an awareness of my maker helped, but only so much. I considered that I had reached a true, relative limit in my present abilities: while I was doing my best, this pain could be staved off only so much. Those parts of my body had been worked in a manner and quantity of which soreness and pain is the natural result. I wondered how I could appeal to deeper emotion to get myself moving. I thought to my maker, “I do want to save you. I want to win.” My impulse was to burst into tears from the emotional overwhelm. But I was instructed not to. I thought how you said that women tend to double down on emotional plight when faced with problems, even though that is precisely what caused the problems in the first place. With that in mind I was able to remain stout and cool-headed. I knew that if I was going to lose I would have to remain fully aligned with my maker while doing so.
With roughly one-eighth of a mile remaining, Rhonda passed me. I heard people cheering for her as she got close to the finish line. I had to fight to continue running with full integrity at the very end in spite of my failure which was obvious to everyone watching, but I faltered somewhat in that fight. When I crossed the finish line I yielded to the apparent social momentum and indulged in the emotional overwhelm which I had previously staved off. I said, “Oh my god,” several times, just blown away by the magnitude, pain, and exhaustion of what had happened. I told the race director how we had an all-out race to the finish, and I just lost at the very end. He was pleased. He said, “That's what I like to see.”
A few post-race notes.
Getting lost on the course was a rather frequent event yesterday. People told me how they ran in circles, on roads that had nothing to do with the race, and missed turns or turned too soon. I said several times that navigation is an underrated aspect of trail-running. People are athletically capable, but they have difficulty staying on the right path. This may be an analogy for the current state of intelligent human life.
I mentioned that the top four women ran the first 16.5 miles together. The one who fell ended up getting lost at the very end, and consequently did not make fourth place like she should have. She has the best knowledge of the course and saved my ass multiple times both last year and this year. However, she does not run the roads in that area much, and instead of taking the final left turn she kept running straight. She ended up running five extra miles. She said that she had had a panic attack, and was clearly upset over her actions for a while after finishing the race. This was in stark contrast to her graceful first-place victory last year. Several times she said that she should not have missed the turn, “But you can't fix stupid.” I remembered how you said that no one is really dumb, just blinded by selfishness. So I wondered what it really was that made her miss this turn. Maybe she had self-pity over physically falling and falling behind in the race. That snowballed into anxiety, and that in turn degraded her decision-making ability. Her retelling of events suggested this possibility. If this really is what happened, then you could say the root cause of her missing the turn was selfishness.
Something I have not really talked about before, and you'll see why. This particular trail marathon is directed by a man whose other races are trail ultramarathons, so the community that has formed around him is rooted in that. Ultramarathon runners as a group are a high-quality sector of the populace. I've heard others within it agree, regardless of their political views. Hardworking, intelligent, healthy, physically fit, relatively disciplined and patient (or they would fail at these races), financially well-off, and many have families of their own. No drugs or government welfare. Drama is kept to a minimum at these events. The alcohol tends to flow post-race, but no one gets drunk, and definitely not belligerent.
I take refuge in the races I go to. They are places where intelligent people can be as such, together. A trail race is almost like an unofficial, temporary community which has separated itself from outside degeneracy for the day. If any group of people has the capacity and will to listen, it may be them.
One hard thing, though, might be making the connection between trail running and the things that matter, which is what I have aspired to do. I could not race without sight of the big picture, or the sport would have no soul and there would be no point in continuing. People do get caught up in the “tourist-y” aspect of finding cool races to go to, even traveling rather far to do so. The downfall of the sport is the consumerist mindset that can take over. It could be worse since in the process of indulging that, people are still engaging in the labor of running many miles in a mostly-natural setting. It's not like a vacation to Disneyland.
While I talked to people yesterday, I wondered how I might begin to approach them on the truly important subjects. There is a lot of potential present, and untapped potential is perhaps the greatest tragedy of humanity. I will likewise have to reveal more of my true self at these events somehow. The way I run, with my maker in mind, is one factor. Somehow, perhaps this needs to become more explicit, aside from having your quotes on my back. It is easier to express information when one is the director of the event as opposed to a participant, and that was one idea behind the “Arian Technologies Association.” Still, for now I am “just” a participant.
Overall I'm glad that the help you have provided to me in the last month has had a tangible effect. Thank you! I hope that writing-pieces like this will be part of the bridge between my athletic pursuits and what really matters.
Here is a photo of my epic defeat. I actually have not seen my official time yet, but she crossed the line in 4 hours 31 minutes 15 seconds.
Additions on the day of this post, October 2 2020.
My official time was 4 hours 31 minutes 19 seconds, or 4:31:19, for 26.4 miles. I lost the race by 8 seconds (this race was chip-timed, so the above photo does not reflect on the official finishing times). Here is a link to the results (this is purposely not a hyperlink-- you gotta want it.) : http://ultrasignup.com/results_event.aspx?did=75524
You can see on the results page that last year the race took me 5:47:33, and the course was exactly the same. That means I improved my time by 1 hour 16 minutes and 14 seconds.
Below is a screencapture of part of the race results.
To see my race in photos, go to this page: Morgan Hill Meat Grinder 2020 Photos
Brian responded to this e-mail via text message. On September 20 at 12:40PM, he said,
"Wow. You're very welcome, but again... I am not the one to thank. You found yourself, and were guided by your maker. I'm just a conduit. Nevertheless, thank you. Great job on the race. Look at the quotes as seeds you're sowing. You have to allow the plants time to sprout, then grow. People noticed. It may take a while for them to work up the courage to ask you questions, but it'll happen. It does seem like your maker was teaching you all kinds of lessons during the race from the sounds of it. Amazing how he can utilize other's emotions against them in real time, isn't it? Anyways, great job."