I was originally going to include this in Internal Harmonic Resonant Capitulation and the Void, but I did not complete it in the timeframe that I desired to. As such, most of the following was originally written around October 27 2020.
At the Mighty Mosquito 100-mile race in August 2020, I failed to finish for the third year in a row. I failed in 2018 due to internal conflict and emotions, which I described in The Spiritual War. In both 2019 and 2020, I failed due to injury. Even so, at the 2020 race I experienced something I had been waiting for since I wrote part two of "The Spiritual War" five months prior, which is, “To run with brethren.”
At the 2019 race a man named Chris walked a lap with me, which was all I could do after mile 50 because of the knee injuries I incurred one week prior at Wakely Dam Ultra. I ended up completing a total of 74.5 miles. At the 2020 race, somewhere in the 40s or 50s of miles, one of the race directors informed me that Chris had returned and was interested in running with me again. Chris was not present at the start/finish line area (“Race HQ”) at that point, but I figured I would catch up with him eventually. I was more on track to finish than ever before up until mile 67. I finished mile 66 around midnight, which left me with 12 hours to finish the final third of the race. That was the exact amount of time I wanted to leave myself with, and I figured it should be plenty.
Doomed to DNF
The problem was that I had developed blisters on the balls of my feet which contained no detectable fluid. Every step was painful: it felt like getting shot (mildly). I stopped for an entire hour between two laps, trying to attend to the problem. I finally started my next lap at 1AM, and that 5.5-mile lap took three hours. I had lubricated my feet with homemade sunscreen consisting of beeswax, amongst other things. While that diminished the pain of the blisters, it turned out that I had used too much: I kept slipping in my shoes (running sandals), so I lost a great deal of time to that. To finish this race on time, the 18 5.5-mile laps must be completed in an average of 100 minutes each. When I finally returned at 4AM, the question became whether I could finish five laps (27.5 miles) in 8 hours. I was in enough pain and had been moving slowly enough that I decided to let it go. I fell asleep on a bench and ended up taking a break that lasted approximately three hours.
Around 7AM (realistically closer to 6:30—did anyone write this down?), I walked lap 14 in about 2.5 hours. When I finished I sat down, assuming I likely was done.
Before long, Chris and the other participant he had been running with also completed a lap. I finally caught up with Chris. He told me he enjoys pacing people at races. I asked him whether it feels like their lives are in his hands, and he said, Yes. He likes to take the job seriously, and he feels that his military background is a factor in that. He explained that he thinks it is helpful to provide the runner with a lot of encouragement.
As that conversation wrapped up, the thing on both of our minds was whether we were finally going to run a lap together. I told him about the problems I was having and the history behind them (which tied into the 2019 race). Overall, I made the point that I was in pain and was reluctant to go on. But I thought about how far he must have driven to get there: I figured it was at least a one-hour drive from the race. He was at the race in 2019 to participate in the relay race: in 2020 the relay was canceled due to COVID, so he showed up only to run with people in the 100-mile race. And I knew, as the race director made clear, that his primary intention was to run with me specifically. Not that he can’t handle that not happening (clearly, since he ran with someone else for a while), but I knew that was on his mind. I also thought about the conversation we had. I was pleased to hear how seriously he took pacing. I also liked hearing about his military background. Steadily, it occurred to me that we were sufficiently on the same page, at least in one context. I thought, “This man traveled all this way to run with me. Am I going to disavow him of that?” That was the thought which made me decide to take on an additional lap.
A Final Lap
It was about 9:35AM. I assumed this lap was going to take about two hours. Chris was fine with that. Once we told the race directors of my decision to carry on, I walked about five steps, and then Chris started running. I thought, “I could run a little.” Hahaha. Ha, hahahaha…
At first I took rather small steps. It seemed it could be sustainable, though it was painful and therefore incomprehensible to think of running the whole way. Chris steadily pushed the pace, such that he was some distance ahead of me, rather than closely ahead like I expected him to be. I decided to try to keep up. Indeed, it did feel like a lot of pushing at first. That included the run up to the top of, and then down, the very steep hill named, "Cardiac Arrest." Chris gave me a lot of encouragement and told me that I was doing a good job.
It was shortly after this point that I realized I was in the middle of getting what I had wanted all year: “to run with brethren.” I took that very seriously, and it enabled me to increase my speed. This run ended up being a more pressing experience than what had happened at the 2018 race, though this time I had that experience for only one lap as opposed to three. What made this particular iteration of the race more intense was the addition of all the injuries I never could have dreamed of in 2018, and also the fact that I was giving everything I had to keep up with this man who had far fresher legs than I did (as opposed to running by myself).
Once again, the run around the field was a standout moment. Whereas in 2018 I fought heat exhaustion, this time I fought pain. The entrance into the field is downhill, and I managed to posture myself in a way that this felt effortless, in spite of the pain. This initiated another increase in pace. Chris was excited. He said something like, “I like it, girl,” and I replied, “I know, but it hurts the feet.” On the flat section of the field, I fought with pain that seemed to be due to the tong of my left sandal, since that’s what I run in now. It hurt, but I so badly wanted to keep up with Chris and do my best. After that, things must have gone relatively more smoothly since no particular instance of pain stands out to me, though it was indeed painful.
Chris kept pushing the pace, and I chased him up and down the steep hills of the northern section of Mendon Ponds Park. Unlike me, he was not running as fast as he could. There were times where he pulled out far ahead and, as much as I wanted to, I just could not manage to run at that seemingly-ridiculous pace. At least one time when that happened, while running uphill, he slowed down and told me I was doing a great job.
One of the more intense portions was, indeed, at the end. With roughly 0.75 miles to go, we were running on a grass-and-dirt trail that leads back to the main part of the park. There were three horseback riders in our path. As I got closer, I wondered what I would do. Chris announced that runners were coming. I decided not to slow down at all, and I squeezed by all of the horses on their left. I am pretty sure it is against trail etiquette to do that, but this race is the only time I ever run amongst horses, so I did not look into that until afterward.
The thought that became more and more persistent, was how I would give all I had at the very end. Shortly after passing the horses, some kind of profound vision occurred to me. During the second half of the race, the music that I frequently “heard” in my mind (you could say, “the song I had stuck in my head”) was the opening guitar line of “The Breakup Song” by the Greg Kihn Band. I had listened to the song on the radio while driving to the race. At this particular point in the race I looked at Chris running ahead of me, and thought about how I did not want anything to be held back in the attainment of a higher ideal. I allowed myself to feel the intensity of the connection being shared in that moment, which was very nearly beyond human. When I did that, the line of music I was hearing from “The Breakup Song” changed from being played by a single guitar, to some kind of ensemble of instruments, and in a higher pitch or key. In my mind's eye I saw a gigantic iron tower which resembled an Adirondack fire tower in its appearance, and felt completely sturdy and unbreakable. I was unable to see the top of the tower. That vision, combined with that change in music, provided me with the most solid feeling of being centered that I have ever had.
should mention that in moments such as this, where my goal is clear,
my attention is completely present, and I feel held back by nothing
but natural limitations, my eyes are completely open. There is no
need to withdraw inward to internal arguments or doubts, because they
get dissolved in the awareness of being on the right path. In these
moments, inward awareness and outward actions become completely consistent with one another, as though one.
Once this moment of profundity was realized, there was nothing left to do but speed up, continually, until the very end. With roughly 300 meters left in the race, there is a narrow section of trail with quite a few turns, as well as roots and rocks to dodge. Naturally, it is commonplace to slow down on this section. I managed to continue moving smoothly here, without feeling held back by the obstacles either physically or mentally. Chris told me one last time that I was doing a great job, and without my realizing it, at the end of this section he turned off course and took a shortcut to the finish. That was acceptable since he was not an official race participant. When I emerged from the woods to the beach, all I noticed was that he was no longer in front of me, but I did not really think about it. I crossed the muddy section at the end of the beach one last time (one of very few on an otherwise dry racecourse), and then turned to run up the small hill that led to the pavilion which served as “Race HQ” and the start/finish line. I actually sped up even more as I ran up the hill, and then ran through the pavilion at a full sprint.
The final reason this was more intense than the 2018 race, is that this was the fastest lap I had ever completed at this race. Chris and I finished the lap in 55 minutes. My fastest lap in 2018 was also the last one, at 60 minutes. Overall I ended up completing the same distance that I did in 2018, and this time I did it one hour faster-- 82.5 miles in 28.5 hours. A perfect match of numbers!
It turned out that I finished the lap just several minutes before people would no longer be allowed to start new laps, at 10:30AM. This was a tough decision to contend with, because I could not imagine putting myself through another 5.5 miles of pain. It seemed that running another lap would be the honorable thing to do, but I kept having the thought that it would be “suicidal.” I explained this to Chris, and decided to call it a day.