In college I had a swim coach who, at the start of each and every practice, declared in a booming voice that reverberated across the pool: “Let’s go team; we’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there!” Despite its repetitiveness, the saying was always apropos – we invariably had a very long way to swim and a very limited amount of pool time in which to accomplish the yardage. Little did I know at the time that he had not created the saying on his own. Rather, he had lifted it from the song “East Bound and Down” by Jerry Reed – a song about a trucker’s quest to bootleg beer from Texas to Georgia. Despite my initial disappointment in the discovery that one of my favorite mottos was not originally about elite athletics but instead dedicated to the smuggling of booze across state lines, I still hear my coach’s words echoing as I prepare for the ultramarathon.
Fifty miles certainly qualifies as a long way to go. Especially on foot, in a single day. While a marathon is nothing to sneeze at, it usually only requires a semi-early start in the morning, followed by several hours of running, and then the remainder of the afternoon and evening can be dedicated to rationalizing the intake of massive quantities of junk food in the name of replacing depleted glycogen stores. But 50 miles…well that’s definitely a whole other beast. Even if I were able to power through all 50 miles at a respectable 12 minute per mile pace (trust me, I will not), it would take 10 solid hours before I finished. In fact, the North Country Trail Run has a cut-off time of 14 hours, after which time they promise to hunt down any stragglers and whisk them off the race course.
Apart from the actual race, the phrase also applies to my training. The North Country Trail Run is now a mere two months away. With the significant interruption in my training due to my hip injury, the doubts that were always in the back of my mind have lately been screaming at the top of their lungs. I now know – without a doubt – I will not feel remotely prepared when the time comes to lace up my trail runners on the big day. Given the harsh reality of my situation, I’ve had to reconsider a lot of my expectations and goals. At one point, I fancied what it would be like to place in my age group, or maintain a fast pace for the duration of the race. But now, there’s really only two goals I’m concerned with: finishing before the cut-off time and simply surviving the ordeal!
Then again, I’m not sure if one ever really feels prepared when undertaking a colossal, intimidating goal. Even under the most ideal circumstances and flawless preparation, there always comes that moment when, standing at the brink of your comfort zone, insecurity rears its ugly head, trying to talk you down from making that leap. Failure may cause some pain, but ultimately can lead to immense growth. Fear of failure, on the other hand, can lead to complete paralysis that leads to a much worse fate – stagnation. It would be far easier at this moment to back out of this. I have plenty of legitimate excuses: a hectic work schedule, moving to a new city, an impending shift in my career, and ongoing battle with injury. No one would blame me. However, it would be far harder years from now to look back and wonder what would have been had I just tried.
And so for now, in the spirit of “East Bound and Down”, my running buddy, Leah, and I will keep on truckin’; we’re gonna do what they say can’t be done!
Until our paths cross again,