by Mike Smith
A Mile and Hour recap
So with the Mile an Hour escapade six hours old, the multiple layers of salt scrubbed off, the real aches and pains having differentiated themselves from those simply guised as something wrong, I sit to reflect on this year’s endeavor. First things first, a couple of observations. I lucked out with the weather window. Over the experience, I had a high temperature of 45 and a low temperature of 23, both very manageable considering the possibilities. 45 means you won’t overheat and 23 means that with the right clothes I was able to manage to both stay warm but not too warm. Not to mention that three hours after I finished we had some pretty serious snow flurries.
Things went a lot smoother this time around. I wasn’t plagued by a wonky hamstring and was able to run every step, including the emergency change of venue for my last three miles (to an extremely hilly 3.5 mile course.) While the muscles in my legs did indeed get tight, nothing was really wrong with them. Other than getting a little bit fatigued and then groaning about it at the start of every hour. Twenty four hours later, I end up with a sore small toe on my left foot which has since dissipated, and a bit of anticipated stiffness.
Doing a challenge like this the second time around is both easier and harder. How? The obvious reason it’s easier is experience. Last year I experienced what it took, and with perspective, planning for and pulling off the whole shebang comes with less questions.
With that said, being motivated to do something you’ve already accomplished, with no reason for doing it in the first place can wear on you. Especially in the wee hours of the night. So, easier and harder.
This year I made a couple changes to the challenge. Last year, as a teacher, I had to begin my challenge after school hours, if I wanted to finish the next day (which was my birthday.) This year, not being a teacher, I decided to start at 10am on Friday so that I could finish my twenty four hours at the next day’s Chiller 3 mile race at 9am. I love the Chiller course around Granite Lake, and by running the 3 mile course I’d have 26+ miles in and thereby a marathon as well.
Last year I prepared to have people surround me during the experience, with my friend Steve electing to stay through the entire thing. I had activities like corn hole set up so those who came out to support me would have things to do while they waited. Being the second go around I expected, and got less visitors (a product of doing something you’ve already done.) I did bring the Solo stove fire pit again expecting to spend some of my time staring in the flames, searching for the meaning of this adventure. I did have some company for the bonfire, but once the flames died down, so did the spectating. I spent a lot more of this year’s challenge solo, as I expected.
Now Steve, while not there during the entire run, certainly took the opportunity to drum up support while he was there. Different from last year, by starting at 10am I would have five runs that happened during the school day. Every hour during school would see more spectators out on the course until the 2pm hour when about a quarter of the school population was out in the parking lot, both cheering and goading me on that hour’s run. I had kept everything low key and Steve ensured it didn’t remain that way.
In a challenge such as this, the early hours melt away, one into another as the challenge is the easiest at this point. With plenty of company and still a bit of a spring in the step, there is no difficulty in getting through the early hours thinking that this is less of a challenge and more of a placid adventure. But once my last consistent company finished the 10pm run 13 miles in, and you’re left with your own thoughts and a growing throng of achy muscles, the challenge begins to creep in.
And it’s not all running. I mean hell, the running’s the easy part. I’ve been doing it for 44 years. In some ways it’s just muscle memory. But it’s the starting running. It’s the starting running on achy legs when you haven’t slept in twenty hours. It’s not just the starting running either. It’s the sleeping. Or the attempt at sleeping. It becomes really difficult to begin sleeping when your next run is forty minutes away. I made the attempt to sleep four times, sure I accomplished it three times, but probably accumulating thirty minutes of sleep total.
And the worst running came after the sleeping. I thought that getting off my feet would do wonders for my legs but it turned out the opposite was true. While I can’t be certain of exactly why, my guess is that the thirty minutes of them not being engaged in some sort of movement was the perfect amount of time to start seizing up, the inactivity allowing the days endeavor to sink in. While I’d eventually come back to equilibrium, the first minute or so of running post sleep were the hardest steps of the challenge.
And while I enjoyed the miles done in the darkness, they were also the hardest miles. I ran them mostly alone with my thoughts, and because of that, the aches and pains, stresses and strains weighed heaviest when there was no one there to distract me from the task at hand. All the hills and rises of the access rod grew larger, and all the inconsistencies of the road surface and continual icing grew more treacherous as the night progressed. I think it was the 5am run I was most desperate, ascending the second of two hills on the loop course, repeating a mantra in my head that I was almost there, referring to the crest of the hill and the 9am final run. The crescent moon with Venus shining brightly below made a great counterbalance to the darkness of these runs.
But the 6am run came with plenty of hope. With the sunlight just breaking the horizon, the glow of the new day and it’s new opportunities, I knew it was in the bag, and truthfully even with the hilly final run ahead of me, I was going to be able to put it in neutral and coast in. The 7am and 8am runs were easier and went faster, the rising sun being followed by a rising spirit.
The final run was by far the biggest true test of running capacity, with the 3.5 mile loop not just being hilly, having zero capacity for anything flat at all. The start dropped precipitously from the gun immediately followed by ¾ of a mile almost too steep to run. Many of the competitors in front of me simply walked that section. Determined to run every step I may have benefitted from the mind numbing ascent, pretty much forgetting the trials and tribulations of the preceding twenty-four hours. Lungs burning at the top, I settled in for the resulting roller coaster two and a half miles to the finish As I ran the last ¾ of a mile up Route 101 into Dublin center, heart beat in concert with my raspy breathing, I actually relished the fact that this final “mile” was the toughest, cranking the volume of the challenge up a couple of notches.
You see, running a mile an hour isn’t the tough part. I had a colleague ask me what I did to train for this challenge, what was I doing about nutrition and hydration. I laughed and told him nothing, as unlike any other run of this magnitude, I got to stop every ten minutes and rest, eat and drink for fifty minutes. No training needed. Matter of fact I had a crock of mac and cheese in the slow cooker through the evening that I sampled when hungry. I was definitely the most hydrated I’ve ever been running 20 miles or more.
I’m sure at this point last year I was probably saying I’d never do this challenge again and here I am. But I’m pretty confident this was it. The first time I think I was looking to take some meaning from the run. Having so much support though I think I felt maybe I never drilled down to the real essence of what a mile and hour really meant. This time around, with plenty of time to think and reflect, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Mile an Hour challenge is just that, a mile an hour. Truth be told, anyone could do it.
The meaning isn’t in if you could do it, but are you willing to do it. The true essence is are you willing to do things that are mundane, repetitive, common, uncomfortable and just plain monotonous when you could simply quit? When the alarm goes off at 2:55am and you quickly climb out of the warm sleeping bag, shuffle off to the bathroom, return, put on a couple of layers to stave off the cold only to return ten minutes later, sweaty, having created enough serotonin to make falling back asleep almost impossible. The real challenge is to determine whether all this deviation from the comforts we work desperately hard to create for ourselves is worth it. Whether suffering when there are so many other options to choose from holds meaning for you. Whether the struggle of life is enhanced by doing these things that are hard, pushing us further from our comfort zone, helps us grow.
I believe they do. How am I better from this experience? Damned if I know. But there is no way that by going through this I’m worse off. I expect I’ll be more patient, a rare commodity for me. I expect it will make those tough days out on a run just a bit easier. And I imagine, as my faster, more spritely days of running get further behind me, I’ll be able to take more enjoyment from the slow shuffle that has increasingly become my stock in trade.
“Good on ya mate!” – Beau Miles
Short Strides and Odd Thoughts: A Mile and Hour recap
by Mike Smith