Islip to Chilao

The Scenic Mound

The Scenic Mound

I am confident that I am physically ready for AC100. What I’m not as confident about is that I am mentally ready.

Mahatma Gandhi is famously quoted as saying “I have only three enemies. My favorite enemy, the one most easily influenced for the better, is the British Empire. My second enemy, the Indian people, is far more difficult. But my most formidable opponent is a man named Mahatma Ghandi. With him I seem to have very little influence.”

We’d finished a training run from Islip Saddle to Chilao, the second 25 miles of the race, including what for many has been the roughest area – the hot dip down into Cooper Canyon. Last year all the front runners all fell behind pace down there.

We were sitting in the parking lot at Chilao and one of the runners, a very strong woman with a number of wins on her resume (but none of those wins at the 100 mile distance) said what had been on my mind: that she wasn’t mentally ready. Mari Lemus has finished AC100 and Badwater 135, and her husband Jorge Pacheco has won AC100 4 of his 6 finishes, and Badwater 1 of his 3 finishes. On a short run with Mari from Chilao to Shortcut, she stressed the importance of being mentally ready.

The Ghandi quote above is taken from a book by Jack Kornfield, founder of Spirit Rock Monastery in Northern California and one of the most important Western Buddhist teachers. The quote is in a chapter called “Stopping the War”, which is about being at war with the way things are. Ghandi, Kornfield writes, is talking about the inability to change ourselves for the better through willpower. “When we struggle to change ourselves, we only continue the patterns of self-judgment and aggression. We keep the war against ourselves alive,” Kornfield writes.

Kornfield writes of a student who rebelled against all authority, and travelled to Thailand to join a monastery. Unfortunately, he struggled just as hard at the monastery, prompting his teacher to say “You are struggling with everything. How is it that the food bothers you, the sounds bother you, the chores bother you, even your mind bothers you? What I want to know is when you hear a car come by, does it really come in and bother you, or are you going out to bother it? Who is bothering whom?

My pattern during races is to get frustrated and want to quit. Something will not be going my way, and at some point someone at an aid station is likely to have to talk me into finishing, or at least stall my dropping long enough for me to talk my own self into continuing.

That pattern is me struggling with some reality – the reality of things not going exactly as I’d hoped and planned – and wanting to quit. Almost always, the problem is not one of the present moment but of some future: that I will not finish near my goal time is common (and usually when this thought happens, I do finish near or even under my goal time).

Sometimes things are just frustrating. This week, it feels like the world is conspiring to make my life as annoying as possible. In truth, it’s worries about AC100, sadness at the death of a friend from long ago, sadness and a strange feeling of estrangement for being a survivor of a particular scene – the Austin Tx punk scene circa 1980 – that has so many deaths, frustration with a few things at work, frustration with a friend who I am watching make a succession of bad decisions, and all of these individually perfectly deal-with-able frustrations compound one another until they form some bigger-than-the-sum-of-its-parts block of resistance.

The running has been fun, though. Sometimes when I’m running alone and I’m on a long hard climb at mile 30, I start to question this whole thing…but not as often as I used to.

Now it’s off to Bishop for Bishop High Sierra 100K.

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