By Jordan Yeager
I encourage anyone who wants to practice transcendence to take up ultrarunning.
I don't have the right words to explain exactly what happens out there on the trail. First my mind stops its linear thoughts and instead starts to swirl around in circles. Tree. Rock. Jump over. The song stuck in my head. Person ahead of me is slowing down. My knee hurts. The wind. I hear the river. The swirling goes on and time doesn't pass in a normal way. After 4 or 5 hours of running, there are less thoughts and more feelings. More noticing. It is no longer “I need to eat exactly 90 calories of carbohydrates at mile 24,” but “I'm hungry.” And I start to feel pain all over and somehow am completely happy at the same time.
I remember seeing a white fuzzy caterpillar around 6 hours in. He was on a rock I jumped on and I made sure not to hurt him. Caterpillar. I can't remember the last time I noticed a white caterpillar. I don't remember anything else from that few miles of the trail. I guess it's because in order to finish well, you learn you must be settled in the moment, blocking out nearly everything except the next step. Your mind doesn't hold on to the context of the situation, you just notice. And you move.
Scott Jurek says, “The ultra distance leaves you alone with your thoughts to an excruciating extent. Whatever song you have in your head had better be a good one. Whatever story you are telling yourself had better be a story about going on. There is no room for negativity. The reason most people quit has nothing to do with their body.”
A story about going on. Counting down the miles is against the rules. Counting down the hours creates despair. You just go.
At 7 hours I thought it might be impossible for me to finish, because it was all straight uphill/rock or straight down, and my legs felt disconnected from my head. Impossible, maybe, but I'm going to do it anyway. Pain is temporary. No feeling has ever been permanent. What is permanent? Beauty. The soul. Determination and will. The other people on the trail. Completing something impossibly hard with other people beside me, cheering each other on.
You also start to realize, and I think this is part of the secret, that there is no enemy. The trail is not your enemy. The terrain is not your enemy. Your body is not your enemy, or the distance, or the hours. There is no enemy to blame for your pain; pain is part of the story and it belongs and it's okay and there will be an end. Until you know this you will fight against it all, and in the end it's your own journey you sabotage.
All I did yesterday was run and eat and rest a little. These are simple activities, common as grass. But they are also the most profound, little windows to my soul if I allow myself to notice. I noticed what made me the most truly happy was being swallowed in nature, the breeze filling my lungs – being connected to the world in its most basic form. And the feeling of being supported and cheered on by my closest friends and family, who didn't leave me to fend for myself, and who were always going to be waiting at the finish line no matter what happened in the middle. That is a picture of heaven to me. For now there's lots of frenzy, a little calm, a little joy and movement and pain and despair, but then you cross a finish line and it turns out there was never an enemy, just redemption along with the people who stand beside you.
This article was originally posted on Jordan's blog, Idle and Blessed, on October 5, 2014 and is used by permission.