When is the last time you earned yourself a new title?
One year and three days ago, I followed along on Instagram as Chadd Wright won the first-ever Midstate Mile in Franklin, Tennessee.
I told myself I would be there next year.
I'm happy to say that after 16 hours, 48 laps, 52.8 miles, and 16,600 feet of vertical gain, I earned the title of ultrarunner.
I wrote at the beginning of May:
"It's going to push me physically. It's going to push me mentally. It's my version of an answer to 'How can you challenge yourself to know yourself better?' With any luck, the training and the event will help me learn a little about myself too."
I went to war with myself and came out the victor. I went further than I knew was possible and ended up finishing 14th out of 96 participants, running alongside professionals and lifelong runners. I earned a seat at the table. When the real struggle of mind versus body began, I stepped up to the challenge.
Today, I'm slow to rise out of a chair. And there are some specific aches and pains not worth going into, but I relished the battle.
Seven hours in I looked at my dad and told him, "I'm taking it to new places." I only sat five times the whole race.
"There is no success without pain." Eloquently put by Chadd Wright, former U.S. Navy SEAL, now a two-time Midstate Mile champion. Running those laps was like being in the throes of mental and physical war, and it was exhilarating. I went further than I thought my body was capable of and tapped into previously unknown reserves of grit and mental fortitude.
Thankfully, I had incredible support both on-site and around the country. I felt loved and supported by family, friends, and even complete strangers who offered tape, food, advice, and equipment.
They were a bit shocked at the "two brothers from Philly" who had never run more than 18 miles before and were still out there, now 45 miles in.
Add it to the Life Resume. Mission accomplished.
The Happiness of Pursuit
So why did I want to join this eclectic group of masochists and run until my legs were on the verge of collapsing?
The answer is what I’m calling “the happiness of pursuit.” It was about the joy of the process, of the blood and the sweat and the struggle. I’ve always loved the camaraderie of my water polo or rugby teams going through pain and hardship, and that's what I saw in Franklin, TN. It was us against the mountain. The only thing that would signify defeat was walking away with regrets.
While I rest my aching body and continue to process everything that happened during those 16+ hours, I think of the beautiful moments (possibly delirious, but beautiful nonetheless):
Sitting in my chair after lap 45, in extreme pain, saying I was done, but looking at the countdown clock and hearing the encouragement, and knowing I couldn’t throw in the towel. This was the mental battle I came here for. I rose up and set off once again in a struggle of will versus body.
My brother and I, having run two times further than our previous personal records, talking on the trail and realizing that if we were capable of this, what else could we do?
Shining my headlamp into the dark woods and seeing thousands of lightning bugs flashing in unison, and hundreds of spider eyes glittering on the forest floor below.
Preparing for the race with a 36-hour, water-only fast, and seeing the human body in a whole new light. (Circle Three post on the fasting experience coming soon.)
I Get To Do This
In the summer of 2019, I was training for my first sprint triathlon, and the hardest part for me was running the 3.1 miles that made up the running leg of the triathlon.
Two years later, almost to the day, I picked up the title of ultra runner. Funny how life works out.
The three runners in our little team from Philly had one mantra on the course: "I GET to do that again."
So many things in life we have to do. Each lap was an opportunity. We had the privilege of being there and being challenged by fellow competitors, so why would I pass up the chance to do it again?
Am I looking ahead to Midstate Mile 2022? My answer has consistently been "we'll see." It would be something I GET to do.
But hey, it’s just a mile after all.