I am hours into my 50-mile ultra, with 18 more miles left. At this point, any distraction from the physical is welcome, which is why my brain is busy doing some mental calculations. Eighteen more miles to go. 10-minute miles would put me out another 180 minutes. Divide that by 60, and BAM! Only three hours left to go. But if I average 12-minute miles, 12×18 equals 216 minutes. That’s another 36 minutes, so realistically I have between 3 and 3 hours, 36 minutes left to finish. That should be a realistic goal. Awesome. Great. But if I get tired, and average 14-minute miles, that would be an additional 36 minutes, which could put me at 4 hours 14 minutes left. OK. The LONGEST I have left is 4:12. Worst-case scenario. Unless it takes me 15 minutes a mile… add another 18 minutes, so 4 and a half hours.
The trees, the rocks, continue to move behind me as my strides fall in rhythm. Well, kind of rhythm-ish. On uneven trail surfaces, getting into a cadence isn’t always easy. But any runner who’s been out on the trail, grinding out the miles, knows the feeling. The fantastic, wonderful, painful, and satisfying feeling of accomplishment that comes after time spent outside. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 5k or 100 miles, nothing beats that feeling.
At least, that’s what my brain is trying to remind my body currently. I LIKE this. I chose to do this. I PAID for this.
And so, goes the constant internal, what shall we call it, conversation? Dialogue? Hostage negotiations? It’s that silent banter that happens between brain and body when one pushes oneself into the realm of uncomfortable, hard, seemingly impossible tasks. As the miles tick by, my inner voice starts vacillating between cajoling (OK legs, you got this! You’re so strong. That post-race beer is going to be so tasty!) and outright threatening (YOU signed up for this, brain, so you should shut the F up right now or we legs are quitting. Hey, toes, shut the hell up because we have 17 more miles, and we aren’t stopping no matter what. Whining will only make us push harder).
I know I am not the only runner who does this. In fact, I suspect many runners have very similar talks between brain and body. But I do wonder- am I the only one who does mental math calculations as well? Often, I find it to be a welcome distraction as I work through how many miles, hours, minutes, even seconds until I cross the finish line.
Back to my run, which I PAID for. I paid $180 for this 50-mile race. That makes the cost… let’s see. $3 per mile would be $150. $30 / 50 is… hard. But if it were an additional 50 cents per mile, that would be another $25. That leaves $5, which is another 10 cents per mile. So total cost I paid is $3.60 per mile to run this race. Whew that took a few minutes! And now another mile has ticked by, leaving me with 16 left to go. Somewhere between 160 and 192 minutes. Hopefully.
Other running thoughts that go through my brain as I run include random observations (wow – I’ve never seen a leaf shaped like that! Ugh, do I need to pee or am I just cold? Aww cute little squirrel. Chipmonk? What’s the difference between them anyway? Did I remember to pack my fav sweatpants?) and random parts of songs, repeating over and over… and over. Now that I’ve concluded my calculations of my anticipated finish time, along with how much I’ve paid per mile for this torturous “fun”, it’s time for the segment I like to call Random Repeating Song. Currently it’s Mumford and Sons, White Page Blank, singing “tell me now, where my fault was, in loving you with my whole heart?” Such a great song, but for some reason the rest of the lyrics have fled my mind. So, for the next several miles, I am occupied with this stanza on loop, only occasionally interrupted with random observations about how a tree looks, what would happen if I tripped on that root, or how the rain feels cold blowing against my left leg and in my ear.
Eventually the brain works its way back to some math (10 miles left- easy math!) and finally I am on my last two miles. At this point, 10+ hours after starting, I am so close to being done I can almost taste it. The finish line beer that is. Or could be my salty sweat. Either way, I am this close and the only coherent thoughts I can muster up are along the lines of “just two more miles. You can do anything for two more miles”, “dig f*ing deep” and “almost done”. That’s it. On repeat.
And then, finally, there is the finish line! Like magic, as soon as I cross that line, all internal dialogue stops, and all that I am left with is feelings. The relief, the satisfaction, the pain, the glow, the pleasure and (did I already mention this?) the pain. All these sensations wrapped in appreciation and thankfulness for the ability to push to the end. This. This is why we do it.
Whether your mind does math, repeats lines of songs for hours, or anything else, the accomplishment is still the same. Congrats!