Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Wisdom of Patience and Preparation

It has been close to eight months since I made a commitment to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in mid-July, and probably a year or more since the idea first entered my consciousness.  In my journal, since August 14th, I have been keeping a running countdown of the weeks left until I will say goodbye to my friends and family and set out on this adventure - and now that list is almost all crossed off!  Each weekend I cross out the prior week so that visually I can see the progress toward my goal.  There are now just six weeks until I turn in my keys to my apartment, pack my belongings into storage, and then drive up to Idaho to spend some time with my mom and make final preparations before flying to San Diego on April 26th.  My patience over the past eight months has been tested more than ever before, and I feel extremely anxious.  I know there is value in this space I am in right now - I just need to learn to appreciate it.  It is an interesting feeling being so near to a goal and knowing that it is inevitable, yet still feeling like it is so far away.  Six weeks still feels like an eternity to me.

I have felt this way before in December, 2010 as I prepared to run my first marathon, the Tucson Halualoa Marathon.  I had trained for months and knew that I was as prepared as I would ever be.  Not only was I training my body and making sure I have the gear, shoes or other resources I need to complete the race, but every day I trained, I was mentally instilling in myself the will and determination to meet my goal.  For that first (and so far only) marathon, I had set two goals for myself - well actually three.  First - I wanted to just finish.  But I know myself too well, and just finishing is not in my blood.  I needed something more.  My second goal:  I wanted to finish in under 4 hours.  This was my original time goal.  I don't know where this came from but it seemed like a nice round number and reasonable for an already slim and "fairly athletic" guy like myself.  I thought to myself - if those 300 lb guys and gals on The Biggest Loser can lose half of their body weight in three months and then run a marathon (one finished in about 4:15), then I just have no excuse to not make it in under 4 hours.  Finally, I had also made a stretch goal of 3:45.  I need a stretch goal because I need something to shoot for that is just barely out of reach, but also a possibility if everything goes right.  Based on my training times, I thought 3:45 would be an amazing accomplishment for a first marathon.

So now I'm on mile 25 of the marathon and I am drained like never before.  Every bone and muscle and joint is screaming at me to stop.  One of my training partners, Jeff, has been running by my side since mile 21 and he is telling me to "pick it up!", "take another gel!", "push it up this last hill!" and every time he utters a word I just want to strangle him, but I have no energy to even speak so I just nod my head and grimace and force my legs to kick a little, imperceptibly, harder.  

In the first half of the race I had felt strong.  After a cold morning start in the chilly desert, I stuck close to and quickly passed the 4:00 pacer.  A few miles later I caught and passed the 3:45 pacer.  I felt invincible!  After hitting the half-way point I slowed a bit as fatigue caught up with me - but I knew that as long as I stayed ahead of the 3:45 pacer I had a chance of beating my stretch goal to the finish.

Now I'm running the last half mile of the race... Jeff by my side floating like a butterfly, my body flailing (and failing) with every step...and I hear a commotion behind me.  With much effort I lift my head from it's weary downward tilting perch on my shoulders and turn around - a few paces behind me and closing in is the 3:45 pacer leading a pack of runners!  Holy SH*T!  I can't let him pass!!  Up until then I had forgotten about my 3:45 goal and was honestly going to be just happy to cross the finish line so I could collapse, but now this was too much and my pride couldn't handle it.  Somehow I wasn't going to let them pass...not a chance!  Where the energy came from I don't know, but that pacer behind me was all I needed to dig deep and find that extra push, and remind myself why I was there and what I wanted to accomplish.

RaceLast Name, First Name
Sex Place
Div Place
DIVNet TimeCity, State, Country
Tucson Marathon
Mease, Russell (M35)3:46:14223170 / 29M35-393:44:55Tucson, AZ, USA

With one eye behind me for the last half mile, I crossed the finish line just ahead of the pacer with a Net Time (after adjusting for variations in the start time based on being back in the pack) of 3:44:55!  I did it!!  If it wasn't for that pacer and for Jeff giving me constant motivation, I would not have kicked at the end and I would not have made my goal time.

I learned from this experience that those months of preparation were not only physical preparation, but mental.  In the last mile of a marathon it is all mental.  My expectations of myself were higher and I was more confident and determined than ever because of that time I put in.  I had the confidence to push for a loftier goal - regardless if I was truly physically ready for it, I made it happen anyways.

Now, whenever I feel impatience or just plain frustration creeping in, I remember that this is not wasted time. This is the time I need to come to terms with what I am about to do.  In a couple of months when I feel like I want to quit this hike because it is too hard or too lonely or too <insert any excuse here> I will think of all the preparation I put in and all that is at stake if I fail, and I will push that much harder.  And because of this, I will have experiences I would not otherwise have.

The marathon taught me that I can meet and even exceed my goals if I want them bad enough.  There is nothing I can't achieve.  I am excited to see what five months on Pacific Crest Trail will teach me.  I am excited to see what else I can convince myself is possible.

Thanks for reading



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PCT Northern Terminus

PCT Northern Terminus
On September 30, 2012 I reached the Northern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. Thanks to everybody who supported and followed my journey. It was a life-changing experience!