“When the truth knocks on your door, and you say “Go away, I’m looking for the truth.” And so it goes away.”
When the fireworks began to rain down from the damp summer sky, runners were nervously assembling on a dirt road. It was still dark outside and we were getting ready to begin a hot, 100 mile journey through the countryside.
I looked at my watch. The start was now only a few seconds away, and I just finished sharing my ultra-wisdom with my good friend and only crew member, Jim “Lobster” Milton. “The real starting line isn’t until mile 70” I remember saying to him. “I’m going to go easy until then, so I can really run when I arrive there. You watch, I’ll be fresh when everyone else is dying.” Lobster looked at me like I was some kind endurance yogi speaking a foreign language. He’d never heard of a 100 mile race, let alone crewed for one, until I called him a few weeks prior.
What followed was a spontaneous meltdown that would certainly have landed me in the ultra running hall of shame...if there were such a place.
Merriam Webster defines Meltdown as: a rapid or disastrous decline or collapse. A breakdown of self-control (as from fatigue or overstimulation). In ultra running, both definitions apply, but the second one usually precedes the first in the sequence that typically unfolds on trail.
The stage that was set is pretty simple. I spent months training for a single event. I traveled to a distant town to run the event. I huddled with several hundred other runners in a small space at the starting line. I listened to the countdown. I heard the sound of the starting gun. I shouted as I started to run. Adrenaline coursed through my veins.
As I ran through the first five, ten, fifteen miles, I checked my body for signals. But it wasn’t sending any. Or so I thought. What was actually happening was my body was working 20% harder than it should’ve been. I just wasn’t paying attention to it. But I kept hearing something. What was it? Oh yes, that was my ego. And yes, what I learned was my ego doesn’t listen to the truth. And when the truth knocks, my ego sends it away.
Then came the rapid and disastrous decline. Rapid because it came by mile 23. Disastrous because it appeared in the form of a sharp, stabbing feeling in my quadriceps. Kind of like the feeling of an ice pick entering and exiting the muscle in a nanosecond. What was that? Nervous thoughts bombarded me. Then I started seeing an image of Humpty Dumpty laying on the ground, his pieces scattered all about. And there was this very angry person yelling at him, trying to put him back together. But it wasn’t working. At that moment I realized my body was broken. And the angry voice was my ego.
Here is my take on this situation. My body is the only part of me that speaks the truth. Whether I choose to listen to it, really listen to it and act upon it, is a simple function of whether my ego can shut its mouth and sit in the corner. That is a tall order for anyone’s ego, especially mine. Just being aware helps. Because when the truth knocks, and I tell it to go away, I know that is my ego talking.
Dear Ego: that is the time for you to shut up and sit in the corner.