August 24, 2014

Leadville 100 - My Reptilian Brain

A young lady asked me a question the other day. “What was it like to run the Leadville 100?” It was a simple question. But when I started to answer I caught myself. How do I compress 23 hours into one or two sentences? I thought a better question would be to ask her how much time she had...

There is nothing more primitive than the reptilian brain. We all have one. It’s what makes us breathe, sweat, shiver. It controls more of us than you are probably aware – our urge for food and water.  For safety. For sex. Oh, I forgot. We don’t want to be associated with lizards or animals. We are human. Right?

There are always moments. Those that we don’t forget. Certain drops of reality that become lodged in our memory. What causes these moments to be captured I do not know. But they are there.

I captured one of these moments on the backside of Sugarloaf Mountain. Around mile 82, after hiking, sweating, gasping, hydrating and running for 18 straight hours. My feet were rubbed raw and I could feel the skin slowly disintegrating between my toes. But at this moment I ran alone. Under a cold night sky filled with brilliant stars. Above the trees was a crescent moon, gleaming.

Wrapped tightly around our reptilian brain is the more celebrated limbic brain which gives us emotions, values and judgments. Further removed is the neocortex, a blessing and a curse for us humans and the part of the brain that gives us abstract thought. Advanced as these uniquely human sections of the brain might be, they are also the nurturing ground for some of the baggage we tend to carry, like anxiety, frustration and doubt.

My eyes surveyed the ground with each stride, finding the space to step between every stone, every rut. At that moment I could just as well have been a passenger rolling through that Colorado forest. I glanced down, and then all around me, seeing each rock, then letting it disappear beneath me. Every tree, then feeling it pass above me. I moved over the ground without a passing thought or the baggage that thoughts might bring.

What was it like to run Leadville this year? Let me just say this. It was primitive. It hurt. It felt amazing. It was animalistic. It was connection. With the forest beneath me, and the star studded sky above me. It was disconnection. From my limbic and neocortex, and my baggage.

More than I’m probably aware.

PS: I finished a little less than one minute faster than last year (23:43), which was about where I wanted to be with two previous 100s this summer and another 100 miler in three weeks. Not too fast. Not too slow...said the neocortex. 


Jukka Kukkonen said...

Congrats on your great run at Leadville! 3 down, one more left - almost there!

Mary H said...

Way to go Will! Looking forward to hearing your thoughts after you conquer the 4th and final run of the grand slam!!! Go get it done!!! Sending you all my best!

wcooperjr said...

Thanks TP and EP! One more to go, but it will be a doozy!