March 11, 2024

Monument Valley - Embracing the Unknown

It is said that to embrace running ultra marathons, you have to embrace the unknown, Unknown weather conditions, unknown course conditions, even your own unknown mental and physical condition. They all can change in an instant, usually for the worse. How ever you expect things to go out there, usually doesn’t go, but the idea is you keep going anyway. 

When I was running into a 50 mph head wind at the Monument Valley 50k last week, with sand blasting into my face and body, I realized that wasn’t the picture I had painted in my head preparing for the day. And when I looked up and saw tumbleweeds twirling toward me like something from a 1960s horror show, that visual had eluded me. 

What is known during an ultra is the inevitable self doubt and questioning that invade your mind along the way. Why did I sign up for this? Why keep going? Why would anyone keep going? These questions typically come at the lowest point in a race, when the known meets the unknown. When bravado meets humility. Everyone has their own way of navigating these moments. Some hunker down and put mind over matter. Some tap out and head for a warm bath. I’ve been known to lower myself to screaming expletives at anyone associated with the event, mostly at myself. 

Freud said that the pleasure of satisfying a savage instinct, undomesticated by the ego, is much more intense than the one of satisfying a tamed instinct. I'm not exactly sure what that means, but I would classify finishing an ultra marathon, particularly when running into a gale force headwind, as savage. It certainly isn't civilized.  

As I drove onto the Navaho reservation before the race, the first thought I had was of my late grandmother. She was proud of her Native American heritage. She was, as I am, a descendent of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma. She once took me to the movie theater when I was a young boy. We went to see a cowboy and indian feature film about Custer's last stand. I believe she wanted me to see that the Native American's were not always the victims, that they too were strong and capable of winning. 

As I continued toward the finish line, a strong tail wind came upon me. My tired legs and body were lifted by this wind and it carried me forward, stride for stride.

I've read that wind is most commonly referred to as nilch’i in the Navajo language. Was this a spiritual nilch'i from my grandmother? As I crossed the finish line, I raised my arms thinking, at that moment, how good it felt to embrace the unknown. 





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