by Brian D. Meeks
Chapter 8 Day 7
When Steve was finishing last night, he wasn’t traveling down the road but was instead heading into almost complete darkness. Not the darkness of 11 O’clock, but the place that holds our worst fears and demons. He was, to borrow from Lewis Carroll, running into his own “Rabbit hole”.
It wasn’t pain he was feeling, through there was plenty of that, it was emptiness. He said, “Mile twenty one was just empty mentally, physically, but something felt like, for whatever reason, that I just wanted to go deeper into it.
Steve’s mom had been sending motivational texts each morning, and today; he was in no mood to be motivated. When the message came through, he almost didn’t want to look at it, but it was from Mom. She wrote, “If at first you don’t succeed…sky diving may not be for you.”
It started as a smile, grew into a chuckle, and then a deep belly laugh. Mom’s know when to tickle a funny bone. It got Steve out the door.
The morning ritual was the same. Steve did his stretching and thought about where he was mentally. If he could get to that place of peace on the other side of the darkness, he would be set. He thought about some of the things he had read by some of the world’s greatest ultra runners. They described existing in a space where they would run forty or fifty miles and not even realize it. He thought about his heroes, Marshall Ullrich, Lisa Smith-Batchen, and his coach Ray Zahab.
The pace the day before had been slow, but he said, mostly to himself, “Slow doesn’t matter when your mind’s not attached”. That’s the problem for Steve, each time he thinks the word “slow”, it sucks the energy right out of him. As long as that is happening, he hasn’t reached that space of running zen.
Once on the road Steve said, “My legs ached with each step. Six days of pavement had put a beating on me. The concrete jungle is no friend to this runner. The day prior had taken me deep into the rabbit hole, and at times, completely out of my mind. I’d been reduced to a shuffling shell.”
Was he finally to that place, that wall so thick it would stretch over days, and require him to push deeper into his capacity to endure unfathomable misery with no end in sight?
Steve continued on and said, Today, as I trudged through the first two towns, I wondered if I’d ever regain my pace. Everyday someone or something would push me ahead. The stories of survivors, those in chemotherapy or the numerous messages from people around the country were all a huge help.”
Steve got some excellent news from Jarred. A local had said they would soon come to a path made of crushed limestone. It would be easier on Steve’s weary legs. When he told Steve, he said, “Damn, that sounds good, but I’m not going to believe you until I see it. My nerves are very raw, and if it turns out not to be true, the monkey will be very upset. VERY UPSET!”
Steve trudged on for four more miles of pavement before he saw the trail. It was asphalt, and he was a little bit crushed. Steve’s friend Kina texted him, “Liz was rushed into the ICU earlier today…you get your ass running…you understand me?”
Their friend Liz has been battling cancer for some time. It was so unfair. Steve thought about his friend, there is no way I’m stopping; the monkey would just have to deal with it. The running continued.
Just when he needed it most, the path changed, it became limestone and headed off into a thick woods. The trees grew in an arch over the trail, with an almost magical fairy tale quality about them.
Steve’s mind took him back to the dirt trails of Moffitt Lake and Denman’s woods, in Colorado. He imagined all the trails he’d run on, how it made him feel, the energy that nature provided. He was running, slow at first, but then his legs took to the trail and his pace quickened.
As is often the case, Steve remembered the scene in Forrest Gump where he runs out of his braces. This is how it felt. The oppressive fatigue and misery seemed to fall away, he was free. With each step, the pain seemed to flow out of his legs and into mother earth.
He said, “The rest of the day Liz and every cancer fighter I know ran with me…my grandman and aunt, they were all there. Each of them ran through those woods, soaking up the rays through the trees, feeling the dirt beneath their feet. There was no pain. They were smiling ear to ear. They were running free…and so was I.”