Blog Subtitle

Reverse-engineering the Ultramarathon

Monday, July 22, 2013

It's Official - I'm Insane

Image (appropriately) lifted from Psyche Wimberly's blog:
"Run Like Ya Stole Sumthin'"
Imagine this:

You're out running with a good friend who happens to be a pretty experienced ultrarunner with some tough races on his resume: MassanuttenArrowhead 135Badwater, and a bunch more - over 60 ultras in all. Last year he managed to gain entry into the fabled Barkley Marathons, but was unable to finish.

As you run with this friend, you of course talk about ultrarunning. As it happens, another race cooked up in the imagination of the Barkley race director, the Last Annual Vol State Road Race (LAVS), is happening while you're running. Your friend ventures the opinion that the Barkley and the LAVS are the two toughest races in America.

You're an ultrarunner too, but one with just a few races to his credit. What do you do?
  1. Say, "Whoa!" with a sense of awe and wonderment in your voice, and keep running.
  2. Think to yourself, "It's so great there's no end of challenging goal races out there for me when I'm ready for them."
  3. Sign up for the 2014 LAVS as soon as they start compiling the list of entrants (which was yesterday, BTW).
If you chose #1 or #2 you are a sane person. I picked #3.

You read that sticker right at the top of the blog. This is a 500K race - 314 miles - from Dorena Landing in Missouri to Castle Rock, Georgia, crossing the entire state of Tennessee (with just a smidgen of both Kentucky and Alabama enroute). The race takes place in early July. There are no aid stations. You may choose to have a crew, but many would argue that the 'pure' way to do Vol State is 'screwed' (that is, unsupported, finding food and hydration as you can along the route).

You have ten days to finish. One second longer than two-hundred and forty hours is a DNF - no exceptions, no excuses.

LAVS, like the Barkley, is a historic and legendary institution in the world of ultrarunning. It's race director, Gary Cantrell (aka Lazarus Lake), is like the Pied Piper of ultrarunning. He knows just how to whistle an irresistible tune that a certain subgroup of people who like to run far will follow. If there's a term for that subgroup it's probably 'old school.' Laz races are never about bling or schwag. They're not about publicity or attracting the biggest crowd.

IMO, they're about finding ways to challenge the limits of human endurance that sound interesting to Gary Cantrell, and then offering those crazy ideas as events to that self-selected subgroup of ultrarunners who resonate with the unique Laz 'style' that pervades each of his races. Here's a post from him that went to several ultrarunning forums near the end of this year's LAVS (note: Laz eschews capital letters and punctuation):

"for me, the race remains as compelling as it has been for the past 8+ days.
I find the challenges faced by people who are stretching the limits of their ability
and competing to the end
equally compelling,
regardless of their level.

we have one last pack of runners on the course.
with only a tiny distance separating the last 6 heroes,
I am anxious to see where they will stand when the sun next rises.

I have watched these people compete for more than a week;
I have seen them in their moments of weakness,
and I have seen them rise to the challenge.
I have come to feel like I know something of them,
from how they have faced the demons.

I cannot wait to see the great victories to be won tomorrow...
and tomorrow night.

and great victories will be won.
anyone who does not back down,
who gives their all,
is a great champion.
whether they finish 1st,
or 40th."

Since I see myself - if I finish at all - among those last stragglers coming in almost a week after the race has been won, this really resonates with me. The LAVS may be one of the two toughest races in America, but it's genius is that it is not just a race that only a few very gifted individuals can finish (that would be the Barkley). 'Greatness' - if it can be had in a frivolous pastime like ultrarunning at all - can be had at the LAVS by anyone, even minimally talented runners. All it requires is an unbreakable will.

Unless life intervenes to prevent my participation, next year I will find out if I have that kind of will.

That said, training wouldn't hurt! Since I've committed to this race a full year in advance, I've added a new "Vol State" label for posts on the blog. My notion is that I will chronicle my preparation throughout the year.

Next post I'll talk about where I'm starting. Stay tuned...

No comments:

Post a Comment