Afraid of the Dark

I’m afraid. That’s as simply as I can put it. I tried writing that sentence about five times before I got to just the two words, but I know when I’m equivocating. Maybe I could fool you, who don’t know me, but I would know. I would know that I was afraid.

The thing is I made myself a liar the other day. I said I had lost interest in racking up miles, that I had turned my attention almost entirely to the mental challenges of endurance sports. As it turns out, those things are not mutually exclusive. At the same time that I’ve divested myself from stats for the sake of stats, you do have to set some sort of goal for yourself in order to push beyond your limits.

So I decided to try to run 200 miles in August.

It’s a stupid idea (and actually it was M’s idea) for a number of reasons. First, it’s hot, the hottest month of the year, and I don’t do well in the heat, even worse in the humidity. I’ve already written about it here, here, and here, so forgive me if I drone on and on about it, but the heat is very much in my head, a boogie man, waiting to take me down.

Second, 200 miles is farther than I’ve ever run in a month, and probably in any two consecutive months. I tend to be pretty interdisciplinary. I run. I hike. I ride. I try to be down for whatever. I’m not even sure my body will hold together for 200 miles.

Third, it takes a long time. It’s only 6.5 miles a day, but you need rest days (or I do), and if you have a job (I have four consulting gigs) and a wife and kids (I do), then you have to do a fair bit of planning to pull off this kind of time out on the trail. I’m not the best planner either.

The good news is that I am attracted to dumb ideas. I eagerly sign up for future hurt, knowing I’ll be glad on the other side, and part of me really believes that finding your way forward with a big project like this makes you a better, stronger athlete.

But I’m afraid.

It’s Day 4, I have 28.5 miles. I have sweated every drop of moisture in my body three times over and then force swallowed enough electrolyte mix to replace it. I’ve done a few of those miles in what I’ll call “the darkness,” which is that suffering place, where the miles aren’t flying by, your legs feel wooden, your brain is saying, “hey, maybe that’s enough,” and wonder, despite knowing you shouldn’t, what the point of it all is.

I’m afraid to spend too much time in that place, but that’s exactly the place I need to be, the place I want to be. Wait, is that another lie? I want 200 miles to be easy. That’s true. But I want to do something hard. That’s also true.

So I have to face “the darkness.” I try to remind myself of this when things get hard, that the hardness is what I came for. Occasionally I think, ‘be cheerful,’ and that makes me chuckle, because it’s so dumb.

Today, the humidity is at wool-blanket level, every breath a labor, even just walking around, but I need miles. I need miles, and I’m afraid.

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