Project 200

This just isn’t like me, to resort to a purely numerical goal that focuses on quantity over quality. But here I am, in August, the hottest month of the year, trying to run 200 miles.

It was M’s idea, and we have discussed, as we rack up miles together, how her ambition, her insuppressible motivation to run, collides with my inability to say no to off-the-wall physical challenges. What we are doing doesn’t make much sense in the context of trying to run soulfully, to find the flow out on the trail, to keep it in the moment, blah, blah, blah, etc., etc. Stats and numbers don’t contain the feelings I’m trying to find when I run.

But I like my running to have a larger context, too.

I can go out and do the work every day, and it’s satisfying, but I drift away easily without a project to guide the work. Normally, our projects are destinational (that’s a word) or discovery based. We are hike/running the entire Massachusetts Mid-State Trail, for example, 99 miles of dirt and scree that bisect our home state. In the fall, we’ll run the Boston marathon route.

But this purely distance-based project is a one-off.

The point, I think, is to break our training. We settle into these patterns of place and distance, and our fitness and our minds get comfortable there, and it gets hard to grow beyond, to increase our capacity. So we break the routine with a hammer.

In this case, the hammer is 200 miles.

I am mindful that ultra-runners do this sort of distance all the time. That my big number is someone else’s comfy place. I am not doing anything particular extraordinary, except for myself. Best to tamp down the hero-complex early. No trophies. No medals.

And also, this shit is hard. I’ve run 70 miles in the last 10 days, and it’s having the desired effect. I’m tired in body, mind, and soul. The epiphanies are there too, though. Days when I expected to feel shattered, I was strong. Runs I thought would be easy were hard and vice-versa, the message there being that you have to wait and see what the trail will give you. You can’t know before you go.

You would have thought that I would have mentioned this particular project at the beginning of the month, but my failure to do so betrays where my head was at then. I didn’t want to put a marker down. Fear. Even now, I’m terrified of failure and pushing the pace so I don’t end up chasing miles at the end. Ego crap. It’s own kind of failure.

So it’s worth saying that this could end in badly (so what?). My wife delivered me a merciful home truth on day four, when I was tired and panicking about not wanting to go out and run some more. She said, “What happens if it takes you 32 days to do this? Or what if you get 199 miles in 31? Does it matter?”

No. It doesn’t. But here we go.