In June of 2013 I completed the Laurel Highlands 70 mile run in what is still my crowning achievement in running. The last twenty plus miles I ran with a guy, whose name I sadly do not recall, who stayed with me through some extremely dark times. I know I would not have been able to finish the race if it wasn’t for him. Flash forward to June of 2015 and I am again running the race. Around mile 45 or so I run into the same guy. He and I start to chat and I realize at this point, as my mood was already starting to plummet, that I was unable to understand a word he was saying. This is when it really hit me just how much of my hearing I had lost in the last two years. The depression set in with a vengeance and I eventually dropped out of the race at mile 56. While I do not blame my ignominious DNF on this moment of clarity regarding my hearing loss, there were many other factors, mostly from my own foolishness, it certainly did not help. And since this race I only have attempted one other ultra, Stone Mill 50 miler, and I also DNF’ed that race as well. Again, there were certainly other factors involved, but mainly I just did not have it in me anymore to finish. Being completely unable to communicate with the other runners and aid station volunteers was a dismal experience. And just like in any ultra, there was ample time to ruminate on my continued hearing loss and to fear for what the future will entail.
As my mileage is ramping up for my planned 100 miler in the fall, I have been thinking often during my runs of how my race will play out. While it was never the primary motivating factor, the camaraderie at the races was a meaningful experience in which to be a part. Having this no longer be part of the event is in many ways quite sad. Also, running with someone and sharing some time on the trail and hearing their story, their journey to the starting line, was an integral part of the whole experience. To have this no longer be an option is, again, sad and I will miss the interaction. I have seriously contemplated getting a shirt or sign which says that I am hard of hearing so people do not make the assumption I am ignoring them. Admittedly, this would not be an odd thing to do and would distantiate myself even further from the other runners.
So, then I ask myself: why am I training for a ridiculously challenging event, which already will have inevitable moments of extreme unpleasantness, that will not be even more difficult and draining? Well, to be honest, I have not come up with a satisfactory answer to this question. What I have realized, though, is the beauty of hard, all encompassing training. I love the feeling of finishing up my normal 10 miler with a “that’s it?” feeling still in my legs. I love the feeling of floating down the road and just how natural and efficient the body becomes at something when a great deal of time and effort have been put into it. And I love the feeling of accomplishment after hitting my mileage or pace goal for each workout and for each week. The fact I can not hear the cars as they drive by me is somewhat unsettling, and probably dangerous, but it is well worth it in my mind for the brief moments of elation I get on an almost daily basis (there are, of course, some runs which are so awful and tedious their only redeeming quality is the acclimation to suffering they bring).
And so the conclusion I have come to is that I am racing this year as an excuse to train. As an excuse to spend hours and hours each week away from other activities and from other obligations, as a reason to briefly feel that everything is possible and things may just turn out just fine.