As he is known for saying, Karl Meltzer once told me “100 miles is not that far.”
In the context of our place in the universe, or planet Earth, or even the United States, he is right. But when pondering 100 miles on foot, it is a ridiculous number of miles. Estimates show that 1 percent of the population has completed a marathon. A sliver of that has finished an ultra marathon. A smaller percentage of that has completed a 100-mile race.
To date, my longest race has been the 100K I did in May at the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC). Admittedly during that race, I told myself that a 100-miler would totally be out of the question. I was miserable. My feet hurt. I was tired. I didn’t want to do another climb.
Upon finishing, I received kudos from the race director, a buckle and an injection of exuberance. After taking a couple of days to recover, something happened. I began to think about next goals, like many endurance athletes. My thoughts kept swirling back to Western States. Given the difficulties in getting into the historic 100-mile race, I knew if I ever wanted to enter the lottery, I needed to start getting my annual qualifying race.
After considering Javelina Jundred and the Indiana Trail 100, I settled on Rio del Lago (RDL), which will be in early November. That race was calling to me. My first 50-mile race was the American River 50, which I absolutely loved. RDL has the same race director, Julie Fingar, as the American River 50. The volunteers were fantastic, the course was beautiful and challenging, and the elevation seems to be manageable given my past experience.
My past experience was among the reasons why I selected RDL as my first 100.
But all those reasons do not make up my “why” for wanting to challenge myself with the audacious distance. It has taken me years to fully understand my own “why.” To find the answer, I had to go back decades into the dark recesses of my mind.
The junior high experience
To put it mildly, I had a crappy experience in junior high. My family moved midway through my sixth-grade year. New kid. New school. No friends.
I had always been small for my age. My physical stature essentially served as a “Kick Me” sign tattooed on my back.
My bullies were relentless. Lining me up in along the lockers between classes and having two large kids run and crash into me from either side. Forcing me into a gym locker. And then there were the mental games.
I hated junior high. I hated the teachers who didn’t do anything. I hated the bullies. I hated myself.
I don’t want to exaggerate how depressed I was. And I don’t want to minimize the more severe trauma and abuse that others have suffered. All in all, my scars don’t compare with others who have dealt with far more serious transgressions. While there were thoughts of harming myself or enacting some type of revenge, they never escalated to actual thoughts of carrying it out. Thank goodness the gun culture and proliferation of automatic weapons was not the same then as it is now, or even in the 1990s.
Full of anger, then regret
Eventually, of course, I entered senior high where I was mostly left alone. I joined the wrestling team where it was encouraged to do battle with other kids who were my size.
I formed lifelong friendships, learned mental toughness and grew my confidence. Best of all, my varsity wrestling coach taught me many valuable lessons related to being a man, dedication, mental toughness that I still cherish today.
In time, the memories of junior high eased. I had a better high school experience, then moved out of state for college and jobs. I did not realize at the time that I was running from my junior high demons.
I also didn’t realize it until much later but I carried the mental wounds with me for years. I regret some of my actions in my early adulthood. There were times when I was an asshole. I snapped at people. I didn’t like some people for no particular reason. I hurt those who were closest to me.
It wasn’t until a few years ago when I was able to make the connection of my anger to its root. Thank, or blame, Facebook.
One of the bullies from my past friended me on Facebook. Twice. Both times I declined. When the request was repeated, I blocked him.
Goals, old and new
About the same time, I found running. I doubt there was an actual correlation between the Facebook requests and the start of my running journey. It was more the quest to fulfill the bucket list item of completing a marathon, and the fact that my kids were now old enough for me to pursue other passions.
After completing that marathon — Indianapolis Monumental in 2012 — I looked to complete other challenges. Finishing under four hours. Qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon. Completing a 50K, then a 50-miler and then a 100K.
And now, the goal has been reset to the 100-mile distance.
More specifically, I want to start the clock toward earning qualification tickets for the Western States Endurance Run. It was no accident that I selected a race that is a qualifier for the historic race that takes one from Squaw to Auburn. To achieve the Western States goal, I will need consistency, good health and some luck — especially when it comes to the lottery. Less than 5 percent of applicants now make it into the race.
Perhaps I am searching for answers that have eluded me for decades. Perhaps I am looking for achievements to humble brag my way to acceptance.
Whether or not I make it to the starting line in Squaw next year, in five years or ever, I know that I have truly found joy on the trails. The calmness of nature. The wind whistling by. The chirping of birds. The steady sound of my footsteps on the dirt path.
One hundred miles is not that far. After all, I have already come a long way.