A different kind of ultra
I have reached the end of an ultra event and could not be more pleased, relieved and thankful. While this ultra did not have any competitors, race bibs or shiny medals or buckles at the end, there were dark moments, unanticipated challenges along the way and a reward at the end.
In the next few days, this ultra will officially conclude when the final paperwork is signed and my dad’s house will be sold. It’s the conclusion of a journey that began with a phone call from his doctor in October 2019, telling me about concerns that led to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and a transition to assisted living in January 2020. (Earlier I wrote about the mental aspect of this situation.)
The 15 months since then have been an ultra I didn’t sign up for. The primary task was to prepare and sell his house, the home my parents designed and we moved to 40 years almost to the day I moved my dad out.
It’s been a series of blood, sweat and curses.
My dad was a hoarder. Among my tasks was to literally go through decades of receipts one by one, deciding which to keep and which to shred. I also went through an entire 2,700-square-foot house, deciding what to sell or donate, recycle and throw away. But the largest project was essentially flipping the house, doing what work I could while hiring contractors to handle jobs like replacing a deck, installing carpeting and more. And, last but not least, I navigated selling the house without hiring a real estate agent.
Looking back, this journey was a lot like an ultra or other endurance event. Here are some of the similarities I have discovered:
• A support crew is critical. I would not have been able to pull this off as quickly as I did without a fabulous support team. Living hundreds of miles away from the house, I regularly needed and received assistance from neighbors and friends, most notably Paul, Maureen and Mitch. They literally never rejected a request for help — no matter the time of year, or how large or small the task. Additionally, my brother played a large role in the cleaning, fixing and preparing the house for sale. His family, my wife and sons, and my mom all played key roles in getting to the finish line. I’m also thankful for my employer and the ability to work remotely, as I juggled responsibilities.
• Pace yourself. I traveled roughly once a month to work on the house, about a week at a time. There were long days while I worked on the project while maintaining my commitments to work and my training, often starting my day with a run hours before dawn. Even while I wasn’t physically at the house, I spent hours each week, working on logistics, hiring contractors and other chores. I hit all my checkpoints even though at times I felt like I was falling behind.
• Hydrate, eat and rest. I was able to break up my days into parts where I would focus on key tasks. Training after I woke up, followed by breakfast and working remotely from home during the day. At night I would attend to paper sorting, cataloging and packing his extensive book collection (a task that still continues with hundreds of his books now occupying my home) and/or doing chores like painting. On weekend days, I would devote more time and energy to the tasks at the house. But overall balance was the key — accomplishing various tasks while staying hydrated, fueled and getting as much rest as possible. Though, just like at an ultra, I was sleep-deprived.
• Logistics are key. As a natural planner, I was able to lay out goals for every visit as well as delegating tasks to my brother on his visits as well as what I asked my friends and family to help out with. At an ultra, a failure to adequately plan the logistics could lead to a bad race for the runner or even a DNF. While the stakes were higher for the house, we did not have the pressure of a set cut-off time. Still, I needed to make every trip productive. Otherwise the end goal would not have happened when it did or concluded in my desired result.
• Dig hard through the low points. Just like during an ultra, a project this long is bound to run into low points. At the top of the list was the never-ending stairs project. When I learned that the ugly brown carpeting was covering stained hardwood stairs, I decided to rip out the carpeting to show off the beauty of the stairs. First lesson learned: ripping carpeting off stairs is way harder than from a floor. That was the first step in an extraordinarily long process to sand and re-stain the staircase.
• Use visioning techniques to conquer the goal. My original goal was to get everything in place to hold an open house in late summer and then sell it. My brother and I literally finished cleaning and prepping for the first day of the open house less than five minutes before it started. That plan partially worked as the buyer, who saw the house that day, was interested but his offer was too low. I reassessed and decided to do my version of flipping it in order to get a better offer. This took the next several months, after which time I offered it to a few prospective buyers before putting it back on the market. That worked as the final price was about 10 percent more than the buyer’s original offer.
As I write this early on a Sunday morning, I realize that I will never set foot again in the house where I grew up. During this entire process, I’ve grown to love and loathe the house. There was a lot to like about growing up there. But as it was allowed to deteriorate over the years, I started to loathe the work that was forced upon me.
But now, I’m approaching the finish line. Outside my window, birds are chirping. The sun is starting to rise. And now I can look back at the completion of this ultra project with pride, gratitude and the feeling of accomplishment.