“Many hands began to scan/around for the next plateau
Some said it was Greenland/and some say Mexico
Others decided it was nowhere/except for where they stood
But those were all just guesses/Wouldn’t help you if they could”
– Nirvana, Plateau
Sometimes you gotta’ walk across the street and sit on your neighbor’s porch and look at your house. And if you’re not friends with your neighbor, then do it when they aren’t home. It looks different from over there, and you get a feeling. I’m not sure if it’s simply the change in perspective that brings on the feeling. I suppose that’s part of it. Looking at my house, those adolescent Palo Verde trees that I planted a couple of years ago don’t look so young. They look tall, distinguished and proud. And our faded, off-color pink house, built in the 1940’s, and once probably a vibrant splash of color in the neighborhood, doesn’t look so dull anymore. It looks pretty darn chic silhouetting those green Palo Verde trees.
It’s fresh to see the house differently from my neighbor’s porch, but that’s not all I see, and that’s not where the feeling generates–that airy feeling in the gut, kind of like getting butterflies before a big presentation, or the first time walking up to the rim of the Grand Canyon. A mood brews from seeing it over there. I begin to perceive the house, and my life, from someone else’s home and life. I see it from a stranger’s vantage, looking in. And then it’s not mine anymore and I am the stranger. I look through those half-open blinds behind the large living-room window and try to imagine what goes on inside, like Ebenezer Scrooge catching a glimpse of the past, present, and future, all at once. I squint my eyes to sharpen my sight, and I see me. And I’m obliged to look at my life, my whole goddamn life, in that little faded pink house with those handsome Palo Verde trees out front. I get all this from a quick jaunt across the street to the neighbor’s porch. I recommend you bring a cocktail over there; you may want to stay awhile, and shit gets deep.
I see a guy in a slump. His job is unfulfilling and it’s sucking the life from him. I see the best salesman in the city, he could sell ice to an Eskimo, but he can’t seem to sell himself on being a salesman. He’s reached a plateau, and the real quandary is, it’s a nice plateau with a great view. He’s got a good income at a flexible gig that allows him to do pretty much whatever he wants (run), whenever he wants (everyday). And this guy, this poor bastard, he can’t seem to find satisfaction in it. He has a loving, caring and beautiful wife, who does everything she can to help him along, but he remains perpetually discontent. Maybe it’s a curse, or maybe he’s just a jackass. He should have a bubble cloud that surrounds him at all times which reads, “First World Problems –> This Guy.”
I accept that. Truth is, I am grateful for my life, everyday. I have absolutely nothing to complain about. But… But there’s this unfulfilling thing. This pesky little fly that keeps landing on my face and no matter how many times I swat it away, it keeps buggin’ me. This thing that was once just a small slice of the “I’m a happy person pie” has cooked into a much bigger slice. A slice that’s gotten so big it’s taking over the whole goddamn happy-person pie. Perhaps it’s getting older, everything was working fine through the 20’s. All was good as long as I was running and making money and paying bills and hanging out with my lady and going out to eat and seeing friends and planning a trip to my next race.
That does seem nice, huh? Ah, but how distracting this is from the harsh reality that I’m plunging deeper into my 30’s with no direction at all, no idea where to go, only wandering (and running) around and around in circles on my comfortable little plateau, slowly getting closer to the edge and peeking out, but unable to find a way off. Stuck.
That’s where I was at mile 41 of the Whiskey Basin 88k. Stuck. I ran comfortably and enjoyed the first 35 miles with my good friend, Catlow Shipek, which was great. He went on to win-–very proud of my buddy. But I started to fade, and I got tired. And then I started walking. And then, at mile 41, I didn’t want to walk anymore. I grew so weak, it was a feat to pick my leg up off the ground and move it in front of the other leg. So I laid down on the side of the trail, and took a nap.
You hear about the “dark place” and “the wall” all the time from runners. Too much really, and I’m no exception. I’m over hearing about it, but I will relinquish one last insight on the matter. We pull through these hard times and we live to tell about it. And to get through them, we rely on mental fitness above the physical. Tap the reservoir of willpower, conquer doubts, and propel forward. The head must be fit in order to do this. When I decided to lay down at 41, the wall was so big I couldn’t see over it, I couldn’t even see the top. The reservoir had been running on fumes since the race began. Physically, I had all I needed to finish. But there was something else required at that point and it wasn’t available, or if it was, I couldn’t find it. And this is the test we seek in ultrarunning, there’s the heart of the sport.
Life and running rely on each other. Some runners, like Kaci Licktieg, run with joy filling their tank, wearing a smile. Other runners, like Rob Krar, have openly shared how they find their reservoir filled from the other end of the spectrum, battling issues such as depression. In each case, they refine this fuel and use it to blaze through the hard points in a race like warriors. But I’ll tell ya this, the last place you want to be caught when the great dark wall approaches you late in a race, is stuck high up on Plateau Purgatory, with nothin’ in the tank.
Pink Floyd The Wall – The Trail. Fan Art by: iam16bits iam16bits.deviantart.com