My hands were numb
My feet were lead
I drank a cup of herbal brew
Then the sweetness in the air
Combined with the lightness in my head
And I heard the jungle breathing in the bamboo.
And all of these spirit voices rule the night Paul Simon
It was 1am, or 2am, or 3am--I really couldn't tell you. Maybe it was all three. I was running around a lake in a suburb of Minneapolis, and at this certain point on the south side the trees would part exposing the lake. You could see the sky and the moon, and the most beautiful red and blue lights reflecting off the water. It didn't matter to me that those lights were coming from the gas station across from the lake--beauty is beauty. And anyway in the middle of the night your vision skews and everything takes on heavenly features. When I rounded the next curve I could hear the frogs singing their hearts out like loud, drunk sailors. I heard traffic in the distance that just as easily could be mistaken for ocean waves. The breeze was calm but present, and it blew the leaves in the trees that made dancing shadows on the path. And all of these Spirit Voices rule the night.
This was my second 24 hour race in 9 months. As predicted, it would be a completely different race. I was not trained up for the impact, there was no big storm pulling us off course to give us a break, and unlike last time, I was totally tuned in and knew what to expect. Different formulas, and yet one big common denominator: I was, again, blissed out. Just like nine month ago, my clearest memories are from the first few hours of the race, but by hour 10 it all starts to fade into vignettes and feelings. I can barely pull up a timeline of events, but I can confidently report feeling happy.
I empty something out running in circles all day and all night, a space that is out of reach for me in my daily life. I do not mind circling around and around in the dark, tracking my progress by lights from the gas station. In fact, do not mind isn't accurate. I like it also isn't accurate. It just is is accurate. I'm just there is accurate.
In retrospect I can look at the race, analyze it, and decide what I'd like to go for next time. I am happy that it may take a few races to find my groove. But mostly, it's like a giant life reset, a way to mark my progress as a person who is trying to be a better person. My big goals for the race were to be kind when I was tired and to remain grateful when things broke apart. We have a 2am video of my daughter and I and at the end I ask her: "Is my attitude good? Am I being nice?" The answer was yes. A successful race, then. I can let it sit there for now and be satisfied, and plan for next time later.
I love these races. I love that I've found an arena in running where I could maybe even be competitve. But most of all I love this empty, blissed out vibe. As kooky as it may sound I feel like, at some point, I run out of my aching body and exhaustion and my spirit joins with the path I'm running. It joins with the breeze and the lake and the frogs and the lights from the gas station. It joins with the distant ocean sounding traffic, the other runners, and the collective spirit of the race itself. I am pulled along by something I don't have to figure out or think about, I just have to step into its' chorus.
One of these days I'll leave the 24 hour looped ultra course and attempt a 100 mile point to point ultra. I can imagine, without much effort, that I will be stepping into a very different experience and a much, much more challenging one. I can only hope that this training on these loops will transfer, and when I hit 10 hours or 12 hours or when night begins to fall, that I will surrender to whatever surrounds me on that course. It seems to me that no matter what takes you out into the night, whether it's running or camping or hunting, or even sorrow or an anxious day, that if we go far enough or stay out long enough our minds will empty and then we can hear that all of these Spirit Voices rule the night.
And I'm telling you, it's totally worth it.