Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Asterisk Factor

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.” ~ Paulo Coelho
2015 was a year of setting specific goals and applying what I've learned over the years, especially since returning to racing again in 2009, in an attempt to avoid some pits I've fallen into previously.

Overall, it was a success. In 2014 I ran my first 50 miler, the Des Plaines River Trail 50 in Illinois. I had not really trained for it and my fueling plan was pretty half-assed - as in non existent. The result? A decent first experience at the distance that almost came undone during the last mile due to low blood sugar. I learned that lesson, but good! An insufficient amount of HEED plus one Luna bar plus 3 gels does not a good fueling regimen make when running 50 miles.

So, as the Kettle Moraine 100 approached this past June, I was determined not to make that mistake again. And I didn't. My fueling went great with only a few hours of pretty mild nausea that still allowed me to suck on my HEED and nibble pretzels. No cramps. No vomiting. Only mild hallucinations and some annoying, but mild, finger swelling. 

Then, a few months ago, I had a rematch with the Des Plaines River Trail 50. Last year I ran it in 9:15. This year I had two goals: Go under 9 hours and fuel well so as not to repeat history. I did both. I ran the whole 50 miles, kept the fuel coming in, light but steady, and I felt pretty damn good. Yes, the last 18 miles were incredibly hard, but I maintained a decent pace throughout and finished in 8:36:07.

So success on all counts. Except...

I got through Kettle and qualified for the Western States lottery. That was the goal. I ran Des Plaines faster than I thought I could and didn't bonk or cramp or almost pass out 2 yards from the finish.

And yet there is this 'Asterisk Factor' as I call it.

The Asterisk Factor concerns those little blunders or miscalculations or conditions that were just not conducive, or body tweaks that don't prevent you from running but might prevent  you from doing what you've trained to do - these all give rise to the little nigglers: things that eat at you a bit and worm their way into your thoughts, wishes, dreams.

You know: when someone asks: 
"How was your race?"
And you say, "It was a great race, except...".

These are the instances that give rise to the asterisk factor.

Of course no race is perfect. Chances are there's always something we think we 'should' have done and didn't do that would have made even a good race great. But the Asterisk Factor concerns more serious things. You know, like the race you felt so freaking strong in and then wonder, after the fact, if you could have run faster. Or, the goals you didn't really recognize you had floating in your mind and heart until you didn't reach them, only then realizing they were there.

In my case both my goal races for the 2015, Kettle and Des Plaines (Yeah, Boston too and the weather hosed that, rather) suffer from the Asterisk factor: 

*Kettle*: Too much time at aid stations and getting lost on the course and running it without really training well for it and running a time I am not satisfied with (even though I never set a time goal!)
*Des Plaines*: Still too much time at aid stations and a tweaked knee and making the same damn fueling mistake from mile 26-38 that I did last year

When we embark on new things we never really know what new paths might be revealed that we don't even know exist beforehand. My first horrible, 90 degree Boston that was meant to be a 'one and done' run has turned into much more than I would have ever guessed. Why? Again, because of the asterisk factor. Now whenever I bemoan my bad luck or my weakness or my not always keen judgement, I remember that this factor has kept running very interesting and challenging for me.

Some ask: "Why are you running Kettle again? You've done that already".
Some immediately get it and don't ask. They only comment: "You have unfinished business there, don't you?"

Some judge my choices as boring, unadventurous, safe. They can keep their judgements because this is about me and what I find valuable. I relish this process of falling on my face and coming back to use what I've learned to do better. This is a process I find mentally and physically compelling.

Where the asterisk factor directs me depends entirely on how I want to use it and I never know what that will mean until the inspiration hits me and that inspiration will ONLY come from THAT thing that stands out in my mind as something to think about. When it hits I know what I need to do. And that's the great thing about the asterisk factor : It may seem like a 'failure' at first, but if we see this whole thing as a process of becoming, then nothing is a failure, except not trying - and even that we can use in the future.

And what new, unknown, paths await discovery next?...
“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.” ~ Eckhart Tolle 

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