Ryan Donnelly's Blog

No Boundaries – Post 3


We left the Inn and I packed up my Jeep with all of the supplies I was going to need for the run. I had my 20 ounce hand held water bottle, my fuel belt around my waste with two, 10 ounce water bottles, a sandwich bag filled with baby wipes and 10 GU gels. I was all set, doubled checked, and ready to go.

We drove through the dark of morning, and I had Jess blast her Ipod through my sound system. It was so early, and I needed some tunes to get my blood pumping. The two of us jammed out all the way to the start at Finger Lakes Community College.  In hindsight, we must have looked like complete wack-jobs. We were having ourselves a full out jam session, at 5:30 in the morning.

When we pulled in we noticed that the parking lot was surprisingly filled with cars. I thought to myself, as I looked around at the other eager runners, that there are plenty of people out here today, seeking what I was and am seeking.

This being my first ultra experience, hell, my first real race experience made the unknown exciting. I only had a 5-mile race under my belt, and most of these men and women that I would be running along side of, had multiple marathons in their personal portfolios. So to say I was stepping into new territory would be a complete and utter understatement. Did I let that fact hold me back mentally? Not in the least bit, I let it motivate me.  I was more ready than I can put into words.

I kept what this race meant to me pretty quiet in the months and weeks leading up to it. The truth was,  that it was the most important day of my entire life. Sure, it may seem extreme to some, but to me it makes perfect sense.

Standing there with Jess before the race, I can remember very little. Talking with her afterward, she told me that I looked as if I was completely zoned out, and I was. I am capable of something that I consider a gift. I am able to shut my brain off when I want to. You can call it meditation or whatever you want, but after kissing her goodbye and standing at the starting line with the other runners, things went pretty much blank. There was only me, the pavement, and the air in my lungs.

I remember looking to the left and to the right of me and watching  the hot breath of the other runners hit the cold, crisp October air. The time had come. Runners take your mark! 3….2….1….

From the very start I moved to the back of the crowd. I had done my research, and I knew my body. I moved like a snail. This was going to be a long race and  the last thing I wanted was for my adrenaline to get the best of me too early. This would make my body give out too soon. Slow and steady, might not win the race in this instance, but I knew it would enable me to finish.

One thing was blindingly certain to me as I ran and that was the fact that this was exactly where I wanted to be. Exactly where I was supposed to be. Are you starting to notice a theme with that? This was my vacation time and I didn’t want to be on some beach lounging next to the ocean, or on some tropical cruise. This was my vacation, a grueling race against my mind. Screw the mileage, it was about what was upstairs. This was a mind race. The best kind of race there is.

It’s a great thing when you realize what makes you happy, even if it’s not too popular. The ultra-marathon community, though small, is steadily growing. To give you an idea about what it is that I love so much about this little sport of mine, I want to share an excerpt from a book called, “Born to Run.”

                  “Whatever breakthroughs they (Ultrarunners) came up with, they’d be legit. With ultrarunners, Vigil (scientist, running coach) had the refreshing peace of mind dealing with pure lab specimens. He wasn’t being hoodwinked by a phony superperformance, like the “miraculous” endurance of Tour de France cyclists, or the gargantuan power of suddenly melon-headed home-run hitters, or the blazing speed of female sprinters who win five medals in one Olympics before going to jail for lying to the feds about steroids. “Even the brightest smile,: one observer would say of disgraced wondergirl Marion Jones, “can hide a lie.
                     “So who could you trust? Easy; the smiles on oddballs in the woods. Ultrarunners had no reason to cheat, because they had nothing to gain: no fame, no wealth, no medals. No one knew who they were, or cared who won their strange rambles through the woods. They didn’t get prize money; all you get for winning an ultra is the same belt buckle as the guy who comes in last. So, as a scientist, Vigil could rely on data from an ultra; as a fan, he could enjoy the show without scorn or skepticism. There’s no EPO in Ann Transon’s blood, no smuggled blood in her fridge, no ampules of Eastern European anabolics on her FedEx account.”

This is what makes the sport so real.  In my mind,  it isn’t about the runner racing next to me.  I am not out there to “beat” them.  The only thing I am racing against is my own mind.  The journey itself through the pain, through the voices,  and through the challenges of surpassing your own idea of what your mind is capable of, is the prize. 

When you strive onward and forward even though your aching limbs are  begging you to stop, and telling you they’ve had enough,  that is the greatest achievement imaginable.  It teaches you in an instant that there is no such things as monsters, that there is no such thing has the boogeyman, and that  there is no such thing as  self limitation.

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