This Zen moment is a beginning of a new journey

It happened in the 5th checkpoint of “the long march” during the Namibrace2021. After roughly 160 km or more of this multi day, self supported race, we kicked off the long march, a 68 or so km towards the red dunes of the Namib desert. This fifth checkpoint is also where you can stop for a longer rest, even taking a nap. I remember getting there, knowing that only 18km separates me and my lovely (yet stinky)sleeping bag in a tent full of sparkling red sand. Sam and the team that were waiting there were as cheerful as you would like a CP team to be. Getting to know Sam over the race, I knew she would make her checkpoint a great stopping point. Sam is an experienced ultra runner, and I felt she knows what I really need before I am able to express it in words. 

It was almost sunset as I reached, went under the gazebo and set heavily on the stool. They were all there for me, offering water and asking what I wanted them to do for me. To the proposal to take my backpack off I smiled and told them that should I do that I would probably build my home there, bring some hens, and not go anywhere. 

Then, Sam asked if I wanted some coffee. Wow, I said, this would be awesome but I do not want to take my cup out of my pack. No problem, you can use mine… and so, in a few minutes I got my cup of coffee. I sat on the stool, the backpack on, and sipped from the cup, staring at the desert around, and all the voices and noise around as if did not exist. It was only the desert, me, my breath, the cup in my hand. Nothing else matter. No idea how long it lasts, but I can certainly recall the deep peaceful feeling. Nothing was there other than me and that moment. 

Coming back from the race, this moment did not leave me. I do remember clearly how I felt something changed in the way I look at the world when I got back from Gobimarch 2019. This feeling was even stronger after the Namibrace. It made me wonder how much this phenomena is discussed, researched, documented? So I started looking for anything that would look into psychological or spiritual experiences or effects of long endurance races. What I realized quickly is that there is an ocean of discussions, research and publication dealing with the physical and mental preparations towards endurance events. There was plenty dealing with how to handle psychological and mental events during the race. What I could not find was about “what the race does to you”. All I could find were generic materials describing how sport makes you a better person, more organized, one that plans for long distances, agile, etc. There was practically a new desert I discovered. I could not find a clue about the deep psychological changes one goes through in such events.

So this marks the beginning of yet another new journey. My journey to figure out what these processes could be. If they occur. Why. Are there any rules? What can philosophers, psychologists, fellow runners can offer to shed some light on this? I the past few months I started reading, listening, interviewing, and I will try to share some insights in the following posts. 

Till then… see ya on the trails!

Counting down the days: What about fear…

A couple of days ago, I got a T-shirt from friends, suggesting one way of looking at the ultramarathon psychological process. Although I do not agree with the description of most of the process as “suffering”, it made me think of other processes you go through while preparing towards a challenge.

In many aspects of life, running not excluded, we know this feeling of excitement when we take upon us a new challenge. The dictionary defines excitement as “a feeling of great enthusiasm and eagerness”, which is very true. And then comes doubt… can I do this? what happens if I fail? can I pay the toll it takes to get there?… As for me, I simply push it away. My routine is “if it (doubt) does not help, why bother worrying?”. Yet, one should not ignore the fact that without second questioning some decisions we make, we might have taken the wrong path. So let’s talk about doubt.

Doubt… “a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction”. Have to admit, I love this phase, the ambiguity, the unknown, solving the puzzles in the fog. It always intrigued me. Once doubt starts irritating the mind, it is accompanied with confusion. this is a very uncomfortable place to be, in particular when we talk about guys like me that are pragmatic (or at least try to be). The benefit of it, is this moment when the puzzle is solved, and the pieces suddenly start to make sense, have some logic order, and the road becomes clear. Having said that, it does not clear the fear away.

What Is Fear? It is a natural, powerful, and primitive human emotion. It involves a universal biochemical response as well as a high individual emotional response. Fear alerts us to the presence of danger or the threat of harm, whether that danger is physical or psychological. Sometimes fear stems from real threats, but it can also originate from imagined dangers. my fears as related to the current challenge is coping with the enormous sand parts of the race. It sounds funny coming from one living in Israel, with its Mediterranean sandy beaches, and the desert in the south. But racing through this can be a very different story.

I decided to make this fear my challenge. And at once, fear was replaced by determination. This is not to say “I am not afraid”, rather acknowledging that fear is her, and there is no way around it. So if there is no way around it, the best way is facing it and go /run /walk /crawl through it. So.. gaiters up, running poles down, focus, pace slowly, and here we go!

So here I go again…

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