Part two of the series on motivation in sport moves past the preparation and dives into the challenges our specific team faced during the running of the speed project and how we stayed driven and focused through adversity in a race to the finish. Our initial route was planned for 295 miles of top-end speed. But the best-laid plans, according to legend, often go awry. Predicting our original finish somewhere around the 32-hour mark, our ranking at the top of the field slowly slipped away. As we added on time, it seemed as though we never chipped away at the remaining distance. We finished in 42 hours and some minutes. We traversed nearly 400 miles.
With such gross miscalculations causing us to fall from first to last, how on earth did we find the will to finish? How did we turn tragedy into triumph? How did we manage to come away from each setback stronger and more determined? How did we ultimately pull off the greatest upset of all time and walk away winners without actually winning?
It’s a tale in two parts; here are the first twenty-four hours:
In terms of strategy, we were organised into two groups, A and B, of three runners. I was in the second group. While we were set to be running shorter intervals than the A group (3 minutes as opposed to 10 minutes), I have to admit that my self-assignment to the B group had less to do with timing and more to do with needing extra time before the start. I needed time to calm myself down, hype myself up and channel the nervous energy feeding my self-doubt into productive locomotion. I had no idea what I was capable of in terms of physical performance; I couldn’t allow the pressure and the fast pace of the start to burn me out early.
Those extra hours of calm and meditation before getting pulled onto the carousel of wide-open road evaporated with the rising sun: my system flooded with bright light and uncontrollable nerves. Strangely enough, as I write this, that same physiological experience is accompanying the memory recall. my stomach, then and now, doing flips like an Olympic gymnast. Tagged in to run, the three-minute interval had equal and distinct parts.
The first minute passed easily enough, the brain, still unaware that the body was moving. And then the panic set in. There was a noticeable spike in heart rate, a shallowing if not sharpening of breath as my eyes darted around to see the van take off ahead in a game of “beat the lights”, which for me, sans watch, seemed like an impossibly far distance to cover in the remaining minutes. What did I get myself into? There’s no way I am going to be able to do this if I can’t calm down. Can’t this van pull over sooner? Fear and doubt kept struggling to tread afloat until the faint outline of Alex’s outstretched arm was enough to reel me in. My pace quickened, desperate to end the mental anguish of the sixty seconds prior. I’m not entirely sure when during that first turn everything changed for me, but it did. I got through it. As if I slapped myself back to reality–to see the possibility that anything and everything was possible. I saw that my teammates believed in me. I was invigorated and held onto that for the rest of the run. I was, after all, the team captain. With that came the need to keep my proverbial shit together as the energetic backbone from which the limbs of the other runners sprang.
We leapfrogged quickly through to sunset with the eyes of the world upon us–maybe a minor misstep here and there but nothing that couldn’t be corrected quickly. At least until the dark descended and with it the brutal realisation, we were not the only ones heading to las vegas. Enter stage left, Memorial Day Weekend traffic. How we ended up in it is of little consequence; what mattered is that we were now stuck in a highway parking lot with little to no service and seemingly no way out.
The frustration of stillness set in. We were losing time. Group B was on deck, and as long as the cars crept forward, someone had to be moving. There seemed to be a dirt track running parallel to where we needed to drive, legally adjacent to, but not on, the highway. An experienced ultra-runner and ultra-human, Brad decided to take matters into his own hands. He took off with only a general sense of our implied direction as “that way” and no knowledge of how far and long he would ultimately endeavour. Without fuel or hydration, he was out of eyesight before we could think to send someone after him on a bike. It was as if by magic, Remi–our intuit driver and navigator, rerouted us with the now steady but slow locomotion of traffic. Alex raced off on one bike to catch Brad to swap ride for a run, followed shortly by Moe and Remi with the route and rejuvenation. But I was left behind, forced into the van until we could catch up to them.
It would be seventeen miles before Brad emerged from a whirl of dust to collapse in a heap, vomiting, the same way he started: alone. His last step was as swift as his first, here’s what he has to say about the experience:
I did shift my mindset to get through that section. Once shit starts getting rough and your body sending your mind all the warning signs, it is at its breaking point. Well, that’s when you can REALLY learn about yourself. Who you are deep down. How tough you really are. Also, when you’ve burned up all your physical abilities and your mind will search for those emotional fuel sources. Maybe a dark memory or the thought of a specific person. Sometimes pleasant, often not. It was there in the middle of the desert lost under a blood moon, holding back vomit; I thought of my deceased father and how fucking wild he would have thought it’d be for his son who grew up in extremely dire conditions to have an opportunity to be where I was with who I was with just made me squeeze every drop of emotion and effort I could get out of the moment.
That effort by Brad and Alex fueled the next leg of the journey, the one that we knew to be entirely on trail. I was ready to make up for the lack of my cycling prowess that kept me sprinter bound. We woke Thai and Aric from the little rest they got to tackle the next section. Eager to put my legs to use and fight the fatigue of a full 24 hours awake, I took off into the darkness until the van caught up to light the way. I turned onto Powerline Road for what we assumed to be our first major shortcut. How very wrong we were.
To be continued.